In Dillards bid for an all-time record-tying eighth state girls basketball title, Hall of Fame coach Marcia Pinder and star power forward Kayla Wright will need each other as much as ever.
The fates of Wright and Pinder will be intertwined with Wright on a mission to bring Pinder No. 8 and Pinder trying to help the Tulsa commit become only the fourth Broward player to win state titles in four consecutive varsity seasons.
The fact Kaylas mother, Wanda Burns-Wright, played for Pinder but didnt win a state title gives Pinder added incentive to help Kayla earn her own basketball immortality.
To have a player like Kayla is a big plus, Pinder said. She puts so much work and heart into it getting to this point. Im talking on and off the court where she could have gotten an academic scholarship even if she wasnt playing basketball.
Kayla has three state titles, and I wouldnt want her to be short of her last title. I wouldnt want anything less than the best for her.
Wright expects to pick up where she left off last season as her breakthrough junior year carried Dillard to its seventh state title under Pinder, one shy of tying Laurel Hill and South Broward as the only Florida girls teams to four-peat.
Providing the ideal post complement to University of Miami 6-6 recruit Macy Keen, Wright averaged a career high 14 points and 9.4 rebounds to win 2011-12 F.A.B.C. Class 5A Player of the Year and unanimous Broward Player of the Year.
A proven big-game player, Wright cemented the Panthers three-peat with 21 points and 10 rebounds in a 59-45 victory over Bartram Trail in the Class 5A state title game.
Winning Player of the year brought my confidence up even more, Wright said. I didnt think I would get it. It was an honor to get it but Im still hungry for more.
I put in a lot of work over the summer to get there. In my senior year Im trying to come back even stronger.
That is bad news for opponents trying to slow a Dillard freight train with the talent and depth to trump last seasons 27-4 state championship team and run the table.
Dillard is loaded with Brianna Green, LaQuacious Adams, Courtney Parson, Jessica Jones, Alliyah Anderson, Jacoreyah Clayton and Kareese Johnson. It also added the firepower of transfers Eva Myers, a two-time All-Broward first-team selection, 6-1 Britashia Burns, and promising freshmen Destiny Frazier and Tierra Wilks.
But Wright is the biggest difference-maker.
Pinder, who became the winningest high school coach in Floridas state history, No. 19 all-time nationally in wins (804-175) and won Russell Athletics/Womens Basketball Coaches Association National High School Coach of the Year, said Wrights high motor and versatility set her apart.
Generously listed at 6-0, Wright uses a high IQ and offensive arsenal of jump hooks, spin moves and a surprising quick step to keep taller players off balance.
Wright said she has added a consistent 20-foot jumper over the summer, which should make her an even more prolific offensive weapon.
Kayla can do so much with the ball, Pinder said. She tries to get all her teammates involved. Then, she can take you off the dribble.
We could actually give her the ball at all five positions and be satisfied with the outcome. That is very unique. Not too many players on this level can do that. The last player we had like that was Erica Brown.
Dillard hosts its two biggest rivals South Broward on Wednesday and Nova on Monday but probably wont get its first real test before traveling to Arizona for the Nike Tournament of Champions in December.
Her place in history already secured with three rings, Wright is not about to let an opportunity to join some select company slip by.
Getting a fourth ring would mean a lot, Wright said. Not just for me but for Coach Pinder and our team.
We would make history again. Im just grateful to be in this position. Its not often you have somebody win four consecutive state titles in their high school career and have an impact all four seasons.