Minott leads Miami Country Day into district opener

01/28/2014 12:01 AM

09/08/2014 7:03 PM

Danielle Minott is fearless, and nothing exemplifies that more than her decision to accept a basketball scholarship to play for Syracuse University, where the temperature dipped to minus-3 this week.

“I don’t have any sweaters that can withstand a Syracuse winter,” said Minott, a 5-8 senior shooting guard for Miami Country Day. “I’ll have to get new clothes when I go up there this summer.”

Minott, who signed with Syracuse in November, visited the campus in September and was surprised to find that it was already 42 degrees.

“I want to give [the weather] a chance,” she said. “I believe that if you dress properly, the weather shouldn’t deter you from anything.”

Nothing much deters Minott, who leads the MCD Spartans (19-3) with a 19.1 scoring average entering their district playoff opener on Thursday.

After losing in last season’s Class 3A state final 44-40 to Daytona Beach’s Father Lopez, MCD coach Ochiel Swaby contacted every school that made the Final Four from 4A to 8A and loaded up his schedule.

MCD lost its three games this season by a combined total of just 10 points, including 46-44 to defending 6A state champion Orlando Edgewater and 58-53 to 8A runner-up Miami High.

Among MCD’s victims were defending 4A state champ Jacksonville Ribault, 7A runner-up Nova, 4A runner-up Coral Springs Charter, 8A semifinalist Orlando Colonial and 6A semifinalist Norland.

“We could have won all three games we lost,” Swaby said. “We led Edgewater by 15 points in the fourth quarter, we were leading Jones in the final minute, and we took Miami High to overtime.”

Swaby said Minott, who is averaging 8.5 rebounds and 4.0 steals, played better against the top competition.

“She has explosiveness not normal in the girls’ game,” he said. “She has the ability to elevate and shoot a jumper just like a guy.”

MCD lost three key players from last season’s team but has added Krop transfer Ogetchi Anaygalibo, a 5-11 junior who is averaging 11 points and 10 rebounds, and seventh-grade guard Maria Alvarez, who is only 5-1 but gives the Spartans terrific three-point shooting.

Swaby said Alvarez, who scored a career-high 16 points last week against American Heritage, reminds him of a younger version of former Lourdes guard Tiffany Suarez, now a freshman part-time starter at the University of Virginia.

“With her three-point shooting, Maria gives us a dimension we didn’t have last year when teams would play us zone and pack it in,” Swaby said. “Now I say, ‘Go ahead, play us zone.’ ”

MCD’s two other returning starters, joining Minott, are freshman point guard Channise Lewis and 5-5 junior Stephanie MacKenzie, a defensive stopper.

Lewis has been hobbled the past month by an ankle injury, but Swaby said she is averaging 11.5 points and drawing recruiting interest from Miami, LSU, Georgia and others.

Still, this year’s team belongs to Minott, who is interested in studying psychology and chose Syracuse over her other finalists, Miami and North Carolina State.

Minott said her family was trying to nudge her to stay closer to home, meaning Miami … or at least N.C. State.

But Minott was swayed by Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman and his staff’s vision of her as a versatile player who could compete at four positions on offense.

“I thought it was crazy at first,” she said. “They saw unusual potential in me, going as far as the WNBA. But if they are thinking that far ahead, then maybe they might have something big in store for me.”

Syracuse had other advantages, too. Minott has two brothers and other family members who live within a four-hour drive of Syracuse, and the Orange, as new members of the ACC, will play at Miami a couple of times during her career there.

All that’s left now for Minott is to lead MCD to the first state title in program history. The Spartans reached the regional finals in her sophomore year before last season’s heartbreak.

“The last two years have been a tease,” she said. “We’ve come so close. But I’m pretty confident we can win this year. That would be the perfect finish to my high school career.”

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