— Before the 2008-09 season, it was difficult to envision Tabb High's Steve Sherwood and Grafton's Jasmine Williams-Hayes as Daily Press high school basketball players of the year. For starters, history was against both seniors.
No Bay Rivers boy had won the DP's top honor in the league's 18-year existence, while the Peninsula District also justifiably is considered stronger in girls hoops. And before the first jump ball in late November, many felt neither had the all-around game to rise to prominence in the Daily Press coverage area.
Sherwood averaged 17.8 points to earn Bay Rivers player-of-the-year honors as a junior, but was pegged as a spot-up shooter, often unable to create a shot on his own. Williams-Hayes also had a reputation as a one-trick pony, a girl who could drive to the hoop with abandon, but only in one direction: to her left.
Argue if you want that there are several area players more talented than Sherwood. He won't quibble.
Debate if you wish about one or two others being as good as Williams-Hayes. She agrees.
But you can't say anymore that either lacks variety in their game. Harder still would be arguing against either being named a Daily Press Player of the Year.
Lamont Strothers, the former Bethel High boys' coach who trains area players through his GESUS (Growth Through Education Sports Unity & Spirit) Ball program, says both are deserving.
"I'm not surprised they were picked, because they had to do the most for their teams," said Strothers, who played two NBA seasons after setting the all-time scoring record at Christopher Newport University. "Look where their teams finished."
Sherwood repeated as district player of the year, averaging 19.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in leading the Tigers to their second consecutive BRD title. Tabb went 23-6 and finished its season in the Division 4 state quarterfinals — as the only Bay Rivers or Peninsula District boys team to advance to state play.
Williams-Hayes won player-of-the-year honors on the district and Region I levels. She averaged 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three steals to lead Grafton (21-8) to the district and regional tournament titles, as well as a spot in the Division 4 state quarterfinals — the only BRD or PD girls team to make state.
"From my experience refereeing Peninsula and Bay Rivers boys games, the Bay Rivers boys players aren't as talented 1-to-5," Strothers said. "But the Bay Rivers teams play controlled, fundamental basketball.
"Because they play a lot of zone in the Bay Rivers, they have to know how to move without the ball, shoot and be more fundamentally sound playing team basketball. Steve Sherwood is a very sound basketball player."
Sherwood says much of his improvement moving with and without the ball was the result of playing point guard through most of preseason practice. Tigers coach Doug Baggett moved Sherwood back to shooting guard shortly before the first game, but by then Sherwood had vastly improved his ability to put the ball on the floor.
"That helped my confidence," Sherwood said. "I realized I was capable of taking it all the way to the hoop, stop for the pull-up jumper or shoot the long jump shot."
Sherwood scored all three ways, and by making 10 of 10 free throws, in the Tigers' 81-65 win over Warhill for the district tournament championship. That victory, and the 69-44 win over Eastern View that clinched the state berth, were the highlights for Sherwood.
"To have our gym packed and win in front of so many fans, then celebrate and joke with my teammates and coaches is something I'll never forget," said Sherwood, who recently committed to play for Hampden-Sydney College.
Williams-Hayes prepared for her season by training with Strothers during the summer. They worked on her inconsistent shooting stroke and propensity to drive primarily to her left.
"She figured if she was having success driving left, why not do it," Strothers said. "So we focused on training her mind to go right and to make her shooting more fluid.
"I told her she'd need to diversify her game to score on all the box-and-one, triangle-and-two and double-teams she was going to see. That afternoon, in team camp, she started going right all the time.
"That shows how coachable she is. Her coachability is something I talk to college recruiters about."
Those recruiters — including from Towson and James Madison — are contacting Grafton in increasing numbers following her big postseason. She was at her best during the Clippers' march to the state quarterfinals, averaging 27.7 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 4.0 steals in seven tournament games.
Williams-Hayes displayed all of her newfound versatility in scoring 33 points in the 64-48 win at Courtland in the regional final. He more fluid shooting stroke netted four 3-pointers, and she also scored baskets with a variety of pump-fakes, hooks (driving right) and pull-up jumpers.
"That Courtland game was fun to watch," Grafton coach Chris Harper said. "But that scoop shot (on a length-of-the-court drive) and (step-back) 3-pointer against Poquoson were the most memorable."
She hit those shots during a personal 10-1 run in the district title game. The score was tied when she hit the scoop shot with 3:19 left, launching the Clippers to a 60-51 victory.
"That Poquoson game gave everybody on the team the confidence to make the run we had," Williams-Hayes said.
That run, as much as anything, earned her the DP player-of-the-year award.
"I thought it was a joke when I heard I'd won it," she said. "But I really worked hard on improving my all-around game this year and I guess it showed."
Ditto for Sherwood, the first player for from a Group AA school to become DP boys player of the year since Terry Kirby of Tabb (then in the York River District) in 1989.
"I'm not going to compare myself to Kirby in any way," Sherwood said of the all-time leading AA scorer in the area. "But I'm honored to be player of the year and bring it back to a AA school."
Daily Press Players of the Year
NAME: Steve Sherwood.
SCHOOL: Tabb High.
NOTEWORTHY: Sherwood, a 6-foot-4 senior, played four years on the Tabb varsity, helping the Tigers win three Bay Rivers District titles, a district tournament championship and earn two state tournament berths. Averaged 3.9. points as a freshman, 15.8 as a sophomore, 17.8 as a junior and a district-leading 19.1, along with 6.5 rebounds, as a senior. Scored more than 20 points 34 times during his career. Has committed to play for Hampden-Sydney College.
NAME: Jasmine Williams-Hayes.
NOTEWORTHY: Williams-Hayes, a 5-foot-8 senior, played four years on the Grafton varsity. Averaged 8.4 points as a freshman, 13.9 as a sophomore, 16.4 as a junior and 21.0 as a senior. Also averaged 11.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.0 steals as a senior. Scored more than 20 points 27 times, including the final nine games of her career. Averaged 27.7 points and 13.0 rebounds in helping the Clippers win the district and regional tournaments, and reach the state tournament. Has not made a college commitment.
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