James Anderson was very clear, his words precise.
He knew exactly what he was saying. Anderson wasn’t caught up in the moment of being burned for 19 points by Lorie Rayford.
“You know and I know Sade [Wiley-Gatewood] is the best player at Lynwood, so let’s get that out of the way,” said the Harbor City Narbonne coach, whose team had just lost the Southern California Regional Division I girls’ basketball championship to Lynwood, 54-46, in a battle of the Southland’s top two teams. “But Rayford is the most important player they have.”
On an all-star team that features Wiley-Gatewood, one of the Southern Section’s best players, and three flashy transfers, Rayford is the quiet, often unnoticed Knight.
Rayford is 5 feet 11 inches tall and averaged 14.5 points and 11.5 rebounds this season, against opponents that included nationally-ranked teams. A broken knuckle caused her to miss six games, including five against San Gabriel Valley League teams that Lynwood typically drums by 50 points or more.
Rayford, the team’s fourth-leading scorer, carried Lynwood in the first half against Narbonne by scoring 13 of her team’s 23 points.
“To me, she’s the key to them winning,” Anderson said. “She does all the dirty work. Nobody talks about her. Why? Because she’s not spectacular. A kid who’s 5-11 and rebounds at 14 a clip? She won’t make any All-CIF team, but she’s the reason they are where they are.”
Lynwood is 31-1 and on the verge of its second consecutive state championship. Teammates since sixth grade at Monroe Magnet Middle School in Inglewood, Wiley-Gatewood, a junior, provides the style and Rayford, also a junior, provides the substance.
“It’s very exciting to play alongside Lorie,” Wiley-Gatewood said. “She doesn’t do the stuff that gets people on their feet in the stands. She’s not flashy. She just does what it takes to win.
“Sometimes, when you try to do too much you get in the way. She doesn’t try to do too much. She’s not trying to get her name in the paper because she doesn’t care about getting her name in the paper.”
Lynwood Coach Ellis Barfield praised Rayford’s leadership and “big-game presence.”
“Lorie stands out because she’s in the right place at the right time,” Barfield said.
Wiley-Gatewood says that Rayford and Tiffani Burries, a 6-4 senior who averages 7.5 points and 6.5 rebounds, have improved more than any other Lynwood players since the end of last season.
“I think because [Rayford] got a little bigger and stronger, she started dominating in the post,” Wiley-Gatewood said.
Rayford says she’s quicker and playing with more confidence.
“I have more experience and make better decisions -- when to pass the ball, when to not pass the ball,” Rayford said. “I hustle more. I’m more aggressive. I have more confidence.
“I’m a rebounder, and I hustle for loose balls. I get most of my points from put-backs and free throws.”
Rayford also credits Wiley-Gatewood, LaJoyce King, Kameca Simmons and Brandi Kimble for being good motivators.
“They make me feel like they really need me on the court,” Rayford said.
If Lynwood is to beat San Jose Archbishop Mitty today at Arco Arena, Rayford will need to hold her own against Jenna Green, a 6-4 center averaging 11 points and eight rebounds. Mitty (32-2), which won state titles in 1995 and 1999, has a 29-game winning streak.
“Most of the time I guard the biggest player,” Rayford said. “I like it. I can dribble the ball really well, I can bring them out on the perimeter and drive. I can’t really post them up because they’re taller than me, but most of the time I’m stronger and have better ball-handling skills.
“I just have to come out and play my game.”