TIFTON -- It has become a tradition at the Abraham Baldwin College basketball banquets to have the freshmen serve the sophomores their meals.
At this year's dinner, the graciousness will be well-earned and a repayment for the only two sophomores on the Fillies' roster. Latasha Gibson and Jennifer Harper have spent the season serving the team's 12 freshmen, trying to impart their wisdom to the rest of the team.
According to head coach Julie Conner, the teaching started before the season even began.
"I knew from the first team meeting we had that Tasha would be extremely valuable," Conner said. "She got up before the team and told them not to make the same mistakes she had made during her freshman year, especially with grades. To make that speech in front of her peers took a great deal of courage."
After missing the last half of last season due to grades, Gibson has had a successful 2003-04 campaign. The 6-foot Thomasville native is averaging 12.9 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.
"She has played great this year," said Conner. "She has led by example and has done her best to show her teammates the right way to play. She has also always had a positive attitude."
Gibson said that being one of only two sophomores on the team has been stressful at times.
"I worry about winning and losing with 12 freshmen and only two sophomores," she said. "But right now, we are doing well."
Gibson's positive attitude has also been something she has tried to pass on to her younger teammates.
"I am trying to be positive on and off the court," she said. "It is going to be tough the rest of the season with our schedule. We will need to maintain a good attitude to be successful."
While Conner feels like Gibson has been leading from the onset, Harper has also come on to show strong leadership for the Fillies.
"Jennifer has really stepped it up for us. Especially during the last couple of games of fall semester and during our Florida trip in December," Conner said. "She has decided to make things happen. She has realized that is all about 'we' and that has made a big difference with our team."
While Gibson has put up big numbers, Harper's contributions, "don't necessarily show up on the stat sheet," Conner said.
"Defensively, I challenge her to battle the other team's best player and she has really done that for us," said Conner. "We played (Atlanta) Metro the other night and she held Kimberly Battle, last year's Player of the Year in our conference, to just 12 points. Battle is averaging over 20 points per game this year, Jennifer holding to her just 12 over an entire game is an impressive accomplishment. I kept asking her if she was tired during that game, but she always said she had it under control and she did."
Conner added, "Jennifer does all of the little things well. If there was a stat for diving on the floor for a loose ball, she would be leading the conference. She is hard-nosed and feisty and you love to have that type of player as a coach. She gets knocked down, but she always gets back up. You have to admire that."
Harper, who played high school basketball at Berrien High, said, "it is a good feeling to be able to help the team win. I enjoy being out there and I want to share that with the rest of the team."
She added, "I am trying my hardest to be a positive influence on my teammates. I am hoping we can do well this year and maybe win the state again like they did two years ago."
The Fillies, 2-0 in conference play this year, will host Darton College today at 5:30 p.m. That game will be followed by the Stallions taking on South Georgia Tech at 7:30 p.m. in another league game. South Georgia Tech is ranked 14th in the nation this week.
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