Gems of Alabaster: Warriors Cunningham and Lions Phillips are Players of the Year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Shelby County&8217;s best in 2006-07 basketball reign from Alabaster.

Thompson&8217;s Gary Cunningham and Kingwood Christian&8217;s Hannah Phillips highlight this year&8217;s Shelby County Reporter All-County team.

While both started playing basketball around the same age in grade school, Cunningham did not take the court for an organized team until his eighth grade season. That same season, Phillips was working her way into a starting role on varsity at Kingwood. She first dressed for a varsity game the previous year as a seventh grader.

&8220;I was scared. I knew some of the girls and was friends with them, but I was very intimidated and nervous every game,&8221; Phillips said.

Kingwood head coach Jerry Stearns first noticed Phillips in a P.E. class in the fifth grade and asked her to join his team two years later.

&8220;She&8217;d get against some of the older girls and they&8217;d knock her

down and stuff, and she&8217;d bounce up just like a bulldog wanting more. That&8217;s a character trait that you&8217;re born with,&8221; Stearns said.

Through her seven seasons of varsity basketball, she has collected 3,116 points and 701 assists, as she finished the 2006-07 season with an average of 22.4 points and 6.6 assists per game.

Cunningham posted similarly impressive numbers for his senior campaign.

In three seasons with the Warriors, Cunningham collected 1,198 points and became the first 1,000 point player that head coach Jeff Nichols has coached, for the player&8217;s entire career.

As a senior, Cunningham averaged 14.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, while blocking 35 shots on the year.

&8220;I loved the season. I think we could have went a little farther but I was happy with how far we did go,&8221; Cunningham said of his team&8217;s run, that ended in the Class 6A Northwest Regional Final.

Phillips understands the feeling of falling short of a championship, as she experienced it each year since she joined the team. However, this year was different, as she sank the game-winning basket at the buzzer in overtime to defeat Marion Schools 53-51 for the state title.

While both Cunningham and Phillips are talented on the court, that is not what impresses their coaches the most.

Nichols looks more at Cunningham&8217;s work ethic and mood on the court.

&8220;When he was in the gym and the weight room he was a leader for this team. I feel like he conducts himself on the floor and off the floor by staying even kill all the time. There&8217;s no emotion to get too down or too high. He just keeps his group focused on what needs to be done,&8221; Nichols said of the future Southern Union Community College player.

Phillips is praised by Stearns not only for her scoring ability, but also her knowledge of the game and unselfish leadership on the court.

&8220;After our relationship through the years it was almost like she was an assistant coach because she understood everything I was trying to do. She&8217;s probably the most unselfish, humble kid that I&8217;ve been around in my life,&8221; Stearns said of the future University of West Alabama guard.

The brains behind the success this season in Shelby County are the 2006-07 Coaches of the Year. Spain Park&8217;s Brian Moon turned a four-win team into a Final Four team within six years to collect the school&8217;s first 20-win season in history,

while Kingwood Christian&8217;s Jerry Stearns led his team to a state title in Alabama Independent Schools Association Class 2A.

Joining Cunningham on this year&8217;s All-County team is teammate Laderreous Kelley who averaged 11.9 points per game and had 5.1 rebounds. He led the team in field goal percentage with 57 percent shooting from the floor. Also rounding out the team are Spain Park&8217;s Jake Drum, Octavius Looney of Vincent and Pelham&8217;s Steven Clark.

Next to Phillips&8217; 3,000 plus points, are two other all-county players from Alabaster with over 1,000 points on the year. Rhonda Watts and Chasity Herron of Thompson both ended the season with more than 1,000 career points. Herron, who has signed with the Unviersity of Alabama in Birmingham

is one of two NCAA Division I signees

on the team, as she is joined by Auburn University signee Ruth Ketchum of Briarwood Christian. Also on the team is Candice Fields, of Montevallo, who helped lead her team back to the state tournament and finished the season with 90 steals and 14.7 points per game.