Players of Year grow through streetball

For this year’s Shelby County Reporter Players of the Year, the game of basketball is not divided between club season and high school ball, but by finding a time to fit their high school games into the streetball schedule.

It’s on the clay and gravel courts of Calera’s Oliver Park and University Baptist Church in Montevallo that Calera guard DeMarcus “Rusty” Dowdell and Montevallo point guard Alisha Gentry honed the skills that helped lead their teams to the Sweet Sixteen this year. And that quality is valuable to coaches.

“I’ve always said, if you can play down at the park here, if you cut your teeth down there, there’s a good chance you can play for us,” Calera boys’ basketball head coach Robert Burdette said.

Gentry has played in pick-up games with Dowdell and some of Calera’s legends off and on the past couple of years, as well as games with other men in Montevallo.

“She started challenging me thinking that she could beat me,” Dowdell said.

Gentry, who was unstoppable this season for the Montevallo Lady Bulldogs (30-2), admits she can’t beat Dowdell.

“It’s hard, because he’s good. But that’s all right. It’s just making me better,” Gentry said. “His arm span is so long, you can’t just try to cross over in front of him, or he’ll snatch it. It’ll teach you to keep the ball away and handle the ball better.”

The left-handed Dowdell said playing in pick-up games is what helped him learn to drive to the basket with his right hand this year, which helped him to a 23 points-per-game average and a single-game high 50 points against Chilton County in December.

“On the outside, you’re playing family and friends and they know your game. It’s kind of hard to do what you want to do, so you’ve got to try new things,” Dowdell said. “But in here, people don’t know that much about you so you can do what you want to do. It’s much easier than it is out there.”

It was Dowdell’s maturity on the park court and increased defense that helped him lead a Calera starting lineup of two sophomores and two freshman to a 26-5 record. The pick-up games helped Gentry’s average of five steals, 3.7 assists and 16 points per game.

Combined, the two four-year starters have won more than 170 games.