PCA basketball no longer just for the boys|[11/13/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 13, 2007

E.J. Creel had to think long and hard about accepting the job to coach Porters Chapel Academy’s boys basketball team this season.

It had less to do with being a woman coaching a boys team, than taking on the extra workload. Coaching another team meant three or four more hours of work a day, and less time to spend with her husband and 13-month-old son. And then there was that little issue of a second child due in February.

In the end, Creel decided to take on the challenge and, in the process, make history.

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When the Eagles open their season, Creel will be on the bench and become the first woman to coach a boys basketball team in Warren County history.

She’s not the first to do it in Mississippi — Tamara Vandevere of Benton Academy also coaches her school’s boys team, and Shirley Agostinelli coached St. Aloysius’ boys soccer team for more than a decade — but is an oddity. Vandevere is the only basketball coach in the MPSA in a similar situation, and Mississippi Association of Coaches executive director Johnny Mims said he knows of no public schools with women coaching boys teams.

“It’s definitely going to be a shocker for some people. I think my age is going to be a shocker,” said Creel, who is 24 years old. “But Porters Chapel has thought enough of me to ask me to do it, and the administration seems to be excited about it. So they’re what matters. Anybody else can think what they want to about it.”

Creel was a logical choice for the job. She’s the most accomplished basketball player in PCA history, having scored 3,222 career points and leading the Lady Eagles to the MPSA Class A championship game in the 1998-99 season. She’s also been earning her coaching stripes by leading PCA’s girls team the last two seasons.

So when the search for a boys coach started to drag into summer, PCA’s administration asked Creel about coaching the boys.

After thinking it over for a couple days and talking it over with her husband, Vicksburg High baseball coach Jamie Creel, E.J. Creel decided to help out her alma mater.

“I don’t like seeing the program go down. My goal is to build the program up and keep it that way,” E.J. Creel said. “I’m not in it for the glory. I just don’t want to see them go down.”

Creel’s reputation as a player and coach seem to be helping her gain the respect of her new players. Senior guard Matt Cranfield said he expected Creel to bring out the best in a team that underachieved and finished 6-8 last season.

“It’ll be a lot different. She’s got more fire than what we had last year,” Cranfield said, adding that all of his teammates respected Creel. “Everybody does. They should. She’ll get on your tail if you’re not doing it right.”

Now, all Creel needs is a team.

The season-opener had been scheduled for Nov. 8, but all but one of the basketball players is still with PCA’s football team. The opener was delayed when it made the playoffs, then delayed again when they beat Heidelberg in the first round. The next available date for the first game is Nov. 19, at home against Class AAA Washington School.

The one player who isn’t playing football is, perhaps, PCA’s best player — all-county forward Jermaine O’Conner. He’s recovering from abdominal surgery over the summer, though. The first district game is Nov. 30, and the Eagles play half of their district schedule before Christmas. Four returning starters will help ease the transition, but it may still put them in a deep hole if they don’t hit the ground running.

“That’s going to be the hard thing, is getting them in basketball shape in three days to a week,” Creel said.

Lady Eagles hope to shake off 2006-07

E.J. Creel’s memory gets a little fuzzy when she talks about last season.

“One-and-14? One-and-15? I think it was more than that,” The Porters Chapel coach says when asked about the Lady Eagles’ record in 2006-07.

It was actually 1-15, giving Creel and the Lady Eagles a good reason to forget about it.

But life — and basketball — goes on, and they’re back for another go-round. Three starters, including leading scorer Shelby Wells, are back, giving PCA hope it can improve on last season’s dismal showing.

“This is definitely a rebuilding year. I’m not going to lie. Just because we’ve got a little more depth and size, we’re not going to come out and win 20 games,” said Creel, who is entering her third season as PCA’s girls coach. “But it is encouraging that we’ve got more (players) than we had last year.”

PCA’s roster has swelled to 10 players this season. Among the newcomers are junior guard Morgen Barber, a Warren Central transfer, and forward Holly Ford. Only two of the 10, guards Erin Purvis and Katie Atkins, are seniors. Wells, a sophomore forward who averaged a team-high 12 points and seven rebounds last season, is also back and will be called on to carry the bulk of the scoring load.

“She led us in points as a freshman, so she’ll probably be our go-to player,” Creel said of Wells.

The Lady Eagles still have a long way to go before they’re back to the glory years of the late 1990s. Thirteen of last year’s 15 losses were by 15 points or more — including 13 in a row after a three-point loss to Central Hinds in the opener — and the lone win didn’t come until the next-to-last game of the year.