Caples caps JUCO career with national honor

Published 11:27 pm Saturday, April 7, 2012

Redemption is always sweet.

Last month, former Warren Central basketball star Sha’Kayla Caples led Trinity Valley Community College (Texas) to a NJCAA national championship. This week, she added another trophy to her growing collection.

The only four-time Vicksburg Post Player of the Year was awarded the State Farm/Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Junior College Player of the Year trophy in a ceremony in Denver.

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She averaged more than 19 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game this season. In two seasons, Trinity has gone 70-3 and Caples was named to the All-America team twice. She led the Cardinals to the national championship game in both seasons.

Gulfport coach Donny Fuller, who coached Caples at Warren Central for four years, was not surprised at her success. In his 23 years at the school, he coached plenty of talented players. When it came to scoring, he Caples was among the best.

“When you’re the best player on a national championship team that’s undefeated, well, there’s a good chance you’re going to be winning that award. I was blessed to coach some great players and Sha’Kayla Caples was the best offensive player I’ve ever coached.”

The sophomore, who will graduate in May and is one of the top recruits in the country after originally signing a letter of intent in 2009 with Louisiana Tech, rebounded from a 2009 arrest for armed robbery that resulted in the loss of her scholarship to Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Fla. The charges were later dismissed and she made the most of her second chance in Texas.

“We only talked about that once when she first came here and honestly, we’ve had no issues like those here,” said former Trinity Valley coach Kenya Landers, who coached the Cardinals with her husband Michael Landers. “We believe in moving forward. She’s made a positive impact on our program and she’s taken care of business on and off the court.”

Kenya and Michael Landers announced last week that they were taking assistant coaching positions at Ole Miss. Caples had no comment on where she plans to transfer for her final two years of eligibilty.

One of the biggest impacts on Caples’ game is her much-improved outside shooting and ballhandling. She moved full-time to shooting guard at Trinity and her improved accuracy from behind the 3-point arc served her well.

Always having a deft mid-range game, Caples made herself an even tougher player to cover and has become a shot creator for herself and her teammates.

“She’s really put in the work to fine-tune areas of her game,” Kenya Landers said. “One thing that has helped her is that we’ve put great players around her, which helped her get less double teams and allowed her talent to flourish. She’s really improved as a passer and she trusted her teammates. She felt she didn’t have to score every trip down the floor to have an impact.”

It was a transformation that Fuller was glad to see. When Caples was a freshman, he was forced to play her inside and later moved her to the wing. In her final season at WC, she averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds per game.

Fuller and Caples keep in touch via text message and Fuller loves that his former charge has taken a lot of his coaching to heart.

“She was the most hard-headed player I ever coached,” Fuller said. “But she’s incorporated a lot of the stuff that we wanted her to do when she was at Warren Central. When she was in ninth grade, she didn’t want to use the backboard, but now, she told me she does it all of the time. She didn’t want to play outside, but she loves playing outside now. She understands the work now that it takes to develop her game.”