In any family, minor arguments and disagreements have the tendency to erupt into dramatic histrionics. However, at the end of the day, unconditional love and support usually triumphs, making the previous frustrations seem both silly and unnecessary.
The Lincoln girls basketball team is no different.
Though not related by blood, a trio of the team’s key players freely used the words “sisters” and “family” to describe the 2013-14 unit. And like any big group of sisters, there are differing opinions, but not ones that would prevent any of the players from running through a brick wall for the rest of her teammates.
“We have our ups and downs. We yell and we fight a lot, but what family doesn’t go through things?” asked senior guard Aaliyah Thurman. “I think us fighting helps us. I feel like the criticism we give each other gives us the drive to do better. No matter what’s said, we all respect each other and have one another’s backs.”
“When it comes time for the game, we push problems aside and work together,” said senior backcourt mate Tyshell Jessie. “We’re all close friends on the court, so that helps us win games.”
Added junior forward Kellicia “Kelli” Brown, who will take the reins of the program when Thurman and Jessie graduate: “Drama silences at jump ball. Playing with those two is exciting, sometimes frustrating and just pure fun. Playing with Tyshell, that’s a battle we’ll both never win, and what I mean by that is we challenge each other so much and push each other to strive harder.”
As any coach or parent will testify to, putting a dozen or so teenagers together every day for several months is bound to emit some figurative headbutting. It’s the teams that can push aside those normal teenage squabbles that separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Lincoln is hoping it is one of those teams as the postseason beckons. The Railsplitters sat at 6-3 at press time (8-3 overall), tied for fifth in the Public League AAAA Division with Girls High, while Dobbins (7-2), Northeast (8-2), Franklin Towne (10-1) and Central (8-0) sat ahead of them with still a handful of games to go until the playoffs. The team’s fearsome trio got a taste of the playoffs together a year ago, but exited after one game, a 37-34 loss to Girls High.
“We have a burning sensation in our hearts to win,” Thurman said. “We refuse to say, ‘What if we lose?’ because to us, that’s not an option. We want this more than any team in the Public League and we all believe in ourselves. We can compete with the best out there. We’re ready.”
If Thurman sounds confident, it’s because her game backs it up. In a tight 52-45 loss to Franklin Towne on Jan. 17, Thurman erupted for 28 of her team’s 45 points, showing off an ability to penetrate into the lane or pull up from long range with her sweet shooting stroke. In a 20-point Monday win over Olney, Thurman and Jessie combined for 49 of their team’s 51 points. After relocating from Alabama prior to the last school year, she didn’t mince words about her team’s goals.
“I just want to contribute as much as I can so we can win a championship,” Thurman said. “We deserve it. The school deserves it. Most importantly, our fans deserve it. I will give 1,000 percent when the playoffs come, and so will the rest of the team.”
Lincoln head coach Mike Turchi referred to his two leading scorers as “dynamic.” Thurman has scored in double figures in six of her nine league games (15.6 points per game), while Jessie has hit the mark in all but one contest, including a 31-point explosion in a loss to Central on Dec. 18 en route to a 19.6 PPG output. Brown is averaging around eight per game, but she’s proven her value the most underneath; if she can improve her overall rebounding to complement her enviable size in the lane, Lincoln could be a contender even after its top two scorers graduate.
“Kellicia is a leader and can guide this team next year,” Thurman said. “We call her ‘the grandmother’ of the team, because if she sees you slacking, she’ll let you know right then and there.”
Brown said she was excited for next season, but also admitted to being “heartbroken” since she and Jessie have played together since Brown’s first day on varsity three seasons ago. She mentioned that learning from Jessie and Thurman allowed Brown to return the favor and take “freshman prodigy” Karla Williams under her wing. At the same time, she’s not getting too far ahead of herself.
“We’re confident this year because when it comes to our ‘big three,’ we think we’re unstoppable,” Brown said. “When we are all in sync, it’s like magic.”
For Thurman and Jessie, a strong finish to the season could mean playing basketball in college.
“It seems like I’m never in the right places at the right times,” Thurman lamented. “If a Division I coach saw my talent, dedication and hard work, they wouldn’t hesitate to give me a chance. I just want one chance. I want them to see that I want the ball in my hands with the game on the line. I feel like I’m the best option because I stay calm, and the only thing that goes through my mind is, ‘Do it for the team.’ Everyone misses shots and loses games, but only real winners keep their heads up and keep going.”
“My remaining goal is to just do my best and to work hard for them so we can bring home a championship for once,” Jessie added. “For myself, it’s just to keep my grades up and work hard on the court to make myself better for college with Aaliyah. First, we want to make it to the playoffs. Then, we want to go far and maybe come out as champions so we can make everyone proud of us.”
If anything, this Lincoln squad has the determination and the talent. Aside from the blowout loss to Central, the Railsplitters have been in every game; now, they are gearing up for what they hope is a magical stretch run.
In closing, Thurman shared her team’s chant, saying it fuels the players to work together no matter how many of those sisterly arguments come their way. When the chips are pushed to the center of the table, they fight for — not against — each other.
“To the last quarter, to the last minute, to the last second … We fight, we fight, we fight.” ••