By Brian Paglia
There are four teams left in the Class AAAA girls basketball tournament. And only one coach has seen them all on the court, matching wit and roster for 32 minutes.
If you're looking for a scouting report for Wednesday's girls semifinal contests, give Forest Park coach Steven Cole a call.
His Panthers faced Northwest Whitfield in the Deep South Classic tournament championship game over the Christmas break, hosted back-to-back state champs Southwest Dekalb in late January and battled Region 4-AAAA foe three times, including in the region tournament championship.
Oh, and Forest Park is in the semifinals for the first time since winning the state title in 1970.
Cole had to game-plan for all three, so he kindly offered his perspective on each semifinalist, including his own Lady Panthers:
On Dutchtown (27-2):
"I guess like everybody else, I like the twins (Alyssa and Brittney Strickland). The twins are to me some of the best all-around players we've played all year. They have all the tangible skills, but it's those intangible skills that they have -- the leadership skills -- to keep players in the game, to encourage their players and also criticize their players to keep a cohesive team.
"To me, (Abria Trice) is like Mr. Bigshot. She always comes up with the big shot for them. ... She's the x-factor for those girls."
"Coach (Angela) Williams is a proven coach. The past two years she's been in the region championship ... Her record is impeccable. I know since she's been to Dutchtown she's always won 20 games per season. That's the mark of a pretty good coach.
"Her girls are well-disciplined. You don't see anybody talking back to her.
They seem well-organized. I really think the second time she played us (a Dutchtown 57-54 victory) she had a wonderful game-plan for us. I really thought she'd done her homework. I really respected her after that second game."
On Northwest Whitfield (28-3):
"A lot of teams put an emphasis on their big girls (6-3 senior Christy Robinson and 6-5 junior Quaneisha McCurty). I think their backcourt is great. I think the point guard (senior Bailey Coley) and the shooting guard (senior Jordi Cook) -- whenever she's open, she knocks the shot down. I think that opens it up for the bigger girls in the middle. I really think their game is the outside-inside game."
On Southwest Dekalb (25-4):
"They're one of the best all-around teams we've played against. I think they have nine girls on varsity and all nine of them can play. They're so deep. I don't think even all their starters start every game. I know they have a core, but they have some different girls start different games.
"And the pressure. They have such pressure defense. If you can handle their pressure, I think you can make a game of it."
On Forest Park (24-6):
"Our talent is OK, but we try to be the smartest team on the court. We try to do what we do best. We don't try to recreate the wheel.
I don't try to call a timeout and draw up some different play. We just basically do what we practice.
"I always talk to my girls about being the smartest team on the court. It's not always the best team on the court that wins. The majority of the time it's the smartest team on the court that wins. That's what we concentrate on."