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Forest Park looking for different cast to lead

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Forest Park rising junior Tiffany Wilson, who is returning after missing the entire 2011-12 season with a knee injury, has played well for the Lady Panthers this summer.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Forest Park rising junior Tiffany Wilson, who is returning after missing the entire 2011-12 season with a knee injury, has played well for the Lady Panthers this summer.

You can use a lot of words to describe the task Steven Cole has as he enters his fifth season as Forest Park girls basketball coach.

He loses his daughter, Ashlee Cole, the two-time Clayton County Player of the Year, and four members of her supporting cast to graduation.

Yet he returns rising sophomores Breasia McElrath and Kanisha Tharpe.

You could call that “reloading.”

Part-time starter Raven Wynn will not be returning to the team after transferring to Jonesboro. But guard Kayla Potts is expected to return from a knee injury in December that left her sidelined for most of the season. Steven Cole is counting on rising junior Shakira Thompson to emerge at the point guard spot.

“Regrouping,” maybe?

Just don’t use the word “rebuilding,” when talking to Cole about the 2012-13 version of the Lady Panthers.

“We don’t want to say rebuilding, because it’s easy to make that into an excuse,” said Cole, whose team advanced to the quarterfinals last season despite four of its starters nursing season-ending injuries. “It’s not rebuilding for us. We look at it as it’s time for someone else to step up and be a Panther.”

To be sure, the Forest Park cupboard is not completely bare. Potts, a rising junior, showed much promise before a torn ACL caused her to miss more than half of last season. Rising junior Tiffany Wilson, also returning from a knee injury, looked strong in recent summer league action against defending region champion Jonesboro.

But just as Forest Park has relied heavily on its backcourt the last few years, an equally weighty burden could be laid upon McElrath and Tharpe — both 6-foot-1 post players who saw extended action when senior Lisa Pease went down with a knee injury in the Panther’s last regular season game.

Cole said he is expecting his twin towers to play beyond their years.

“They’re going to be sophomores, but with their experiences I expect them to play like juniors,” Cole said. “Kesha and Bresia have improved greatly since last season.”

Thompson is one of the new faces vying for prime playing time this season. Last season, the rising junior gave valuable minutes off the bench in key situations for the Lady Panthers — including 10 points and 5 assists in an important late-season region win at Mundy’s Mill.

Cole says upcoming freshman guard Jayla Young has shown some toughness despite just being 5-foot-2, and Imani Richards, a 5-foot-7 transfer from Morrow, who had a 20-point game for the Lady Mustangs last season against Tri-Cities will look to add depth to the Forest Park rotation.

Instead of paying attention to the scoreboard, or keeping a stat sheet as Forest Park sparred with Jonesboro in a summer league game at Clayton State University late last week, Cole seemed more focused on praising the intangibles on his new roster.

“Summer league really lets us see the type of players we have and who’s really committed,” Cole said. “One thing I like about this team right off is that they like each other. And whatever other problems we might see are fixable. When a team likes each other as well as they do, they will come together when times get hard and show great chemistry.”

Some will argue that chemistry alone doesn’t win championships. And there may be some pressure for this season’s team to duplicate the success of last three season, which included trips to the Class AAAA semifinals (2010), finals (2011) and quarterfinals (2012).

Just don’t expect Cole to be the one applying the pressure.

“Each year you get a new team it’s like baking a cake,” he said. “If you have a German chocolate cake, that means you have German chocolate ingredients. If you have a sock-it-to-me cake, you’re working with those ingredients. You don’t try to make a German chocolate cake with sock-it-to-me ingredients.

“We can only play the style of ball this team is built to play. We don’t need to be last year’s team or the team two years ago. It’s a whole new cake.”