FOREST PARK — Those that follow Clayton County basketball closely are no stranger to Forest Park senior Alexius High.

High first made a name for herself as a sophomore when she played in 28 games during Forest Park’s run to the Class AAAAA Final Four during the 2013-14 season. As a junior during the 2014-15 season, High returned to the Final Four with Forest Park, this time averaging nearly 10 points per game through 55 made three-point baskets.

As Forest Park’s three-point specialist, High came into her own as a player last season. Still, with the likes of Kerry Watson, Tamecia Blue, Breasia McElrath and Kanisha Tharpe on that squad — three of those players are competing at the next level this season, while Blue plays at Dutchtown — High played her part as a key role player to perfection.

Living in the proverbial shadows suited High just fine. The soft-spoken Lady Panther was an integral part of those great Forest Park teams, but had no issue letting her older teammates take on the brunt of the leadership obligations.

But when Watson, Blue, McElrath and Tharpe left Forest Park for different reasons at the end of the last school year, there was one lone piece remaining from those championship-caliber Forest Park teams — High.

High isn’t just the last vestige from Forest Park’s Final Four squads, she’s the teams only senior. Whereas she could lead by example while others led vocally in the past, High has been asked to take on the entire leadership load for the Lady Panthers this season.

“When you’re the only senior then you have to take on the whole load,” said head coach Steve Cole. “You have to be able to run the team, get girls straight in the hallway, make sure the locker room is going right and be a leader on the court. That’s tough for anybody. You have to be an example. When your team isn’t doing well, that’s just another load you have to carry. Alexius has done an outstanding job.”

Forest Park — playing with one senior and just eight total players — is 8-10 and 5-6 in Region 4-AAAAA. High has done her part, averaging 15.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.

High has been tremendous on the court, but her biggest contribution has been showing her younger teammates what it means to be a Forest Park Lady Panther — a task that extends far beyond the hardwood.

“I’ve had to be more vocal,” said High, who boasts a 3.4 GPA in her final semester of high school. “People on the team don’t understand and now that we have a lot of freshman and sophomores on the team, they get nervous. Now it’s my job to step up and make sure they’re not nervous. When I was a sophomore, I didn’t have to do that. There were four or five seniors, so I could just play. Now I have to make sure everybody knows their position on the court.”

Strategically, High’s responsibilities have increased, too. Cole refers to High as Forest Park’s “Wonder Woman” because of all the tasks she’s asked to perform during a game.

“I knew I would have to shoot more,” High said regarding her changing role. “Last year, I was just a standout three-point shooter. Now since I’m the only senior, I have to handle the ball more. As a sophomore or junior, I never was the point guard but now sometimes I am. I bring the ball up through the press, call plays and all of that. It’s been a big change.”

Given what High, Cole and Forest Park are used to, an 8-10 record has been quite the culture shock. But while other players who had enjoyed success early in their careers would have left a rebuilding situation in their final year, High stayed loyal to the coach and the program that’s given her so much.

Because of that, High has developed into the complete leader — one that does the right things on and off the court, plays with effort and energy every night and whose words hold weight with her teammates.

“Some people may look at our team as not being as good as it was the past few years, but they don’t understand that the young girls we have are good,” High said. “They’re just young. It’s actually fun because I can teach the girls what to do. Each game, I see my teammates progressing. It’s not as bad as it looks. It’s actually a good thing.”

High has done her winning. Already one of the most successful players in program history, she’s focused on helping the program she’s invested so much into get back to its winning ways sooner rather than later.

It may be a few years before players like freshmen Sarah Matthews and Dezsiray Thomas help Forest Park accomplish that, but when that happens, High will deserve a large portion of the credit.

Cole knows that, which is why his relationship with High is bigger than basketball.

“I love her like a daughter,” said Cole. “It won’t be like losing a player, it’ll be like losing a daughter at the end of the season.”

Luke Strickland is the sports editor of the Clayton News in Jonesboro and the Henry Herald in McDonough. He went to school at the University of Georgia.

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