Director and coach of the Alabama Southern Starz Doug Bush snaps a photo with Priceville’s Jenna Walker prior to competition beginning. Walker is one of the top ninth-graders in the area and is one of two – along with Kathleen Wheeler – Priceville standouts who play with the Starz.

Travel team

Southern Starz provides offseason competition for girls basketball

By Justin Jefferies

Hartselle Living

 

The heart and soul of small-town athletics are the high school teams. Friday night football, Christmas basketball tournaments and spring baseball are all events that can have a lasting impact on a community. Most people know how hard student-athletes train during the season, but what do these competitors do to stay sharp and improve in the offseason?

For girls basketball, travel ball during the spring and summer months is without a doubt the best option – and there is perhaps no better organization than the Alabama Southern Starz. Many people might think AAU or travel basketball is too time consuming or simply not worth it, but according to program director Doug Bush, the results speak for themselves.

“I think you just have to look at some of the players who have come through our program,” Bush said. “AAU basketball for girls is completely different than boys. There are no shoe deals. A lot of times these girls are out here competing for scholarships or to try to get better for the next level. Our program is not just trying to teach basketball lessons, but also life lessons.”

Southern Starz – which was founded in 2000 – currently fields some of the top competitors in Madison and Morgan counties, who compete all over the Southeast region with the best in the sport. The idea is not to just grab players once it is clear they are good. Bush said Southern Starz encourages young girls to join the program in their early days of learning basketball.

“You look at some of the best that we have had, and most all of them were with us for multiple years,” Bush added. “I went back and did the math, and the average amount of time that our players spend with us is 5.8 years. It’s not like we are just getting 11th-graders every year and piecing a team together. These girls all play with each other from a very young age.”

Bush is no stranger to girls basketball. Having three daughters – all of whom showed interest in basketball at a young age – Bush found out about the Alabama Southern Starz in 2001 when his oldest daughter was encouraged to join the program and be a member of the initial graduating class.

Being the businessman and visionary that he is, Bush saw the potential and the benefits of growing the program into what it is today. Now players such as Shakayla Thomas – a Florida State graduate who is expected to be a first-round draft pick in the WNBA – got their start in competitive basketball with the Southern Starz.

“You look at players like Shakayla, who was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school and who was selected as Miss Basketball in Alabama, and you know we are getting great talent and helping them develop their skills on and off the court,” Bush said. “The amount of talent in the Morgan and Madison county areas is incredible. We get players from all over the South, and we combine them with that local talent to field one of the top teams in the country.”

If there is one thing that is clear, it is that Alabama Southern Starz has impacted north Alabama girls basketball for the better. Forty different athletes associated with the Southern Starz competed in this year’s regional and state final championships. In addition, eight of the 12 seniors competing for Alabama in the Alabama vs. Mississippi All-Star Game were members of the organization.

Travel basketball is elite in this area, and thanks to some help from the Starz, the future of girls basketball is very bright.

Local athletes who are current members of the Alabama Southern Starz include eighth-grader Masyn Marchbanks of Hartselle; freshmen Jenna Walker of Priceville, Halia Morris of Madison Academy, Makiyah Parker of James Clemens and Saniah Parker of Jemison; sophomores Emily Bowman of Huntsville, Destinee McGhee of Madison Academy, Brianna Moore of Grissom, Alaina Taylor of Athens and Katie Jones of Decatur Heritage; and juniors Moriah Taylor of Hartselle Jasmine Grace of Madison Academy, Ariana Powe of Grissom, Kathleen Wheeler of Priceville McCarley Northway of Brewer and Jolee Cole of Danville.

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