Blue Devils Find Success by Running Half-Court Offense
Sun. January 27, 2013 at 3:23 a.m. | By Nathan Halverson
Winter Haven players Khadijah Howell, left, Zeneka Willix, center, and Cynkeria Mobley have been the key players in helping the Blue Devils earn the No. 1 seed for the Class 6A, District 9 tournament that starts on Monday. (Photo by PAUL CRATE | LEDGER MEDIA GROUP)
By NATHAN HALVERSON | LEDGER CORRESPONDENT
WINTER HAVEN | Patient. That's how Winter Haven girls basketball head coach Johnnie Lawson describes his offense.
"You have to be able to run a half-court offense," Lawson said. "We have to be patient."
A half-court offense generally means setting up your offense but not necessarily slowing the ball down. Whether it's a pick and pop or a triangle, usually the main objective is to get everybody involved.
Lawson, in his fifth year as head coach, has been with the Winter Haven program for 15 years.
The Blue Devils (17-8, 5-1) host the Class 6A, District 9 tournament this week and play Lake Gibson on Monday at 7 p.m. Winter Haven, the No. 1 seed, dominated the fourth-seeded Braves in two earlier meetings.
The Blue Devils' senior trio of Cynkeria Mobley, Zeneka Willix and Khadijah Howell are major factors in running the team's offense.
"Those three seniors make up the dynamic of this team," Lawson said.
Mobley is primarily a shooting guard and is currently tied with Bartow's Zykira Lewis for the county lead in points per game (21.1) despite missing four games with a foot injury. She is a three-year starter and key part of Winter Haven's three consecutive Final Four appearances. She also likes to listen to music and eat when she's not torching opponents on the court.
"This year, we had to settle down our offense and not run it up and down the court like we have in past years," Mobley said.
Lawson said that when the Blue Devils slow the offense down, they play a more organized game.
Willix is a two-year starting power forward who averages a double-double in scoring (19.1) and rebounding (12). She leads the county with 300 rebounds and is fourth in scoring.
"It feels great to keep the tradition going," Willix said. "We are going to continue to play hard."
Howell, a 5-foot-7, two-year starter primarily at the small forward position, said she enjoys having the week off from playing any games. Winter Haven last played Jan. 19, losing at Colonial 59-53.
"Its good we are getting time off to be organized so we can work on our offense and defense," Howell said.
Howell suffered a setback after her freshman season with a right ACL tear during the summer. She recovered in time for her sophomore season, missing just 3-4 months.
Winter Haven has made 13 Final Four appearances in the past 15 years, including two state titles in 2005 (Class 4A) and 2007 (Class 5A).
Former Winter Haven player Tiffany Hayes helps the Blue Devils team during practices. Hayes was a major part of Winter Haven's two state titles and the team had a 117-9 record during her four years. Last year, she was drafted in the second round (14th overall) of the WNBA draft by the Atlanta Dream out of the University of Connecticut.
Winter Haven is ranked No. 8 in Class 6A by Maxpreps.com, while Kathleen (14-7, 4-2) is ranked No. 12. Both games between the two teams were decided by one point. Kathleen won Jan. 11 (39-38) on a Mercedes Sirmons game-winning 3-point shot. Mobley returned the favor Jan. 18, making a field goal as time expired to give Winter Haven a 42-41 victory.
"Win or lose, we are going to have some fun in the tournament," Lawson said.
Kathleen (No. 2 seed) plays Sebring (No. 3 seed) Tuesday night at 7, with the championship game set for Friday night at 7.