Southwest DeKalb’s Kayla Lewis is one of the state’s few girls in high school basketball who plays “above the rim.”
Lewis, who has signed with Florida, has to be constantly reminded by her coach not to touch the rim during warm-ups because it’s an automatic technical foul. She was nearly called for goal-tending in a game over the holidays, and routinely dunks a tennis ball in practices.
“It’s one of my goals to dunk in a game,” Lewis said. “I hope to make it happen in college after I get stronger in weight-training. But it’s my goal.”
The 6-foot Lewis will have to wait on that goal, but have a decent shot at achieving another one this year — helping Southwest win a third straight Class AAAA championship.
The No. 2-ranked Panthers (23-4) play host to Fayette County (24-5) at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the second round of the state tournament.
Lewis averages 15 points and 8 rebounds, leading Southwest in both categories for the second season in a row. She starts at small forward, but can play every position on the court.
“She’s extremely athletic, shoots the 3-pointer very well, and absolutely elevates over everybody on her jump shots,” Southwest coach Kathy Richey-Walton said.
How can Southwest be contending for yet another championship? The Panthers lost three starters from last year’s team, including Jamesha Blake (Troy) and Laquiasha Lewis (Coppin State).
However, this year Southwest has one of the largest senior classes in school history with eight, including five starters.
“They have incredible chemistry,” said Redan coach Jerry Jackson. The Raiders are ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAA, and also appear in several national polls, including No. 6 by USA Today.
Redan survived a major scare against Southwest on Feb. 6, holding a slim two-point lead with 30 seconds left before eventually winning 64-58.
“Southwest is so tough because those girls have played together so long,” Jackson said. “They always know where their teammates are located on the court, and what each one of them can do.”
It’s rare to find any team with eight seniors due to attrition or youth movements. The group went undefeated on the junior varsity in the 2006-2007 season, winning every game by 30 points or more. They have played valuable roles in both previous state championships.
“We have stuck together this long because our coaches emphasize the team aspect of the game … it’s not about individuals,” Lewis said. “And, of course, when you’re winning, everybody wants to be part of that.”
Two other senior standouts are Chancie Dunn, a first-year starter at shooting guard who has signed with Clemson, and 6-2 center Chyna Miley, who is being recruited by George Mason and Tennessee Tech, among others.
“This is a very special senior class,” Richey-Walton said. “It’s not like two or three can play. All eight of them contribute and they will all be missed.”
However, they haven’t left yet, and they have their eyes on the prize. “In the past two years, each state championship is associated with that year’s senior class. I want our class to have our time, just like the two before me,” Lewis said.