One of women's basketball's top analysts added her voice to the chorus of congratulations offered in recent weeks to North Augusta High School's girl's team, appearing as the featured speaker Tuesday evening at a banquet in the team's honor.
Coach Al Young and his squad, having bagged their third consecutive state championship, heard some words of encouragement and experience from Mount Pleasant resident Debbie Antonelli, who played for North Carolina State University and has moved on to become a top analyst on TV for college and professional games.
Tuesday's gathering, held on the top floor of North Augusta's municipal building, also included the awarding of state title rings to the players and coaches. It was familiar territory for some, such as Class AAAA Player of the Year Mya Burns, who now has three such mementos.
Antonelli touched on three "power words" that she uses for keeping her priorities straight from day to day: build, serve and empower. She also emphasized the importance of body language ("the first thing people see"), offering support ("bragging") for teammates, dealing carefully with social media and building a reputation on such things as preparedness, fairness and an excellent work ethic.
She recommended that players, instead of trying to "prove something," focus on improving themselves, "and then tomorrow, when you go to school, or you get ready for your exams, think about how important it is to be prepared, do your best and be a good servant to the game."
Young offered thanks to his squad and shared some memories from the past year. "I truly, truly believe that you are special. I try to tell you that as much as I can, and you don't quite understand what I'm saying, and you don't quite understand what this really, really means, but as our speaker mentioned, you come back with your group 20 years from now, and you're going to realize just what you've achieved," he said.
"This has been phenomenal. I have coached a long, long time, and ... it just doesn't happen every day, and again, I just want to thank you so much for all that you've done and all that you continue to do."
Young's bunch, led through the season by Burns, clinched the title March 2, dumping South Pointe in the title game by a 50-39 score. Burns, in that game, racked up 13 points and 16 rebounds, and Kiana Lee had 12 points and 10 rebounds. J'Mani Ingram popped in 17 points and hauled in six rebounds.
Antonelli had not been on the Yellow Jackets' radar for long, as the original featured speaker was to have been Geno Auriemma, coach of the University of Connecticut's women's team, which has been the NCAA's dominant squad over the past 20-plus years, with 11 national championships in the mix. Auriemma, however, underwent knee surgery May 9 and was advised, by his doctor, to avoid air travel during the recovery, so he cancelled the North Augusta visit.
Antonelli, who has visited North Augusta several times in recent years, in connection with top-tier youth basketball programs, was asked to adjust her schedule and accepted the invitation to join in the celebration of North Augusta's blue-ribbon team.