Hines Furniture Athlete of the Week: Sumter High's Brown sparks Lady Gamecock offense in region wins


The Sumter High girls basketball team was left with a massive void this season when All-State point guard Kiara Croskey suffered an ACL tear in the spring.

Without their top player, someone needed to step up for the Lady Gamecocks to live up to the high standard set by consecutive appearances in the SCHSL 5A lower state championship game.

Rickell Brown was happy to pick up the torch.

Brown, a fellow All-State guard last season, has blossomed as Sumter High's top offensive weapon. Last week, she had two big offensive games as the Lady Gamecocks earned a pair of much-needed region wins. As a result, she was named the Hines Furniture Athlete of the Week.

"It's a big accomplishment. It sets the tone and really tells everyone in the city that I can ball, too," Brown said. "I've just been kind of waiting patiently and doing what I can do to become an athlete of the week."

The junior guard has plenty of varsity experience, but she spent her entire high school career playing beside Croskey and fellow guard Keziyah Sanders. Without Croskey, she felt the extra pressure, but she wanted to step up for her teammates.

"All I just start out with is doing what I do best, getting to the basket and getting good looks for my teammates so my shot can get open, knock down a couple of threes," Brown said on how she's adjusted to extra defensive pressure. "I just think getting my team involved first and letting whatever I have to do on offense come to me last; that's the main part."

Sumter head coach Jeff Schaffer wasn't sure how Brown and her teammates would react during the summer without their star point guard. Once the season kicked off, he was proud of the way Brown stepped up and took on the role of top scorer.

"We struggled a lot this summer, and I attribute that to a lot of growing pains on her part because she wasn't accustomed to being the focal point," Schaffer said. "But she's responded very, very well. She's taken to coaching better than she has in the past; she's understanding more of what we're trying to do.

"She's having to take the responsibility of not only being the two-guard, but also being the point guard if Keziyah needs to come off the court. That's something new to her. It's been a little bit of a learning curve, and I'm proud of the way she's starting to respond."

Last week was crucial for the Lady Gamecocks.

They were in the midst of four consecutive road region games and were fresh off their lone region loss to Carolina Forest the previous Friday. Brown knew what was at stake when Sumter took the court last week against St. James and Conway.

"We just really fuel our fire because we got out to a rocky start with that loss," Brown said. "We just had to keep pushing and keep picking it up. We just had to do all of the fundamental things, like get much better on defense, and I think the past few days, that's what we've been doing."

Defense was big for the Lady Gamecocks in both wins last week. They held St. James to just 10 points in the first half to open the week before going on a 26-3 run in the third quarter against Conway on Friday.

"Defense is one of the main parts of the game. We just had to lock in and play hard defense," Brown said. "We get turnovers, we get steals, we get rebounds, do all the defensive things right, and we'll let the offense come to us. You can get that rhythm going off the defense."

That defense certainly flowed into offense for Brown. She averaged 18.5 points per game last week, adding an average of five rebounds, 1.5 assists and a total of three blocks in the pair of victories. She added an additional 25 points in the Lady Gamecocks' final road game of the regular season on Tuesday, a 61-19 win over Socastee that saw the Braves shut out in two quarters.

What impressed Schaffer the most about Brown's performance last week was her ability to bounce back from a shaky start against Conway.

"More than anything, the thing that we stress a lot is not turning the ball over, and in the first half of the Conway game, she had some turnovers that were uncharacteristic, and I got on her a little bit. I told her, 'We can not have that. I can't have you sitting here on the bench next to me because you're turning the ball over,'" Schaffer recalled. "She responded in the second half with an absolute monster game. She didn't turn the ball over in the second half, she handled the pressure, she was consistent with the way she went about her shooting, she didn't rush anything, and she got her teammates involved.

"That carried into Socastee. She got out to a slow start, but she was much more under control. Even though she was missing some shots, it wasn't because she was out of control. Once it started to click, she's one of those kids that when the offense gets going, she really turns her defense up because she knows she can create turnovers and get in the open court."

With those wins, Sumter is in position to take control of the region back from Carolina Forest. The Lady Panthers come to Sumter High on Tuesday for a game that will likely decide the region championship. Brown is looking forward to the rematch, which will hopefully set the table for a playoff run for the Lady Gamecocks.

"Last time we played Carolina Forest, we took a loss, but all of the games we've played since then, we've been looking to play them. We've been practicing to play Carolina Forest and beat them," Brown said. "We're a good team. We're so young and still learning and doing all of the things we need to do.

"Our mindset is to win a state championship, and that's what we're going to do."