A rising star for the Warriors

Published 7:47 pm Saturday, March 8, 2014

After one year on the Nansemond River High School junior varsity girls’ basketball team, eighth-grade point guard Briana Autrey has drawn pretty high praise from the Lady Warriors’ coaches.

“I would definitely say she is the best I’ve ever coached,” said JV head coach Jessica Smith, a nine-year coaching veteran in her fifth year at Nansemond River.

Briana Autrey

Briana Autrey

Autrey finished the season averaging 30 points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists per game.

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Lady Warriors varsity coach R. Calvin Mason said hitting 30 points per game at the JV level is pretty much unheard of.

“I’ve been coaching a long time — I’ve never seen it happen,” he said.

Anticipating her move to varsity next year, Mason said Autrey is “one of those ones that come along that you get to coach once in a lifetime.”

Autrey’s mother, Sheila Wooden, recalled the first game of the season, when her daughter scored more than 30 points. “I was just excited and proud of what she and her team did,” she said.

“She definitely carried the team as far as scoring, but overall, as the year progressed, she helped to make her teammates better,” Smith added.

“I felt like it was a pretty good season,” Autrey said. “It was pretty hard at first, but once I got used to my team, it got easier.”

More than just produce big stats, Autrey helped her team win ballgames. While losses piled up early in the season, wins piled up late, and the Lady Warriors ended up 14-6 overall, 5-3 in the conference.

Autrey became the ball handler her team needed, but she “brought a lot of qualities on both sides of the ball,” Smith said.

The need for players on the varsity team this year significantly affected Smith strategy for her team.

“There were probably about six or seven kids on the varsity team that could have played JV,” she said. “(I) really didn’t have many offensive weapons left, so our motivation was to force turnovers.”

Then, her players would turn those into easy transition buckets. She put Autrey on the front line of her defense to get steals and breakaways.

“That really helped to put our team in a good position,” Smith said.

Most of Autrey’s baskets came in transition.

Both Smith and Mason had a sense of what was coming before this year.

As far as the JV team was concerned, Smith said, “Briana has been working with us since she was in the sixth grade,” serving as a team manager.

Even then, Smith could tell Autrey loved the game and would work hard. Seeing her skills, she expanded Autrey’s responsibilities to practicing with her players.

“She would push them, even though she was younger than them,” Smith said. “She’s not the type of player that kind of takes things for granted.” For example, “She’ll take criticism and she’ll work on it.”

For example, Autrey recalled that Smith had told her she needed to shoot more, drive to the hoop more and get her teammates more involved, while knowing their limits.

Coming into this season, Smith could tell she had followed through.

“Right there, puts her on the top of my list,” Smith said.

Autrey credits her success this season to the encouragement and support of her teammates, and “they made some pretty good passes, too,” she said.

Weighing in on Autrey’s season, her father, Andrew Thompson said, “I think it’s good. The goal is just to keep her grounded,” noting there is still a lot of hard work ahead.

Autrey has already set goals for her first varsity season next year.

“Just try to do as good as I did this year,” she said. “I might not do as good, but I’ll just try.”