Who’s the best high school basketball player you ever saw?
It’s an interesting question, and it isn’t something you can judge by statistics and state and national honors. Instead, it’s just a feeling. It’s personal. It’s about emotion as much as logic — the one player who made you go “wow” more than any other you saw.
There’s no wrong answer. If that’s the person you think is the best you saw, then that’s the right answer for you.
At The Anniston Star, four of our staff members tried to answer that question for the boys’ game and the girls.
Chris English, Weaver: Chris was, hands down, one of the top two players (Tanrrance Landrum was the other) to come through Weaver. His half-court buzzer-beater to bring down Saks in 2012 still runs through my mind from time to time. Chris’ battles with Piedmont’s Sloan Garner and White Plains’ Dylan Randall were legendary. He had the Kyrie Irving-like handles mixed with the Klay Thompson-like 3-point ability. His final performance for the Bearcats, Chris went toe-to-toe with Holly Pond’s Colby Adams, for the second straight year, for a game-high 29 points in the Northeast Regional.
Kevion Nolan, Sacred Heart: Now at Samford, Nolan is a recent star, but that doesn’t lessen the type of player he was for the Cardinals. Tremendous shooter. Saw him play against Class 7A powerhouse Mountain Brook when the team’s other starters got suspended early last season, and even with his team getting its brains beat out, Nolan still shined. Excellent ball handler. Long arms that made it nearly impossible to deal with as a defender. Over time, he’ll be remembered as the superior talent that he is.
Lance Weems, Clay County: When I first heard of Lance Weems, I knew the Panthers were winning a lot of games with Jerry Weems as their coach and that Jerry’s son Lance was scoring a lot of points. I figured the father’s offense was “get the ball to my son and let him shoot until he scores.” I was wrong. In a half-court set, Lance was an excellent passer. All five guys touched the ball regularly, and the one with the open look took the shot. Often that was Lance because he could score from long range and he had a mid-range game, too. In transition, if someone else was ahead, Lance never hesitated to give up a basket for an easier one by a teammate. Because the eventual Auburn standout was unselfish, others passed to him, too. The result was Class 2A state championships on 1991 and 1992.
Daymeon Fishback, Greenwood (Bowling Green, Ky.): Folks in Alabama know him for his playing career under Cliff Ellis at Auburn and subsequent broadcasting work. I knew him as Charles Fishback’s son. The elder Fishback, who played for Ellis at Cumberland College, wanted his 6-foot-6 son to play and learn as a guard. Coaches at Warren East High School saw him as a post player, so Daymeon played at Greenwood, then a recently opened school. Long story short, Fishback played his way to becoming Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 1996 then stunned everyone by signing with Auburn. Turns out, Ellis had promised Charles Fishback that any son of his who could play would have a scholarship, and Ellis wound up with a player who helped Auburn win the 1999 SEC title and make two straight NCAA tournament appearances.
Lacey Buchanon, Jacksonville: There’s nothing better to watch during a basketball game than a point guard who is an assist-first minded player. This was Lacey. She had the jumper from the elbow and was as automatic as Stephen Curry from the free throw line. She and Sharon Osterbind were magic back in the day. Not only did Lacey always think about the team but stepped up when her teammates needed her — like a 29-point MVP performance against Andalusia to win the 2012 Class 4A state championship.
Hayden Hamby, West Morgan: Covered more than 50 of her games while working at The Decatur Daily. Saw the 5-foot-6 guard beat Brewer, an eventual Class 5A Final Four team, by scoring all of her team’s points from midway through the second quarter to the end of the game. Saw her beat defending state champion Clements in the area tournament by scoring all of her team’s points until the final minute when a teammate sank three free throws. Won the state’s Miss Basketball as a junior and played four years at Purdue. As focused on her work as anyone I’ve ever seen. She now attends the University of South Alabama medical school.
Heather Mayes, Fyffe: I first saw Heather Mayes at the first Northeast Regional tournament in 1994. She was a junior at Fyffe that year, regional tournament MVP ahead of a Class 2A state championship. The Red Devils repeated as Northeast Regional and state 2A champions the next year and Mayes reprised her role as MVP of the regional. She finished her career with 4,149 points, then a state record. What struck me about her wasn’t the number of points she scored but how easy she made it look when she scored and the joy she showed in playing. Later, that joy faded for a while. She’s Heather Powell now and I am pleased to see joy return to her basketball life as a coach at Plainview. I just hope her sons realize one day what a splendid player their mother was.
Courtney and Leah Strain, Woodland: They finished their high school careers as Alabama’s leading (Courtney) and second-leading (Leah) all-time scorers and remain so. Leah led two straight state-title teams and is in her final season at Jacksonville State. Courtney played at Auburn and JSU and is Handley’s head coach. It was fun to watch them play together, Courtney as a junior and senior and Leah as a seventh- and eighth-grader. It was no secret. The diminutive Leah would fearlessly drive into the teeth of defenses designed to stop it and either get a shot up to the basket or find the taller Courtney, who had the inside-out game. Leah played with more well-rounded Woodland teams later in her career. Her ball handling and scoring skills plus shooting from twin cousins Shanna and Shalyn Strain and forward Jaide Walker made Woodland impossible to defend.