WARREN — The crop of standout sophomores in Southeast Arkansas is mighty impressive.
McGehee’s Shakyla Begnaud averaged 25.5 points per game and Drew Central’s Cierra Gardner poured in 23 a contest, but the cream of the crop — at least in 2013-14 — was Warren’s Shamiqua Pickett.
The Lady Jacks star had 17 double-doubles while averaging 23.3 points and 12.4 rebounds per game to earn SEARK Player of the Year honors.
“It means a lot,” Pickett said. “It tells me I’m working hard and achieving my goals.”
Pickett said her biggest improvement has been mentally.
“Starting from seventh grade, when I had an attitude,” Pickett said, “I would get mad whenever I missed a shot and just tell myself that I wasn’t going to shoot anymore that game.
“Eventually, I got in my mind that I wasn’t going to make every shot. That helped me to become more of a leader. Others that were starting looked up to me, and as the leading scorer I had to step up.”
Warren coach Sandra Hatley noticed the improved leadership.
“Her maturity level,” she said of Pickett’s greatest improvement. “From her ninth-grade year she developed more of a leadership role.
“She became the person she knew she had to be, which is impressive being as young as she is.”
With Pickett starting alongside four seniors, there was an opportunity for animosity to develop. It never happened, though, and Hatley credits that to everyone accepting their role.
“This team that we had,” Hatley said, “was a team that has been a joy to coach.
“Every young lady accepted their roles to try and get to our goals we set.”
The team-first attitude helped the Lady Jacks to a 12-12 record as well as a fourth-place finish in the 8-4A Conference and a spot in the 4A South Region tournament.
The scoring numbers Pickett put up were a big reason — two 40-plus point games, three more where she scored in the 30s and 13 more in the 20s — but she also averaged four steals and two blocks a game.
Hatley said those are just some of the things Pickett brings to the court besides a high-scoring rate.
“She places herself defensively to make the steal,” Hatley said. “She’s a major presence on defense. She’s got a lot of intangibles most people don’t notice.
“Help-side defense, helping in the post and she runs the floor with a mission. She puts herself in position to score off a rebound and get to the free-throw line a lot.”
Pickett scored plenty of points on offensive rebounds and free throws, but she also credited senior Morgan Gathen with being able to get her the ball in a good position to score.
“Morgan, she was able to get the ball up the floor,” Pickett said. “She always got me the ball when I was open.
“She set up a play when it was needed and calmed the team down.”
Hatley said Pickett helps Gathen out a lot, too.
“If our point guard Morgan would get in trouble, Shamiqua would be the outlet,” Hatley said. “She handles the ball well for a power forward. …
“She’s a big enough presence that she can get it out and create an opening. She’s deceptive because she doesn’t look like she’s fast, but she is.”
Hatley said Pickett would spend the offseason looking to improve her ball handling and her mid-range shot.
“She progressed from wanting to drive to the basket,” Hatley said. “But she still need to work on her mid-range game.
“When she more fully develops that she will be even more of a commanding presence.”
With Begnaud and Gardner lurking Pickett has her work cut out for her to repeat as player of the year, but that’s not what’s going to motivate her.
Pickett knows she still has a lot of work to put in to reach her goal of playing college basketball.
“I have to keep focused and keep working hard,” she said. “I have to keep pushing harder through practices.
“I also have to continue to make the grades and helping out in the community.”
Hatley thinks Pickett is well on her way to achieving that dream.
“The type of young lady she is is a tribute to her family,” Hatley said. “She does not give up easily. Having that type of person in your program is a great asset. Younger players look up to and older players respect her.
“She is just an absolute joy to coach.”