Alan Dell

Hanna one of Noles’ best players of decade

Bianca Hanna’s high school career came to a disappointing end last Saturday, but it won’t be forgotten.

She is good enough to be in the conversation for a Southeast High all-decade girls basketball team, which is no small achievement.

The best five to wear a Southeast High girls basketball uniform since the turn of the century is an impressive quintet. All went on to play at a Division I school where Hanna should wind up someday.

Here is my list: Francine Houston (UCF), Depree Bowden (Florida), Briana Phillips (Florida), Casey Baker (Marshall) and Hanna with Tiona Wilson (Texas-Pan American) coming off the bench.

Best of the decade?

Would have to give the edge to Houston slightly over Bowden.

Both were multi-dimensional players, but no one could handle the ball like Houston and create more off the dribble. On the other hand, Bowden finished with the best four-year winning percentage in the program (118-14), made two final four appearances, is the career scoring leader and had 971 career rebounds and 477 assists.

Phillips was arguably the most athletic post player the program has had, and Baker was the best at stealing the ball. She made the C-USA All-Defensive team in her two years for the Thundering Herd and finished her career in ’09 with 166 steals.

Switching gears

The only public school from Manatee County to reach the state boys basketball final four in the past decade is the 2004 Southeast squad coached by Elliot Washington, and the only other region finalist was Manatee in 2002.

The Noles made the Final Four in 1993 and ’94 and won it all in ’95, but otherwise the county has been dry. Manatee hasn’t made the state semis since 1976, and the only other program to get there in the past 33 years was Palmetto (1989).

Washington is a homegrown product who played with Clifford Rozier, a first round NBA draft pick and the best basketball player Manatee County has produced. Washington attributes the lack of success to geography, economics and perception.

“This is football heaven,” he says. “The male athletes who have the size and ability to play both sports are told football is their ticket to college, not basketball.”

It’s disheartening for Washington to hear that because he is an example of how you can make big-time college basketball despite being from a football hotbed.

The 5-11 Washington graduated from Southeast in ’89 and played two years at Manatee Community College before going to Alabama. He started at point guard for two years there on a team that had five future NBA players, including Latrell Sprewell, Robert Horry and Roy Rogers.

“There is youth football on almost every corner in Manatee County. Then they shut down freshman basketball and the opportunities become even more limited,” Washington said. “Football has become so specialized, kids are having to work at it almost year round, which doesn’t leave room for much else.”

Give Washington credit, he won 20 games this season with a 12-man roster that had 10 football players and was the smallest team in the county. Most coaches say having that many football players is not conducive to success because their focus is usually elsewhere.

It is hard to argue that point. Washington’s 2004 team was led by basketball-only guys Josh Davis, Lamont Houston and Aaron Owens. The 2002 Manatee High team got a big boost from Jamaal George and Marcus Washington, who just concentrated on basketball.