Former WC star sparks ASU into homestand

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 31, 2004

LORMAN &045; Just three years ago Natasha Dennis wouldn’t do much bragging about her ball-handling abilities.

Fortunately for her, that wasn’t necessary. The 5-10 Alcorn State sophomore started at the power forward position at Wilkinson County High School, a position that didn’t require much ball handling but more rebounding and post moves to the basket.

Moving up to the college level didn’t give the opportunity to play the same position, and Dennis had to change her game to play guard.

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But she’s made significant strides this season and has become a regular at the small forward position for the Lady Braves, who open a two-game homestand tonight against Alabama State.

But if you ask, she’s still not at a point where she can boast of her ball-handling skills.

&uot;I had to move up to guard,&uot; said Dennis, who has started 10 of the team’s 14 games this season. &uot;It’s a big difference, and I had to work real hard to get where I am today. I think I’ve done a pretty good job, but I think I’ve still got a lot of work to do.&uot;

But much like the entire Alcorn State team at the start of the season, Dennis just needed time to get comfortable in the position. The position &045; just like the point guard and shooting guard positions &045; were wide open following the departure of Danielle Tipton from last season.

While the team juggled its lineup during pre-conference, Dennis has started in each SWAC game but the first at the No. 3 spot. She scored in double digits in three of those and posted double-doubles in two thanks to her rebounding ability.

&uot;Right now she’s doing very well for us,&uot; Alcorn head coach Shirley Walker said. &uot;(Last year) it looked like it was hard for her to get into the position. She made a transition, and I think it was kind of hard for her because where she played in high school. We had to let her know we’re trying to put big people down there. Hopefully she’ll toughen up on her defense. She’s got a good shot.&uot;

The move to the starting spot was a big step for Dennis, who was on the roster last year but played very, very little. Dennis came in as a freshman after graduating from WCHS in 2001 and was listed on the roster in last season’s media guide.

But she played in just 13 games, collecting 62 minutes of action all season while hitting just five of 11 shots.

&uot;Very little,&uot; Walker said. &uot;She just could not get it together. When I said we only had three players back from last year, I didn’t count her because she did not get enough playing time. It just seemed like it was hard for her to jell in the system.

&uot;A lot of kids come in thinking if they’re 5-7 or 5-8 they’re going to play down on the post. We have Tnonealyer Powers, who is 5-8, playing the position, but she does a good job on defense. We really want people 6-2 and 6-3.&uot;

Playing sparingly last season allowed Dennis to continue to work on her game and gave her something to shoot for coming into 2003-04.

Tipton spent most of the season at the small forward position, and LaToya Johnson played the position when she was out due to injury.

Johnson, however, is shooting guard and leading the team in scoring.

&uot;I knew I’d be playing the (No.) 3 guard of the 4,&uot; Dennis said. &uot;They just went to me and said I’d be playing the 3, and I knew what I had to do. As far as coming back from last year, I knew I had to step up and take care of business. I think I’m doing that right now. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.&uot;

Fortunately for her, there’s still plenty of time to get all of that done. Dennis isn’t being asked to shoot many 3-pointers &045; she is 0 for 1 this season while the team’s 22 3-pointers on 99 attempts are both SWAC-lows &045; but her 6.2 points and 6.2 rebounds a game are coming quite handy for the Lady Braves.

&uot;She needs to work on defense and decision-making,&uot; Walker said. &uot;It’s the little small things she needs to work on to be a complete player. She has all the tools, and we’re glad to have her as part of the program. Everything going on with her game is up to her. With the weaknesses she works on, I think she’s made up her mind and said, ‘This is what I want to do and work to get better.’ She’s improving every game.&uot;

Dennis likes to say the same of her team, which has had to fight through some tough situations already this season. Johnson missed both games in last week’s road trip to have surgery on her broken nose, and the team responded by winning at Mississippi Valley and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

All it took was a morning of eating out of the same cereal bowl &045; Walker’s technique at promoting team unity &045; and a little extra effort to take the two victories. It’s the same effort necessary this weekend with the Lady Braves sitting in the middle of the standings at 3-3 in the SWAC.

Tonight’s game against Alabama State will match the Lady Braves up against the 6-5 Crystal Kitt, averaging 20 points a game.

The Lady Braves will then host Alabama A&M Monday.

&uot;We didn’t have our main scorer, so everybody had to step up their game,&uot; Dennis said. &uot;We went out on the road and beat people in their backyard, and I feel we can do it here. Everyone seems like they’re getting together and coming together as one. It seems more like a team now.&uot;