Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

SPORTS >>Court savvy, sharp shooting earn Lady Panther guard top honors

Leader sportswriter

They say dynamite comes in small packages. That is certainly true of Cabot senior Leah Watts.

Watts, Cabot’s 5-foot, 6-inch point guard the past three seasons, helped lead the Lady Panthers basketball team into the quarterfinals of the 7A state playoffs earlier this month, and became the talk of the first round after knocking down five consecutive three-pointers in Cabot’s 69-57 first-round win over Bentonville.

For her clutch performance in that game and for her consistency throughout the season, Watts has been named the Leader Girls Player of the Year.

“Leah is exceptional,” Cabot head coach Carla Crowder said. “We were obviously pleased with her play on the court, but she’s an outstanding person as well. As a guard, she sees the floor very well, and she knows what’s going on at all times.

“She’s an excellent shooter and she grew every year as a point guard. She was a great leader for us.”

Those five three-pointers, by the way, came over a five-minute span in the first half and came on five attempts. She never missed from beyond the arc in the contest, and finished with 21 points in a game loaded with pressure. Yet Watts said nerves never entered into it.

“I never get nervous before a game,” she said. “I’ve been playing since I was little, and know what I’m capable of doing and not capable of if I just relax and play the best I can.

“Also, I’ve been playing AAU ball for a few years now. I’ve been in national tournaments and played in championship games.”

Watts played with the Arkansas Mavericks and the Belles in her AAU career.

The 17-year-old daughter of Jerry and Kim Watts is the youngest of three girls.

Crowder lists intelligence high among her attributes, as is borne out by Watts’ academic scholarship to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. She is considering walking on to the Lady Tiger basketball team.

Watts took on a lot of leadership responsibilities as one of two starting seniors. Watts, along with South Alabama signee Lauren Walker, passed the leadership test with flying colors.

“As a point guard, most of the teams I have played on have looked to me as a leader,” Watts said. “We had a lot on our shoulders this year, but we learned to deal with it, and it actually came kind of easy to us.”

That leadership came in for a real test when the team was decimated this season with injuries. The Lady Panthers lost more than half a dozen players.

Watts made a name for herself early on with great ball handling and impressive speed. It wasn’t until this year, however, that she became one of the Lady Panthers’ biggest scoring threats. She averaged 19.5 points this season, pulling down five rebounds and dishing out four assists per game, as well.

“I practiced shooting a lot,” Watts said. “My dad helped me out, and made sure I was using the right form. Once I got that down, it was pretty good from there.”

Watts has received a lot of support from family, but she said she will always remember her other family as well — the Lady Panthers basketball team.

“I will remember all the friendships I made,” Watts said. “We all really bonded through the years, and became like a family. We were very blessed to have the coaches we did. They were amazing. You always knew that anything they were saying, it was going to make you a better player.”

Crowder carried the family theme one step further.

“If you had a daughter,” she said, “you would be very fortunate if she turned out like Leah.”