Jennifer Dennison’s absence in the fall didn’t stop her from figuring out that Nia Sumpter’s individual abilities were starting to stand out even more.
First, the Myrtle Beach girls basketball coach received a call from Sumpter’s summer coach. He was telling Dennison about an offseason tournament where the forward had basically taken over.
Then, in October, the college coaches started making their feelings known, as well.
“Her radar went way up,” Dennison said. “She was probably a five, and then she went up to an eight or nine.”
The Sun News’ Toast of the Coast Girls Basketball Player of the Year didn’t fall short of those heady assessments. Sumpter averaged better than 16 points and nine rebounds per game for a Seahawks team that advanced to the Class AAA state finals.
Myrtle Beach fell to Dreher in Columbia, but even in the loss Sumpter showed her value as not only one of the best players locally, but statewide. She held Jhileiya Dunlap, a North Carolina signee who last week was named the S.C. Gatorade Player of the Year, well under her season averages in points and boards.
“You just have to play with confidence and play your game,” Sumpter said. “Where she was going, it didn’t really matter that she had signed with North Carolina. My expectations are really high.”
Dennison said the individual performance against Dunlap and Dreher was a perfect example of the type of “bulldog” player Sumpter had become this year. And if there was a hunger on display this year, it could have been directly attributed to some self-inflicted damage from her sophomore year.
It was then that Sumpter was benched for eight games for a discipline problem. She apologized to her coaches and teammates and worked to prove to everyone that she was going to earn back her spot, not just as a top-notch forward, but also a vocal leader.
“It opened my eyes a lot,” she said. “It really hurt when I didn’t play those eight games.”
The past season and a half have certainly helped her improve her college stock. Currently, Sumpter has offers from the likes of South Florida, Massachusetts and a handful of mid-majors.
Still, the official visits and a commitment to any of them are staying on the back-burner. Sumpter, who will enter her senior season having already topped 1,000 career points, has another year in uniform for Myrtle Beach.
The Seahawks will be losing a key piece of their Lower State championship team, as Keocia Walker has run out of eligibility and is heading to Converse. But the cupboard isn’t empty.
Especially if Sumpter takes another leap forward.
“She’s going to set [the bar] high. Nia’s got high expectations for herself,” Dennison said. “As I tell her, the only player who is going to stop Nia is Nia. The sky’s the limit.”
Player of the Year
School: Myrtle Beach
Noteworthy: Region VII-AAA Player of the Year and Class AAA All-State selection averaged 16.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game for Myrtle Beach squad that won the Lower State championship.
Noteworthy: Catawba signee and All-Region VI-AAAA selection led Braves to a third-place region finish and first-round victory over Summerville in addition to her 12.5 points per game.
School: Carvers Bay
Noteworthy: Class A All-State honoree averaged 10.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, four assists, two steals and 1.7 blocks per game for the Region VIII-A runner-up Bears.
School: Green Sea Floyds
Noteworthy: Area’s leading scorer averaged 22.3 points per game while also finishing second on the Grand Strand in assists (4.3 per game) and recording 3.5 steals per contest.
School: North Myrtle Beach
Noteworthy: Front-court standout put up 16.8 points, 14 rebounds and 3.4 steals per game for Chiefs en route to a playoff berth and an Class AAA All-State selection.
Noteworthy: Pushed Tigers to a second-place region finish and their first playoff win in 27 years after scoring a team-high 14.3 points, 2.7 assists and 2.7 steals per game.
Coach of the Year
School: Myrtle Beach
Noteworthy: Returned from a health-related absence in the fall to lead the Seahawks to the Class AAA Lower State championship and 10th appearance in the state finals.
This is the second installment of a three-day series honoring the top winter high school athletes along the Grand Strand. Tomorrow: Boys basketball standouts.