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Grant enjoys grand summer

Senior-to-be at South sparkles on all-star team

The South Medford High girls basketball team trailed by 15 points early in the second half against Westview and star Kara Braxton during a 2000 playoff game.

At stake was a state-tournament berth for the young Panthers.

With victory slipping further away with every Braxton hoop, South jumped on the back of point guard Whitney Grant, an unlikely source because of her sophomore status.

But Grant was up to the challenge, pouring in 14 of her team-high 16 points as the Panthers nearly pulled off the upset before dropping the contest and finishing the year at 14-10.

The season may have fizzled out, but for Grant, it was a fresh start.

The senior-to-be had an outstanding junior year, then spent this summer flourishing with an Oregon-based all-star team that competed in tournaments across the country.

"She's really matured and grown into a leadership role for us," says South Medford coach Andrea Jaime (formerly Wegner) of her senior-to-be point guard. "The turning point was that Westview playoff game. She kind of came into her own and didn't make the sophomore mistakes she was making earlier."

The 5-foot-6 Grant is one of two returning upperclassmen for a Panthers team that made some noise in last year's state playoffs with a near miss against highly-rated Jesuit.

But she wasn't about to rest on her junior-season success - which included a second-team nod on the Southern Oregon Conference all-star team - for she felt she had bigger things to accomplish during her down time.

To start the summer, Grant traveled to Portland to try out for the invitation-only Portland Lady Legends, a Nike-sponsored all-star team with a roster of players from throughout the state.

"There were quite a few girls (at the tryout)," says Grant. "Probably like 60.

"I had three tryouts in all, and I wasn't quite sure who they wanted. It was a little scary."

Apparently, coaches Michael Bontenps and Velaida Harris, who head Lincoln High's hoop squad during the school year, saw enough. They informed Grant that she had made the team and was expected to fill point-guard duties.

"I didn't know any of the girls at first," says Grant. "There were a couple of girls from some of the teams we played in the playoffs, like Jesuit and Glencoe. But I was the only one from Southern Oregon."

But Grant quickly drew the trust of her teammates with her play.

In the Lady Legends' first tournament, Grant paced them to a third-place finish at the 64-team End of the Trail All-Star Tournament in Oregon City.

In the third-place game against the Colorado Wildcats, Grant scored 19 points, dished out seven assists and had four steals in a 79-74 victory.

Her driving, three-point play in the waning seconds put the Legends up by one and helped seal the win.

She averaged 15 points per game and made the all-tournament team.

Grant continued her solid play when the Lady Legends traveled to Washington D.C. to compete in the Women's U.S. Junior National Tournament.

She led all scorers with 15 points in the Lady Legends' 72-69, third-place win over Georgia Metro.

A team-high 20 points at the Nike NIT in Chicago, the Lady Legends' final tournament, highlighted what has been a very successful summer for Grant.

"It's been a really good experience," she says. "The competition was very good, and I got to play with the best girls in the state."

But Grant feels it's what she's learned during the summer that will benefit her the most during the school season.

"I've gotten a chance to work on a lot of things," says Grant. "I focused on ballhandling, breaking presses and becoming more vocal. I want to be more of a vocal leader next year."

Her play this summer already speaks volumes.

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Whitney Grant, left, shown during her sophomore year at South Medford, was among the best players on an Oregon all-star team this summer that fared well in tourneys in Oregon City, Washington D.C. and Chicago. - Mail Tribune/Drew Fleming