Potato, po-tah-to. Tomato, to-mah-to. Asia, Ajia.
No matter how you slice them, dice them or pronounce them, they’re all good.
That’s particularly true for the latter duo of Asia Smith and Ajia (Ah-ji-yah) Kelly. The Myrtle Beach High girls basketball standouts bring similar first names but different individual games to the table that compliment each other well.
“We’re counting on our two seniors, Asia and Ajia, to lead this team,” said Myrtle Beach coach Jennifer Dennison. “Besides them, we have a young team and we only have 10 players, so there are going to be some growing pains. Those two are going to have to step up for us.”
Smith, a 6-foot-2 forward, dominates the inside but is capable of playing every position. She averaged a double-double (11.7 points, 10.7 rebounds per game) last season, her first with the Lady Seahawks. Now she finds herself in the position of team leader on an otherwise inexperienced squad.
“It has been a tedious process to start out the season but we are coming together as a team,” said Smith, who signed to play college basketball at Charleston Southern. “We’re starting to jell and hopefully keep getting going through the season, and possibly make it to the state championship.”
Kelly, who joined Smith on the All-Region 6-4A first team last season, is an athletic, 5-7 forward/guard who also can do it all. She runs the floor, provides pressure in the full-court press and can shoot from inside and outside. But Kelly knows it will take more than the 1-2 punch of her and Smith for the team to be successful.
Featuring as many as five freshmen on the floor at a given time, Myrtle Beach will rely on youngsters like Shillae Campbell, a 5-2 go-getter who runs the show from the point. Junior Fatima Alston and sophomore Starashia Alston provide some much-needed experience.
“We have a lot of young players that are very good. We just need some time for us all to come together,” said Kelly, who is also receiving interest from college recruiters. “This is my last year so I want to go out on top.”
Success has become the standard for the Lady Seahawks program, which has won two state championships in four finals appearances over the past decade. But in its third year since moving up to Class 4A, Myrtle Beach has seen its path to Columbia road-blocked by region rival Wilson.
Last season, the Lady Seahawks swept the Lady Tigers in their two regular season meetings to claim the region title.
But a third meeting in the Lower State Finals in Florence saw Myrtle Beach fall short of a trip to the state finals for the second straight season. Wilson looks like the team to beat again this season.
The Lady Seahawks face a tough trial-by-fire schedule in this week’s CresCom Bank Holiday Invitational, which attracts some of the top teams in the Southeast, followed by a bolstered Region 6-4A schedule that includes Wilson, North Myrtle Beach and Hartsville. If nothing else, Myrtle Beach should be battle-tested come playoff time.
“We’re going to face some tough teams in the (CBHI) and in our region, so we have to get better,” Dennison said. “We have a long way to go but we just ask them to work hard in practice, focus on the little things and keep improving every day.”