By KEVIN WEAKS
As far as birthday presents go, this was a whopper.
South Fulton senior basketball player Taleeah Cross gave her mother Tiea a happy birthday on Monday afternoon, signing an athletic scholarship to play basketball at Freed Hardeman University in Henderson.
“I tried to give her a good present,” Cross said. “It’s a good school. It’s not too far from home, so I can come home on weekends if I want. And, going to a winning program, that helps a lot, too.”
The South Fulton senior recently capped off a stellar prep career by leading the Red Devilettes to a 23-8 overall record and a spot in the Region 7A Tournament semifinal round. She averaged 17.7 points, six rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the floor and 77 percent from the free throw line.
Cross was named the District 14A most valuable player as a senior and finished her career with 1,637 points and 603 rebounds.
“She’s talented, and we like her work ethic,” veteran Lady Lions’ head coach Dale Neal said. “She has a lot of upside. She does a good things offensively, and she’s very versatile.”
Neal and his staff took several opportunities to watch Cross play this past season and then brought her down for a workout, which apparently went very well for the 5-5 player who is projected as a shooting guard at the collegiate level.
“She hit threes, which impressed us,” Neal said of the practice session. “The big thing that impressed us as much as anything was her defense. She locked up on a couple of our players who are really good offensive players. We think she has the tools to be a really good college player.”
Cross had 64 steals and hit 30.6 percent of her 3-point attempts as a senior. Improving her perimeter game will be a point of emphasis in the off-season for Cross.
“My 3-point shooting is coming along,” she said. “I’ve always been an inside player, so I’m just trying to work outside and spread my game out.”
While Neal likes her skill set, the coach said character is what sealed the deal.
“The type of person we recruit is very big to us,” the coach said. “If we see a player and don’t like her attitude, we’ll just walk off. Attitude is big for us — how players respond to their teammates and coaches are big in our recruiting.”
Neal’s way has certainly served the FHU program well. He has posted a 478-153 record in 19 years as head coach and just completed a season where the Lady Lions finished 34-2 and reached the NAIA Fab Four, the equivalent of the NCAA’s Final Four. Freed was ranked No. 1 in the nation the final five weeks of the season.
Cross will likely get a chance to play right of way as Freed-Hardeman graduates three All-America selections, including Natalie Shumpert. The Paducah Tilghman product was a three-time All-America pick and averaged 16.4 points this past season.
Published in The Messenger 4.9.13