As John Tyler’s floor general, Tiaka Lee lets her play on the court do all the talking.
Two career-type performances over the last week by the junior point guard sensation spoke volumes about her as she continues to make a case for being one of the school’s all-time greats.
Lee lit up the nets for a 35-point effort against defending 1A champion Neches last week at the Great East Texas Shoot Out in Brownsboro, and then exploded for 34 in a district-opening win at Kilgore on Tuesday.
“If you’re good, your game will tell it all,” Lee said. “That’s the kind of player I aim to be.”
In her third year starting at the one-spot, Lee’s stock keeps soaring. Lee averaged 10 points per game and made the 11-5A second-team all-district as a freshman. She posted averages of 19 points and four assists per game last year to nab 14-4A Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Lee enters tonight’s showdown averaging 23 points per game. The speedy 5-4 ball-handler recently surpassed the 1,200-point scoring mark in a career far from over.
The scoring lasts year-round for Lee, a renowned base-stealer who earned all-district honors on the softball team last year, and who also played AAU basketball.
As for now Lee wants to be the springboard to success for the rest of the Lady Lions.
“Without a good, stable point guard you really don’t have a team,” said Lee, an All-East Texas second-team selection last year. “My thought process is how I can benefit myself to benefit my team.”
Lee looks comfortable from any spot on the court — driving to the hoop, pulling up for mid-range jumpers, racing downcourt in transition, and spotting up behind the arc. Lee drained 12 free throws against Kilgore, penetrated the lane for four makes, scored another three buckets on the break, and also swished a pair of 3-pointers.
“As she matures she adds to her game,” JT coach Mike Smith said of Lee. “She’s always been very quick and a good fastbreak player, and a threat (shooting) layups and 3-point shots. Now she’s also working on pull-up jump shots in the lane. She’s doing a good job becoming that (all-around) threat we need her to be. As she gets better our team gets better.”
Depending on whom you ask, Lee finished with zero turnovers or one on Tuesday — one high pass in question grazed a teammate’s hands. That stat impressed Lee even more than her point-total.
“The points, they’ll come,” said Lee, who calls English her favorite subject. “After the game I don’t look at how many points I scored. Turnovers and assists — that’s my main focus.”
Equally capable of creating her own shot and getting easy buckets for teammates, Lee likes to be a complimentary piece in a big puzzle.
“If it wasn’t for the good ball movement, there would be no beneficiary,” said Lee, who has three 30-point games to her credit through 14 games. “We help each other out.”
JT’s lineup features three starters with three or more years worth of starting experience, including senior post LaTifah Rainey and junior off-guard Quaneshia Johnson. The JT roster includes three promising freshmen and a pair of sophomores. Lee takes it upon herself to be the general, both with the ball and with her words.
“As upperclassmen it’s our job to make them feel comfortable,” said Lee, who currently carries a 3.6 grade-point average. “Our coaches had us read a book, ‘Teammates Matter.’ With us we encourage each other. Everyone deserves their spot on the team. If you don’t have a good relationship with a team, you have no team. Our team revolves around a good friendship.”
No official record exists, although Lee appears to be well on her way to becoming — if not the school’s all-time leading scorer — JT’s top point-producer of the new millennium. Quite an accomplishment considering JT achieved a national ranking in 2004, a team featuring two eventual WNBA players in A’Quonesia Franklin and Brittany Gilliam.
“She loves (playing basketball) and she has a lot of family support that she carries with a lot of pride,” said Smith, who arrived at JT in 2009, also Lee’s first year on campus. “She never complains about working too hard. She just constantly does what she thinks she needs to be a better ballplayer and a better teammate.”
The Lady Lions last won district seven years ago with the aforementioned stars leading the way, a drought Lee and Co. want to end soon. JT plays host to defending district champion Jacksonville. JT handed Jacksonville its lone district loss last year.
“We’re hoping to become district champs,” Lee said. “It’s no doubt in my mind we can do it. We just have to take it one game at a time.”
LIONS’ TALES: John Tyler and Jacksonville each carry 9-5 overall records into tonight’s tilt. Nacogdoches defeated Jacksonville 41-28 on Tuesday. There will be no freshman game tonight. Five members of JT’s unbeaten freshmen squad are expected to play in the junior varsity game, set to start at 5:30 p.m. at the Lions Den.