Your Ohio basketball team of the week: Senior-laden Purcell girls ready to take next step
Cincinnati Enquirer readers voted Purcell Marian High School girls basketball as the Ohio Team of the Week, based on votes tallied Jan. 4. Our basketball teams receive a feature that runs the following week.
Last March, the Purcell Marian girls basketball team was on the verge of finally cutting down the nets.
The Lady Cavaliers held a 37-27 fourth-quarter lead in a Division III district final bout with Versailles at Springfield High School. But the youth and inexperience showed as Purcell Marian faltered down the stretch and Versailles rallied to win 53-48 to take the title. Purcell Marian went home empty-handed; Versailles would win a regional championship five days later before finishing as the D-III state runner-up.
It was a learning experience for first-year Purcell Marian head coach Jamar Mosley. Going into the 2018-19 season, Mosley would leave no stone unturned as the Cavaliers prepared to finish the job.
“That was our first time going in 17 years,” said Mosley, who was an assistant on Purcell’s men’s team for three seasons. “Most high school games are won and lost in the fourth quarter. Going into year two, I try to put our girls in situations they haven’t been in before. Once we get back to a sectional or district championship, we’ve been there now and are more prepared.”
Experience is commonly a crucial component to a team with championship aspirations. Such is the case this year for Mosley’s squad. He’s fortunate to return every point from last season’s team, including five seniors that have guided Purcell Marian to a 12-2 record so far this season. That experience, combined with strong efforts from a few underclassmen, should give the Cavaliers an edge come tournament time. This team is one that won’t shy away from the spotlight. If last year was about building a winning culture, this year is about breaking through.
“We just wanna get better every single day. If we’re getting better every single day and we lose in the first round, it happens,” Mosley said. “But, realistically, I would love to see my girls cut down some nets. I think we have the talent, the experience and I think our girls have been preparing themselves on and off the court to make a solid run in the tournament.”
At the forefront of Purcell’s senior-laden squad is guard Amil Ali-Shakir and forward Sha’Dai Hale. The duo has combined to average 24.2 points and 12.3 rebounds per game this season. Mosley did not mince words when talking about the importance of returning his top two scorers for what he hopes to be a breakthrough season.
“People always talk about how you never know what you have until it’s gone. I don’t wanna see ’em leave,” Mosley said. “Speaking on Amil Ali-Shakir, she’s a phenomenal kid. She’s almost perfect in a sense that she’s that coach on the floor, day in and day out. Sha’Dai (Hale) has a talent and a drive to help us get over that hump.”
“Sha’Dai and I have actually been playing with each other for a long time. We used to play for the same AAU travel team in middle school but split ways and retouched in high school so it’s been quite a journey,” Ali-Shakir said. “Sha’Dai and I have great chemistry on and off the court which helps us play so well together. But what actually helps us be so successful is how in sync our team is with each other and how we capitalize everyone’s talents and abilities.”
Mosley also raved about fellow senior Kya Dukes. The 5-foot-9 forward leads the Cavs in three-pointers made (22) and free-throw percentage (78.3). She recently picked up a scholarship offer from Cincinnati Christian University.
As if the experience wasn’t enough to make Purcell Marian a postseason favorite, the Cavaliers have endured the laborious regular-season schedule thus far that comes with playing in the Greater Catholic League gauntlet.
In the co-ed Central division, Purcell Marian, Badin, and Roger Bacon all received statewide recognition in the AP’s first poll, which was released on Tuesday. Purcell’s only loss through its first 13 games was a 53-43 decision to Dayton Carroll, which sits alone atop the co-ed North division and was dubbed the top-ranked Division II squad in Ohio.
“Playing in a conference like the GCL, every game is going to be a dog fight,” Mosley said. “Every game is probably going to be determined by less than 10 points, so you have to be prepared. Playing in the GCL definitely prepares for a district championship game.”
Prior to a 51-50 loss to McNicholas Wednesday night, Purcell had an eight-game winning streak that included key victories over Roger Bacon (58-50), Summit Country Day (39-21) and Badin (47-44). Each win helps the Cavaliers realize what they are capable of – a key difference from last season’s team that finished 18-7 and on the doorstep of greatness.
“Last year it seemed like our effort and energy fluctuated a lot,” Hale said. “This year we’ve been playing with more consistency. We go out and play hard every game and utilize our abilities to the fullest. Knowing what we could have accomplished last year just drives us to want to do better.”
Wednesday’s setback commenced a string of seven consecutive road games for Purcell Marian that stretches throughout January. Home or away, it’s about steadiness for the Cavaliers. There are tough tasks on the back half of the regular season (Princeton, Wyoming, Roger Bacon, Badin, McNicholas), but Mosley’s squad now goes into every game with a winning mindset, which they hope carries them to new heights.
“We have to stay consistent and focused on the task at hand,” Ali-Shakir said. “It is important for us to stay bought into the program and focus on the intangibles and get better every day. Our consistency and dedication will help us reach our potential.”
Photo credit to Jim Owens of The Enquirer