Hoop dreams are made of these: killer crossovers, step back jumpers with a hand in your face and last-second shots to win games.
But Saks’ Destinee Briskey couldn’t do any of that when she first started playing.
“That’s the only thing I was good at growing up, couldn’t shoot, couldn’t dribble for real,” she said. “So, I stuck with defense because that’s one thing you can always do.”
The senior’s offensive game has come along, too in the past couple seasons. She’s averaging 11.1 points, heading into the Lady Wildcats’ (22-9) matchup against Madison Academy in the semifinals of the AHSAA Class 3A Northeast Regional tournament today at Pete Mathews Coliseum in Jacksonville. But defense is still her calling card. She leads Saks with 130 steals, an average of 4.5 per contest, and will be charged with guarding Lady Mustangs all-state point guard Lydia McGee.
McGee, who’s signed to Samford, guided sixth-ranked Madison Academy (21-10) to a state title a year ago, including a 69-31 trouncing of Saks in the regional final.
“I really think I’ve got an answer for her,” Saks coach Michelle Lively said of McGee. “And I know she’s still going to get her points but I don’t think it’ll be as many as she thinks.”
Lively said she noticed Briskey’s dogged determination on defense early on. As a ninth-grader at a Christmas tournament in Springville, Lively challenged the team to step up and get after it on defense.
“I told the girls, ‘If you could play defense, you’re going to play for me,’” Lively said, recounting the address. “‘I don’t care if you can’t shoot, you can’t score. If you can play defense, you’re staying on the floor.’”
Briskey responded to the call and has been the team’s best defender ever since.
“That was something she strived for every year,” Lively said. “Ever since her ninth-grade year, she’s always thrived on that, being able to hold a girl. Holding their best player to under 10 points, that was just something she strived for.”
Oftentimes, Briskey’s biggest challenge comes in practice. She and classmate Addesha Collins, The Star’s Class 3A Player of the Year last season, never play on the same team during scrimmages. They’re typically matched up against each other whenever they go man-to-man.
“It helps a lot,” Collins said. “To me, she’s the best defender in the county. It makes me better. She’s all over you no matter what. Even if she knows you’re a shooter, she’s all over you.”
Collins leads the Wildcats averaging 21 points a game while shooting just under 80 percent from the free-throw line.
Lively said who comes out on top during the battles depends on the situation. If it’s a full-court drill, the speedier Collins usually has an advantage but Briskey makes her earn whatever she gets regardless of the situation.
“No one can really guard her because she’s so fast,” Briskey said of Collins.
“So, I take it as a personal challenge to be able to guard her because if I can guard her in practice, I can guard anyone else.”
McGee scored 16 points, including the go-ahead layup with 1:07 to play in her team’s 49-42 victory against Sylvania in the sub-regional round of the playoffs. Saks, the Area 9 champions, defeated Ashville 74-58 to advance.
The chance to take on one of the state’s best is something Briskey is looking forward to.
“I’m just going to try to contain her and get her uncomfortable with shooting and creating for the other players,” she said. “Hopefully, just getting her out of her game.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.