Posted: 4:52 pm Thursday, February 23rd, 2012
By Matt Porter
Palm Beach Central’s opponent in Friday’s Class 8A state semifinals, Miami-Dr. Krop, is back in the state’s final four for the second straight year.
The Lightning (27-4) feature 5-foot-11 junior Ieshia Small, a five-star recruit and the 11th-best prospect in the country for next year’s recruiting class. They also have 5-11 post N’Kiru Anyagaligbo and point guard Brandi Harrington.
That talent has been playing with extra fire this year.
Small, whose father, Marvin, passed away when she was 13, received more heartbreaking news last year. Small’s mother died last March 1, a day after the team returned from Lakeland. Michelle Robinson had a heart attack. She was 48.
Small and her teammates have rallied around the point ever since. Small wears a t-shirt with her mother’s face on it before and after every game.
“[She's] playing with a lot of emotion right now,” Palm Beach Central coach Bruce Gaffney said Wednesday. “That emotion is felt by the whole team. That’s an advantage for them.”
In Krop’s 62-55 win over Miami-Lourdes in Saturday in the Class 8A regional finals, Small scored a game-high 29 points, had 10 rebounds and made 11 free throws in the final two minutes of the game.
According to the Miami Herald, the team placed a small poster of a basketball jersey with Small’s number 24 and the name Robinson on the wall behind each basket. When the game ended, Krop coach Ray Thompson touched each poster.
“We didn’t want to focus too much on the situation during the season,” Thompson told the Herald. “But reaching this point, we wanted it to be within eyesight as a reminder of who we were dedicating this to.”
Palm Beach Central, as detailed in tomorrow’s Post, is also a close-knit group. Gaffney said the Broncos, who have been surpassing expectations all year, have been playing better each game.
“We’re going up there to come out with a win. Even more importantly, along with that win, we want to win by playing better,” Gaffney said. “We’re peaking now. This is the time you should peak.”