By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Entering Stan Gatlin’s first year as head coach of the Brighton Lady Cardinals, the defending District 13-3A champions were expected to reach Sub-State at the least.
But the 2020 season ended on Regional Saturday night in the Bartlett Gymnasium. Those high expectations were not met. Fast forward to the beginning of the 2020-21 season, the Brighton Lady Cardinals are an enigma — even to the head coach.
“They are asking the same question I am asking,” Gatlin acknowledged. “We didn’t get to play anything over the summer time. Typically I use the summertime to gauge how to run my system and how to teak my system. We have a lot of freshmen, a lot of underclassmen period. We only have one senior.
“That one senior got varsity minutes a little bit her freshman year, a little bit her sophomore year,” he continued. “She played a lot last year in varsity. She actually led us in scoring during district — DeMiyah Gatlin. We’re looking for her to lead the team. She’s been doing a great job of pushing the girls and leading. We just need her to be consistent with that. She’s been pretty much consistent.”
DeMiyah’s development as a combo forward has been steady and looks to accelerate this season. From ball handling to off-the-court leadership, the younger Gatlin is evolving.
“I’m looking for DeMiyah to have a better season than she did last year,” Coach Gatlin said. “I’m looking for her to take that next step. She’s been dynamite in practice.”
With only three returning players from last season, the rest of the roster will have their feet to the flames starting this week.
“The other girls to grow up fast without any prior experience on the varsity level,” Gatlin noted. “We have three players returning with Cas Johnson (sophomore) and Talea Taylor (junior). Those three are going to have to take on a tremendous leadership role as far as experience on the floor to help lead the other girls.
“I’m not saying the freshmen we won’t be great for us,” he added. “I think they will. But they haven’t seen the speed of the game yet. Our first few games are going to be interesting because I don’t know how they respond to pressure, or who gets in foul trouble a lot. I don’t know any of those things.”
With so much uncertainty surrounding the program, the veteran coach has a few butterflies trying to make the potential talent develop into contenders in the league.
“I was telling the girls I feel like a first-year coach especially with all the things we have to do to keep them safe,” Gatlin acknowledged. “But learning who my team is almost reminds me of my first year at Millington. I only had one team camp with them. I didn’t even have that with these girls.
“If everything goes like it should and how hard they’ve been working in practice, we should be competitive,” Gatlin added. “We have a lot to learn and a lot to teach. It’s going to be a process. I’ve actually gone home and had some good thoughts about this team.”
Gatlin said with a clean slate and low expectations, the 2020-21 Lady Cardinals will be in a position to surprise the experts wondering what type of team he has this year.
“This year I have a better feeling when I get done practicing with these girls because they want to get better, they’re hungry, they’re teachable,” he noted. “That’s a great feeling to have. Even though they might not be as skilled in years past. You have kids who want to get better, that’s listening to you and taking in what you’re saying, that’s a little bit different.
“It gives you a few more years on your coaching career, Gatlin concluded. “When you have kids who don’t want to listen, think they know everything and they’re not coachable, it’s kind of hard to push through that. I’m excited about this young group, the first is definitely bright. We have some talent over at the middle school that I am excited about coming over in the future.”