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April 6, 2013

KT All-Area girls basketball team

Eastern's Brittany Neeley is MVP

Kokomo — Forty-eight points.

It’s a big number. When Eastern senior guard Brittany Neeley dropped that on Fort Wayne Bishop Luers in the Class 2A northern semistate on Feb. 23 — along with 20 rebounds — it didn’t so much define her season as put an exclamation mark on it.

Neeley’s level of play was too high all winter to be defined by just one game, no matter how high the stakes, or outlandish her performance.

Instead, that effort was the best in many big moments for Neeley this season.

Along the way, Neeley crossed the 1,000-point mark in December, became Eastern’s all-time leading scorer in January, and helped the Comets win sectional, regional and semistate titles in February en route to a Class 2A runner-up finish in March. Her milestone season separated the wearer of the Eastern No. 33 jersey from the other local luminaries and earned her the MVP  of the 33rd Kokomo Tribune All-Area Girls Basketball Team.

Neeley averaged an area-best 19.1 points and added 8.8 rebounds per game for the Comets, who finished the season 22-4. She registered 136 steals and led the team with 130 assists.

“She just has a toughness about her,” Eastern coach Jeremy Dexter said. “She’s going to get the ball ... on our defensive end, she’s going to push it at the opponent and she’s going to put an extreme amount of pressure on the opponent defensively.

“She’s always going to make us the aggressor offensively, and when you’re the aggressor offensively, especially in transition, good things are going to happen. By improving her shot she’s become very difficult to stay in front of, because you have to get out on her shooting.

Neeley and twin sister Bethany have made their names as runners, reaching state in cross country and track. Basketball isn’t just a footnote in her career though, it’s a major chapter. She runs on the court too, excelling on the scoring end of Eastern’s transition game.

“I just think she entered [high school] as an athlete and a lot of people wouldn’t question that, but I think people questioned whether she could be a basketball player,” Dexter said. “She’s put in a lot of time over the last four years to improve her shot, to take the point guard responsibility, to be a shutdown defender, to be one of our leading rebounders, to lead the area in assists.

“She worked really hard to go from being an athlete to being a basketball player and I think that really culminated this postseason during our run.”

Neeley and sister Bethany are headed to IU to run for the Hoosiers. On the court, they’re more than a 1-2 punch, they’re interdependent. The success of one hinges on the other, and they link together effortlessly.

“With twins, there is obviously some sort of connection, but with them, there’s no doubt they always play better together on the floor,” Dexter said. “Bethany can get the ball out of bounds and not even look where Brittany is and get it to her. If someone is trying to set up a press, they’re not going to be affected. They don’t have to yell to one another or look for the basketball.”

Neeley is a three-time selection to the All-Area Team, as is Bethany.

Kokomo’s Anastacia Kirby, Tipton’s Kacie Juday, Western’s Carley O’Neal and Jessica Givens, and Peru’s Josie Murphy are all two-time picks to the squad.

First team

Kacie Juday, Tipton

The junior guard led Tipton in almost all major categories including scoring (17.4 ppg), assists (86) and steals (97). What’s more, she snagged a team-high 10.4 rpg.

“Kacie’s just a phenomenal athlete,” Tipton coach Nick Comer said. “She’s probably as athletic as any kid in our area, probably as athletic as any kid in the state. Because of that athleticism she brings so many things to the table. She’s so strong and so gifted physically, and like Lela [Crawford], she hates to lose.

“We asked her to do a bunch of different things. Offensively, early in the year we asked her to be off the ball and a scoring threat, later in the year we asked her to be the point guard again. Defensively, she’s so physically gifted she can guard anybody on the floor 1 through 5.”

Anastacia Kirby, Kokomo

The senior post battler was Kokomo’s rock whether she put up big numbers in a game or not. She led the Wildkats in scoring at 9.3 ppg, rebounding at 7.8 rpg, field goal percentage at 48.4, and also led the Kats in dirty work. It made for an effective combination.

“She is a great natural talent that also is very rare when your top player doesn’t mind doing the dirty work, the blockouts, the great defense in the post,” Kokomo coach Jason Snyder said.

Kirby’s game grew to allow her to be an effective offensive player even as she drew heavy attention.

“The other team always focused on her defensively,” Snyder said. “She has continued to improve her game to where she’s not just a back-to-the-basket post type, but she is able to step out and hit 3s for us. She opened up everything in our offense. She was our center, she defended the best post player for the other team, she really led us in getting big rebounds when we needed them.”

Bethany Neeley, Eastern

The senior guard averaged 15.2 points, posted an area-best 11.4 rebounds per game despite measuring 5-foot-6, and led the team with 144 steals. What’s more, she is often the engine of the potent Comet transition game.

“You ask what makes Brittany so good in transition, she gets out and goes, but she gets out and goes because Bethany gets her the basketball right out of the net or on rebounds. Like in baseball, you have a five-tool player, [Bethany] is just capable of doing anything on the basketball floor — anything. Being left left-handed, she’s difficult to guard. Opposing coaches have used the term ‘slithery,’ because she’d find her way to the basket and will us over the top.”

Bethany Neeley reached the 1,000-point milestone this season, despite being asked to do so many things other than score.

“There’s been years where she had to lead us in rebounding,” Dexter said. “She had to be a distributor of the basketball. She had to be a 5-6, 115-pound dripping wet post player defensively and guard six-footers and get in there and bang around with them. She can play 1-through-5 offensively, and she can defend 1-through-5. There’s not many players in girls basketball that can do that.”

Carley O’Neal, Western

The junior guard led the a very balanced Panther squad in scoring at 11.3 ppg, as well as 3-pointers (34), steals (73) and assists (67). She was one of the steadying forces in the backcourt on a squad that forced 179 more turnovers than it committed.

“She brings a lot of ballhandling, she brings a lot of tenacity to the floor — she’s a real tenacious defender,” Western coach Chris Keisling said. “And she has the ability to shoot the ball.

“This season over last season she took on more of a scoring role. Last year she had her games where she’d get 20, but this year she was more consistently scoring at an even pace. She was just one of the pieces to the puzzle this year that helped fill in the gap when it came to Nicole [Rogers] graduating.”

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