KONAWA — Nikki Nail’s return to Konawa for the 2009-2010 season had to leave Lady Tiger fans wondering just what they had missed.
Nail, who left Konawa as a freshman and helped revive girls sports at Sasakwa the last two years, moved back across Seminole County for her junior season and immediately became one of the state’s biggest impact players for her new/old school.
A versatile 5-6 performer who combined scoring, defense and rebounding with a gunslinger’s mentality, Nail did for Konawa as a junior what she had done for Sasakwa as a freshman and sophomore. She led the Lady Tigers in scoring (14.3 points per game), rebounds (5.3) and steals (97) and was second in assists (61) as Konawa made its third state tournament appearance in six seasons — and Nail made her second straight — this spring.
And after the book closed on the season, Nail had carved out another little slice of history for herself by becoming the first non-senior since 1997 to be named Ada Evening News All-Area Girls Player of the Year.
“Nikki, first of all, is a tremendous athlete,” Konawa coach Gordon Garner said of Nail, who is also a standout in basketball and track. “She has the potential to be as good a girls basketball player as I’ve coached. She can handle the ball and she can shoot. She has a chance to be as good as she wants to be.”
As complete as her basketball skills are, Nail’s biggest asset to the Lady Tigers this season might have been her killer instinct. She wasn’t afraid to take the key shots and force the action in Konawa’s biggest games, and her versatility gave Garner a lot of options on a team that made up in speed and quickness what it lacked in size.
“Nikki had a really good season — we ran several sets for her, and she filled her role,” Garner said. “She played point guard, she played off guard, she played some forward for us, and there were times when we put her on the other team’s best offensive player. She can just do it all. We tried to get her involved in many different ways, and I thought she fit in. She was really one of the leaders of our team. She’s a tremendous competitor.”
Garner said if there was a flaw in Nail’s game, it was her reluctance to take full advantage of her offensive skills.
“At times, I thought she might have been a little too unselfish,” he noted. “I think at times she tried to be a team player at the expense of scoring. As a senior next year, I think she will be an even more dangerous player, because she will look to score more.”
Nail’s performance at Konawa was even more impressive considering she was moving from Class B to Class 2A competition.
“This was a step up for her,” Garner said. “Our schedule is much tougher overall (than Sasakwa’s), and she had to adjust to that. We played against people who could play every night, and that’s going to make you better.”
Nail and fellow junior Chelsea Gillum — a 5-9 forward who moved to Konawa from Byng in October — were the only two underclassmen among Konawa’s top seven players this season, and Garner said those two will have to carry a lot of the load on a much younger team in 2010-2011.
“We’re going to be a lot younger and a lot bigger next year, and we won’t have the depth we’ve had in the past,” Garner said. “We’ll have to adapt with our team, and it’s going to be critical for Nikki and Chelsea to carry us while our younger girls get some experience.”