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Pirate's presence belies small stature

Published January 13, 2006

CRYSTAL RIVER - TaLeisha Hopkins never checks the box score to see how many points she scores because she's not concerned with numbers.

Though she recorded a team-high 12 points last week against Lecanto, the junior forward refused to dwell on her personal achievement because the team lost.

"I don't think she cares," said Setera Lockley, her Pirates teammate and second cousin. "It's not her goal."

But since being re-inserted in the starting lineup for last month's Nature Coast Tournament, Hopkins has provided an offensive and defensive spark for Crystal River.

And her coaches marvel at the way Hopkins, who stands just 5 feet 6, fights for rebounds.

They notice she is tough and willing to box out all opponents - no matter how big.

"I'm the smallest one under there," said Hopkins, 17. "But I'm going to make my presence known."

Still, her tough-nosed attitude has taken some work.

She arrived as a freshman as a small forward and guard unaccustomed to playing inside.

Instead of asking to keep her old positions, Hopkins worked with burly assistant coach Charlie Bryant to develop inside moves. She sometimes came in on the weekends just to work out.

When Bryant and Hopkins first met, the coach asked her to demonstrate a drop step. She didn't know how to execute one then, but now she's got moves.

"She can post up now," said Bryant, proud of his pupil. "Sometimes I want to jump off the bench and yell because I'm all excited."

Hopkins gets excited sometimes, too, but she rarely gets down on herself. Some of her teammates marvel at Hopkins' positive attitude.

"She usually doesn't get frustrated," senior guard Lacey Lyons said. "And if I get frustrated, she's the one who calms me down." But there's more to Hopkins' life than basketball.

She's active in her church and will help organize the county Martin Luther King Day Parade on Monday.

Though she does not expect to play basketball past college, Hopkins wants to attend the University of South Florida's College of Nursing. Hopkins, who has interned at Seven Rivers Hospital, a local nursing home and a Walgreens pharmacy, said she hopes to be a nurse practitioner in a neonatal intensive care unit.

She has one more season of high school eligibility left, but Hopkins knows her athletic future likely will consist of recreational leagues. She loves playing pick up whenever she finds an open gym, so Hopkins expects a seamless transition.

Bryant is most excited about the year and a half Hopkins has remaining at Crystal River. He knows she might get even better.

"She never gave up on herself," he said. "She's got a lot more confidence."

Brian Sumers can be reached at or 564-3628.

[Last modified January 13, 2006, 01:45:18]

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