Center Stage

Highly anticipated Providence Day-Charlotte Christian matchup features two of nation’s best post players

by Andrew Stark

Providence Day’s Jatarie White is one of the top 11th-grade recruits in the nation. (Andrew Stark/SCW photo)

Last season, the Providence Day Chargers and the Charlotte Christian Knights played three times, and the Chargers won all three. The teams last met in the N.C. Independent Schools 3A girls basketball championship, when Providence Day won, 46-35.

The Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association’s two best teams renew their rivalry on Friday, Jan. 27, at Charlotte Christian.

Providence Day has won the past two state titles and six in the past seven seasons. They have the talent and leadership to add another championship to their tally this year, but they’ll likely have to go through the Knights to get there.

Both teams have played tough schedules, with the Chargers starting with a 17-4 record, 2-0 in conference, and the Knights are 15-3, 3-0.

When the teams meet this week, things could come down to the matchup of post players. Providence Day boasts 6-foot-3 sophomore Jatarie White, and the Knights have 6-4 junior Gigi Bailey – two of the best post players in the United States who happen to play in the same conference. White and Bailey have played against each other for their schools and AAU teams during the summer, and know the nuances of each other’s game.

Charlotte Christian junior Gigi Bailey also will have her pick of highly regarded college programs. (Andrew Stark/SCW photo)

Knights coach Bob Angley said stopping Providence Day senior Tiffany Mitchell, the two-time South Charlotte Weekly Girls Player of the Year and University of South Carolina signee, will also be a key.

Mitchell averages 18.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.1 steals and 2.8 assists per game for the No. 2 team in SCW’s Southern Mecklenburg Super 7 rankings.

While Mitchell is an undoubtedly great player, the primary focus in beating the Chargers lies in White. ESPN ranks White, who averages 15.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, as its No. 3 overall prospect in the class of 2014. She is the top-ranked center in the nation for 2014 prospects.

White, who was named to the USA Under-16 national team in 2011, said she gained invaluable experience from playing, and playing well, against some of the top talent in the nation.

“It was a great experience, and it let me see what some of the top players in the country look like and how I stack up,” White said. “Plus, it has made me a better leader because I have seen where I need to get to.

“It is a little bit of pressure being ranked as high as some places have me and playing for the national team, but when I am playing against someone who challenges me, I want to do well and prove that I am worthy of the accolades.”

Bailey averages a double-double with 18.5 points and 10.2 rebounds for the Super 7’s fourth-ranked team, and her stats are a little down from a season ago because the Knights are a more balanced team this year. Senior Maryah Mazyck, a two-time all-conference selection, averages 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds and Katherine Harris, a sophomore transfer from Concord First Assembly, has added stability to the point guard position and averages 12.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

“Having Kat run the point has helped, and I have moved inside where I can concentrate on my strengths and the things that I do well,” Bailey said. “I have teammates who can score, and other teams have to respect them. I can concentrate on other things besides scoring, and there isn’t pressure on me to score most of the points this year.”

Bailey can dominate games when she needs to, and last year had 36 points, 14 rebounds and 11 blocks in a game against Charlotte Country Day.

White can have a similar impact, making their matchup more intriguing.

Against Fayette County (Ga.) on Dec. 22, White scored 23 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked eight shots. While White has the ability to put up eye-popping offensive numbers each night, she works hardest on the other end of the court.

“I take a lot of pride in my defense, and it is important to me to contribute even when I am not scoring,” White said.

Chargers coach Josh Springer said White’s effort on defense and running the floor on both ends of the court is the one thing she has improved the most since last year.

“We are fortunate and blessed to have Jatarie,” Springer said. “She can play (small forward, power forward or center), and she can really run the court. Anybody can run the court on offense, but her hustle has saved us countless baskets by her just getting back on defense.

“To me, the most amazing thing is she has not fouled out of a game all season long, and she hasn’t really even been in foul trouble. She has learned to play aggressively without fouling and has gotten really good at using her body well.”

Since White and Bailey have guarded each other for most of their previous matchups, they have developed a sense of what the other likes to do – and the best way to go about containing each other’s strengths.

“One thing that has really stood out to me is how much better our team defense has gotten throughout the year,” Bailey said. “Last year, we kind of peaked and never got better. But this year Coach holds us accountable, and we have been getting better each game. It helps take some pressure off of me to be the primary defender at the basket.”

The Knights need Bailey to stay out of foul trouble. In a 60-54 loss at Greensboro Day on Jan. 10, the Knights led by seven points when Bailey went to the bench with four minutes to go before halftime. They went into the locker room down by four without their star.

“Gigi is the real deal and she has played really well for us all season,” Angley said. “You have to honor her wherever she is on the floor because she can (set a screen) and pop (out for a jump shot), and she has influence on both sides of the floor. Other teams have to respect what she can do.”

The bad thing for fellow CISAA teams is they will have to face White and Bailey well beyond this season – Bailey for one more year and White for two more.

“The two of them are absolutely huge for their teams,” Charlotte Latin coach Deb Savino said. “They can score, rebound and take care of the inside. They are special players. It makes it tough because there really is no way to stop them if they get going.”

Bailey will be especially fired up to play Providence Day this time around, since she’s gone winless against the Charges in five career meetings. But Bailey said there might be more pressure on the Chargers Friday.

“We have been close each time we played them, and we just have to play our game and not let the moment get too big,” Bailey said. “If we stay focused and don’t let them jump out on us early, we can beat them.

“We have proved we can hang with them, and we have a new cast of people ready to take the next step.”

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