Program aims to help Central Kentucky girls succeed

jmadden@herald-leader.comMay 13, 2014 

At the end of practice, a brave soul from the Kentucky Prospect girls' basketball stepped up to the free throw line.

If she made her free throws, a roar of applause would erupt throughout the gym. If she missed, the team would run suicides.

The first shot went in, but the second shot bounced around on the rim, popped out and hit the hardwood floor at Consolidated Baptist Church.

Suicides.

The team wrapped up the series of sprints, and then gathered at half court. They huddled and then shouted "KTP!"

The practices are often tough, pushing the girls to great heights. But they also focus intently on establishing a bond that is much like family. No one was upset about the extra conditioning.

The girls are all part of Kentucky Top Prospect, formerly known as the Lexington Police Activities League Jags.

Lexington officer John Washington oversees the team, but it is coached by Sherylena Burnett, a motherly figure who has worked with many of the girls since they were 8 years old.

Washington changed the team's name and focus earlier this year, because he wanted to expose the girls to coaches outside of Kentucky. He still operates a PAL team that allows seventh to eleventh graders to play the game they love.

PAL, which started in 1985 by a group of off-duty police officers who donated their time, is a youth crime-prevention program that employs athletic, educational and recreational programs to establish trust and understanding between police officers and youth.

The program offers educational trips and weekly mentoring at Consolidated Baptist Church. Washington said all of the girls, all of whom are Central Kentuckians, are a part of PAL and take advantage of the opportunities to enhance their life skills.

Kentucky Top Prospect has four teams, about 40 girls who are 13 to 17 years old, who travel all over the United States. They are coached by former University of Kentucky players, college and high school coaches.

"We've got talented girls who work hard," Washington said. "They're going to know Kentucky's name."

And that talent has been recognized. Several girls have received scholarship offers before their senior year of high school.

Washington, who was introduced to girls basketball by his father and several of his mentors, said the passion for basketball started off as a "dream" by the girls.

"They all want to play college ball," he said.

Malaka Frank, 16, thinks basketball is a get away. Frank, who wanted to be a cheerleader until the fifth grade, grew to love the passion and intensity that's required on the court.

She has received five scholarship offers so far, and she has received several letters from other colleges.

"It feels good," the Frankfort native said, "but I get nervous, because I don't like talking to the colleges. It is exciting."

Malaka, a 5-foot-11 center for the traveling team, also plays for Franklin County high school.

Malaka's mother, Ramonia Jones, said she's thrilled to see Malaka, who carries a 3.7 grade point average, get scholarship offers, because it'll give her an opportunity for an education.

"I just want her to get an education and have a good life" Jones, a mother of four, said.

Malaka is not the only player getting attention from colleges.

Dee Givens, T'laya Lyvers, Asia Sims and Sandra Skinner have all gotten college offers from Division I schools, Coach Burnett said. Younger players are also getting noticed by colleges and universities. she added.

Skinner, 17, has grabbed the attention of over 20 schools. She's just thankful.

"I feel very honored and blessed to have the ability to play," said the Clark County High School junior. "I wouldn't be in the spot that I am if it wasn't for many 'behind the scenes people' the man upstairs, my mom, friends, family, coaches throughout my whole basketball career. And of course my non-supporters."

"It means the world working with them and seeing them grow," she said. "They never gave up."

The coaches have a vested interest in seeing the girls succeed.

Burnett, who coaches the 17-year-old team attends all of the girls' high school games. Washington makes sure they get home safely.

Player development coaches Eric Sanford and Daniel Price push them all to achieve their best.

"We have a variety of talent," said Sanford. "The girls play well together. They don't overshadow each other. They have a good time.

Price echoed Sanford, and gave meaning to the rigorous transition offense and defense drills.

"KTP, that's what we are going for," he said. "To make all of our players top in the nation."

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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