This South Carolina sensation will realize a lifelong dream when she enrolls at the University of North Carolina this fall.
A good student in the classroom and an stellar performer on the court, LaTangela Atkinson is one of the best players to come out of South Carolina in recent years. The 6-1 forward from Bishopville's Lee Central High School is coming off an outstanding junior season, in which she led her undefeated team to the state Class AA title.
In the state championship game at the Carolina Coliseum, Atkinson wowed the crowd with some dazzling moves as she scored 23 points on 8 of 12 field goals and hauled in 11 rebounds to help the Lady Stallions defeat Hanahan, 55-35.
As a junior, Atkinson averaged 26 points, seven rebounds, and five assists per game, and was named South Carolina Player of the Year by both Gatorade and USA Today. She also was ranked as the top junior in the nation by The All Star Girls Report. Yet after the season, Lee Head Coach Dorothy Fortune said the best was still to come. "She's still growing," Fortune said in the Columbia (S.C.) State. "When we start playing again next season, people are really going to see just how good she is."
So far, Atkinson is proving her coach right. This season, she's averaging 28 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists, and seven steals, leading Lee Central to a 21-1 record heading into its last regular-season game this week. This despite the fact that Atkinson is the team's only senior (last year's state champs graduated six seniors).
"This year, we put her where we need her, depending on who we're playing," says Fortune. "If we need her down low, she'll do that, or she can play the wing or the point. She can play any position. Usually a lot of the teams we play try to run a box-and-one or diamond defense. But we set picks to try to get her free, and she's such a good passer, she always hits the open man, which negates those defenses."
Fortune reports Atkinson's personality rivals her on-court talents. "She's a super kid, and she shows very good leadership skills," Fortune says. "All the kids like her and look up to her, even people from the other teams we've played. They come up to her and ask for her autograph. She's a very, very outgoing person, her personality is just one you wouldn't believe--everybody loves her."
Atkinson, who also plays AAU basketball with the Carolina Stars, was one of the nation's most-coveted high school recruits. While almost every NCAA Division I school expressed interest, Atkinson signed a Letter of Intent in November to attend the University of North Carolina. "I picked UNC because of its blend of academics and athletics and the basketball tradition," she says. "It was a childhood dream of mine to come to North Carolina."
UNC Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell described Atkinson as a highly skilled player. "She has good size and can play just about any position," said Hatchell. "She can come in and contribute right away."
Coach Fortune thinks Atkinson is capable of doing more than just contributing. "I think she can go in and start," says Fortune. "I've seen guard play [at the college level] and she definitely is capable of starting for any Division I team. She handles the ball that well, and she's such a great passer and a great shooter. She learns quickly, so she'll pick up any offense. I don't think going to college will slow her down at all."
Article written by Gball Associate Editor Jim Catalano.
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