Despite growing up as a forward, Alayna Khan of the Pickerington High School North girls basketball team had a feeling several years ago that she ought to hone her outside shooting skills.
The Panthers' 5-foot-11 junior had a great resource in Marscilla Packer, North's former junior varsity coach and a former player at North and Ohio State.
"Ever since sixth- and seventh-grade, she's been helping me a lot with my shot," Khan said of Packer, who now is coaching at Columbus School for Girls. "She knows that's my main thing, other than being able to post up and guard down low. She knew if we needed a big shot, she could pull me out to make it, or at least try to.
"By the time I was a sophomore, I could come outside and shoot more."
At least early in the season, her work has paid off.
Khan scored a game-high 18 points, including 12 on 3-pointers, in a 59-30 win Dec. 2 at Hilliard Davidson. She had nine points in a 54-48 win over Westerville South in North's opener Nov. 22.
Senior center Morgan Bassett-Smith and sophomore forward Zharia Lenoir have become North's starters inside, freeing up Khan to be a guard most of the time.
"Really, our 3 and 4 (shooting guard/small forward and forward) are interchangeable. Lenoir's been starting at the 4 and (freshman Danielle) Bradley has been coming off the bench and playing for her. But Alayna is going to get some reps down there," coach Dave Butcher said. "Alayna has put herself on the floor because she can put the ball in the basket. She's a good 3-point shooter, a very good stationary shooter. If (Emily) Thomas and (Aubrey) Lukacsko and some of our other guards can penetrate and pitch the ball out and (Khan) can get some space, she's a good shooter. Right now, she has to be on the floor because of that."
Khan said she largely identified with Packer because Packer was tall for a guard. Packer was listed at 5-10 her senior year at North in 2003-04. But Khan also was quick to credit her father, Neil, who has served as her coach on travel, Pickerington Youth Athletic Association and AAU teams.
"My dad always tells me that all the compliments and stuff, just say thank you and keep working," Khan said. "Everybody has room to improve, and I definitely do. I need to improve my dribbling and ball-handling skills and be able to play well under pressure."
Butcher hopes the same for his team, which began league play Dec. 7 with a 53-42 win over Newark, as Khan had six points on two 3-pointers. The Panthers, who were 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Grove City on Dec. 10, have rivalry games coming up against Lancaster (Friday, Dec. 13), Pickerington Central (Tuesday, Dec. 17) and Reynoldsburg (Dec. 20).
"We're diving into the league," Butcher said. "The league is maybe not as tough as it was the past few years because there have been a lot of graduations, then you throw our injuries in and it makes us young. We've had learning experiences game-in and game-out."
Central boys racking up mileage
The recent success of Central's boys team, including winning the Division I state championship in 2012 and having two Division I signees on this year's team in senior guard Connor Kern (Arkansas State) and senior forward Jae'Sean Tate (Ohio State), means the Tigers will venture outside central Ohio several times this season.
Central's first trip takes place Saturday, Dec. 14, when it travels to Cannonsburg, Ky., to play Huntington (W.Va.) Prep in the Boyd County Roundball Classic. Later this season, Central will play host Massillon Jackson in the Play 4 Cancer Shootout on Dec. 28 and visit Cleveland Benedictine on Jan. 18.
Huntington Prep, a basketball-focused college preparatory school, has three Division I signees in forward Angel Delgado (Seton Hall), and guards Jalen Lindsey (Providence) and Josh Perkins (Gonzaga). Junior forward Levi Cook is a West Virginia recruit, and senior guard JaQuan Lyle reopened his recruitment after de-committing from Louisville in September.
"Going in with other teams from Ohio and other states is very good for our team. It gives us a better opportunity to show ourselves what we're made of," guard D.J. Tyree said. "With these quick turnarounds, coach (Jerry Francis) will pull us to the side during warm-ups and explain what we have to do to get the job done. We'll see everything we can from the other team and go from there."
The Tigers began their season by beating Toledo Rogers 90-56 on Dec. 7 in the Clark Kellogg Tip-Off Classic at Ohio Dominican. Jae'Sean Tate had 23 points and five rebounds, Connor Kern had 22 points and Jalen Tate added 15.
Central defeated Lancaster 95-43 in its OCC-Ohio opener Dec. 9.
Central plays host to rivalry doubleheader
North will visit Central on Tuesday, Dec. 17, for the first of two boys-girls doubleheaders this season.
The girls game will begin at 6 p.m., with the boys game tipping off 20 minutes after the first game ends.
North's boys were 0-3 overall after losing their OCC-Ohio opener 66-37 on Dec. 9 at Newark.
Central's boys swept two meetings with North last year and lead the all-time series 8-3. The girls teams split two games, including a 48-45 overtime win for Central that temporarily denied Butcher the chance to become the state's all-time winningest coach. He later passed Beavercreek's Ed Zink to take over the all-time lead and entered the week at 689-89.
The Panthers are 8-4 all-time against the Tigers, who opened with league wins over Gahanna (51-42 on Nov. 29) and Lancaster (71-44 on Dec. 7) before playing Westerville North on Dec. 10.
Central's boys and girls will visit North on Jan. 28. That night, the boys game will be played first.