PREP BASKETBALL: ‘Goals can be achieved through hard work and dedication’: Good Hope’s Lillie McCluskey recaps junior season

Good Hope’s Lillie McCluskey. (Martha Needham/The Cullman Tribune)

GOOD HOPE, Ala. – Last season was another special one for the Good Hope Lady Raiders as they finished with a 31-3 record, added another county and area championship to their trophy case and made their third straight trip to the Sweet 16. This was the first season playing on varsity for junior Lillie McCluskey as she talked about that experience and what she learned from it.

“It is a lot of hard work – almost like a job. Every player has a role to fill. You have some players that start and play most of each game. The substitutes’ roles are to help prepare the starters for the upcoming games and to relieve the starters during games. We had two very good senior leaders this year: Rudi Derrick and Bailey Keef. I hope to emulate their leadership qualities so that I can help my team have a successful season again next year. Having success and winning games always make the experience more enjoyable,”

She added,

“It was exciting to make it to the Sweet 16. At the beginning of the season, we set a goal for ourselves, as a team, to win state. We fell short of that goal. It was pretty upsetting, but I think it has motivated us to work even harder for next year. The girls on this team are a lot of fun to be around. They’re all great teammates and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to experience the run to state with them.”

Lillie is blessed to be playing for coaches Justin Aby, Natasha Holder, and Nina Moss, and has learned some things from them.

“Our coaches work well together. Each coach is knowledgeable about the game. They use that knowledge to plan and prepare for each practice, so there is no time wasted when we’re together. Because of their hard work and planning, our team is ready for each and every opponent we face. They spend a lot of time away from their families to make our season as successful as it can be. By watching their examples, I’ve learned that goals can be achieved through hard work and dedication.”

Lillie got to play with a pair of great seniors in Rudi and Bailey and soaked up as much as she could from them.

“Rudi was a tough, competitive player. Her work ethic was phenomenal. She worked on her skills every single day and sometimes multiple times a day. She never forgot the most important part and that was God. She made sure to lead the team in prayer after every practice and before each game. Bailey was a vocal leader. She never failed to cheer for and support each member of the team. We could always count on her to encourage and build up her teammates. She made sure to take photos of the team as we celebrated our wins. We have lots of photo memories, thanks to her. They were great leaders both on and off the court. I will always have fond memories of playing basketball with them.”

Lillie will work on a few things in the off-season to get ready for next season and she talked about her goals and the team goals as well.

“For the off-season, I am playing travel ball, improving fundamentals, and continuing with strength and conditioning training,” she said. “The goals I have set for myself are to be a better player and teammate. The goals I have for my team are to treat each game as the most important game, to celebrate each and every victory and accomplishment, and to win state because it’s my senior year. I want to cherish every moment.”

Lillie talked about what will make this team special to watch next season, a college player that she started following, and the best advice that she was ever given.

“There are six seniors returning, so that will be a lot of talent and game experience for next year’s team. Good Hope has won county back-to-back. There is a lot of talent on this team. Every player is capable of being productive and is an asset to the team,” she said. “My all-time favorite movie was Hoosiers. I watched it a lot. I follow Shaylee Gonzales. She plays for Texas. She’s a good, all-around player. She plays good defense, is great at attacking the basket, and can shoot from deep. She faced adversity and overcame it by coming back from an ACL tear. Some good advice I’ve received is to always do your best and defense travels with you. Your shots may not always fall, but you can always play good defense.”

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