Daisja Cannon can still be found in a gym now that Battery Creek High School's girls basketball season is done.
She plays at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Burton Wells Recreation Complex on a boys AAU team, same as she has done since she was 11 years old. She tells the boys not to go easy on her, that she welcomes the competition.
"I tell them it's going to help me in the future, so just let me play," she said. "Play how you would play if I was a boy."
The toughness helped Cannon lead the Dolphins to a first-round Class 2-A playoff victory over Silver Bluff, a 17-9 record and a 9-5 record in Region 6-AA. The Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette Girls Basketball Player of the Year averaged 19.6 points per game through a combination of penetrating drives and fast-break points earned from harassing defense at the top of Battery Creek's 3-2 zone.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
When defenders moved to block Cannon's path, she dropped off a pass to open teammates, averaging 3.9 assists per game.
Cannon and the Dolphins wanted to advance past the second round their first season in Class 2-A but ran into a buzzsaw in Bishop England, which won Region 6 and eventually advanced to the state championship game.
But Cannon is confident in what the Dolphins have coming back. The junior thinks the team can advance further than it did this year.
By the end of her senior year, Cannon wants a spot on a college roster. To get there, she'll continue playing with the boys and working at the relentless style of play that shredded area teams this past season.
She scored 29 against rival Whale Branch Early College High School to open the season, 32 during a victory over Bluffton High School and 23 points in each of the Dolphins' wins against Beaufort High School.
She scored 26 during the playoff victory, most coming off layups. She made 10 of 11 shots from the field and shot better than 50 percent for the season.
Cannon has since shifted her speed from the court to the track, running the 100-meter dash, 200, 4x100 relay and 4x400 relay. She's already received a recruiting letter for track, from a coach who mistakenly thought she was already a senior.
But Cannon said if she had to choose which sport to pursue in college, there would be no contest.
"I'm basketball," she said. "Always going to be basketball."
COACH OF THE YEAR: Wilbert Bryant, Whale Branch
Wilbert Bryant didn't tell his team when he received troubling news last May.
Diagnosed with prostate cancer, the Whale Branch girls basketball coach waited until after undergoing surgery in July to break the news. He coached some summer practices from a chair and has changed his diet, but follow-up visits have shown him cancer-free, with the next scheduled visit at the end of this month.
The personal victory, followed by coaching the Warriors to their first region title and a third-round playoff game, made for a warm year for Bryant.
"The way the girls played this year was another victory," said Bryant, who coached his third season at Whale Branch after previously coaching at Battery Creek. "We are definitely looking forward to next year."
Whale Branch was knocked from the playoffs by eventual Class 1-A state champion Hemingway, but not before notching some impressive feats. The Warriors finished the Region 5-A schedule undefeated, sealing the milestone with a four-point victory over Denmark-Olar on senior night.
Bryant's team split its games with Class 2-A Battery Creek and Class 3-A Hilton Head Island High School, and swept Class 4-A Bluffton. The competition with the bigger schools helped Whale Branch during its region run and in the playoffs, Bryant said.
He'll lose 2012 all-state selection S'Nitra Mack, a post player likely headed to Allen University, and guard Kenyada Moultrie, but returns all-sate guard Kemoni Jenkins, who will be a junior.
"I can't wait to start the ball rolling for next year," Bryant said.
The 64-year-old finished his seventh season coaching girls basketball after serving as an assistant for 15 years to former Battery Creek boys coach John Drafts. Bryant said it took time to develop a softer approach after 21 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, the last decade as a drill instructor.
He lifted some things from Drafts and after a few years on his own, began to develop his own style.
"I love coaching the girls," Bryant said. "I didn't think I was going to like it when I first started, but I kind of got hooked on it now. It's fun."
The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet All-Area girls basketball team
(Compiled by Stephen Fastenau and Chris Cox)
Player of the Year: Daisja Cannon, Battery Creek
Coach of the Year: Wilbert Bryant, Whale Branch
G -- Kemoni Jenkins, Soph., Whale Branch
Stats: 15.8 ppg, 4 spg, 4.1 apg
Comment: All-state selection managed the flow of the game for the region champions
G -- Daisja Cannon, Jr., Battery Creek
Stats: 19.6 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.4 spg
Comment: Relentless guard harassed opposing guards on defense and burned them with layups at the other end
F -- Americal Jenkins, Soph., Hilton Head High
Stats: 12.8 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 3.8 spg
Comment: Sophomore led the team in scoring and rebounding and shot more than 50 percent from the floor for the 18-win Seahawks
F -- Aaliyah Hill, Sr., Ridgeland-Hardeeville
Stats: 18.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg
Comment: All-state senior will play for S.C. State
C -- S'Nitra Mack, Sr., Whale Branch
Stats: 14.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg
Comment: North-South All Star is likely headed to Columbia after impressing Allen University coaches
G -- Lauryn Bush, Hilton Head High
Stats: 12.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 5.5 spg
G -- Jamie Malphrus, Thomas Heyward
Stats: 18.7 ppg, 12 rpg
G -- Miranda Weslake, Beaufort Academy
Stats: 19.4 ppg, 4.9 spg. 4.5 rpg
G -- Jordan Fields, Beaufort High
Stats: 10.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg. 2.5 spg
G -- Dynasty Mervin, Bluffton
Stats: 8.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.6 apg, 3.9 spg
Battery Creek -- Tatyana Fripp, Alexandria Bazemore
Beaufort Academy -- Charlotte Delfosse
Beaufort High -- Mattie Hibbs
Bluffton -- Tiffany Banks, Johnnie Gaston
Hilton Head Christian -- Ziarre Doe, Macee Tamminen
Hilton Head High -- Zion Campbell, Rachel Friend, Savannah Reier
Ridgeland-Hardeeville -- NyJae Boozer, Jayme Chisholm
Thomas Heyward -- Brielle Jungblut
Whale Branch -- Sharrin Reed, Kenyada Moultrie