RALEIGH — A day before a conference matchup last month, Enloe’s girls basketball team worked on its two-three zone, but the practice floor held just nine players — five on defense, four on offense.
Enloe’s entire roster was present at the practice. Playing such a small roster has become a bit of a calling card for Eagles coach Pina Baker-Hunt.
In fact, she prefers it.
“We improvise,” Baker-Hunt said. “It’s my preference because it’s less issues, less drama. The more numbers you have the more issues and challenges you have. It’s really like a family unit. It’s a tighter circle. It’s more accountability. Everybody knows if I don’t do my part, you can’t look down the bench. I must be willing to do my part and tote my fair share of the load.”
Baker-Hunt has coached teams of small numbers since she took over Enloe’s varsity girls program in 2007.
Before arriving at Enloe, she got her first head coaching position as the junior varsity coach at Knightdale. She had seven players on that team.
“We did some phenomenal things, so it was then that my heart and my mind were piqued that numbers are not the issue. It’s what you can get the people to commit to.
“Those seven girls at Knightdale High School bought into the system wholeheartedly. We finished in second place. The last game of the season, we beat the undefeated No. 1 team in the JV. It was just amazing the things that they were able to do. That’s when I realized and learned that it doesn’t take numbers. It takes heart and effort,” Baker-Hunt said.
Injuries pose the biggest challenge to teams with such small rosters, but Baker-Hunt said players just need to step up if injuries occur.
Even with a healthy roster of eight or nine players, playing time has to be earned.
“I’ve had times where I just played five and never subbed and I just used my timeouts,” Baker-Hunt said. “I don’t want you to think that just because I have seven kids, you’re going to play. If you don’t give me none when you’re out there, you’re not going to play.”
Enloe senior captain Candice Jones has played for Baker-Hunt for her entire high school career. She said that although the system took some time to get used to, there is some benefit for the players.
“We’re going to all log minutes,” Jones said, adding that each year the teams have had ten or fewer players on the roster. “Nobody is like a star player. Everybody is going to get off the bench and play. It’s kind of good because small teams have less cliques.”
Freshman Tamia Hicks was no stranger to small rosters when she joined the Eagles this year. She had recently finished a national championship AAU season with Team Carolina, a team of eight players.
“It was really our friendship and our work ethic that really pulled us together, and we really got far, and were able to experience a lot of things,” Hicks said. “On the court chemistry is good, but when you have off the court chemistry, that’s even better, so I was very excited to come in and work with the other eight girls and be a team.”
Jones leads the team with 10.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Hicks chips in 8.6 and 8.5, respectively.
Enloe is 6-11 overall and 2-6 in Cap Eight conference play.
“I’ve seen what the reward is if you get everybody to believe,” Baker-Hunt said. “We’ve had some success with it at Enloe. We haven’t done the things that we would like to do, but we compete every year and that’s my number one goal. I think if we compete we’ll find ourselves in places where we would like to be.”