David Ramsey: Determined star Krystina Hagood leads resilient, optimistic James Irwin basketball team

0
Photo -

The James Irwin girls' basketball team had every reason to sink into misery, and we’re talking serious misery. They had every reason to surrender to exhaustion.

On Friday night, on their homecourt, the Jaguars lost 73-0 to defending state 3A champ Lamar. Yes, you read the score correctly. Lamar scored 73 points. James Irwin scored zero.

That disaster ended at 9:30 p.m.

At 10:30 a.m. Saturday, the Jaguars loaded the team bus for a ride through the snow to play at Aurora West College Prep. At 1 p.m., less than 16 hours after the Lamar debacle, James Irwin tipped off again.

The Jaguars fought through their misery and exhaustion. The Jaguars won, 36-29.

Anthony Byrd coaches the Jags. No one would describe him as subdued.

“It was an amazing turnaround, man,” he says in a happy shout. “I’m so proud of these girls. I’m so proud of them.”

So, what happened between Friday night and Saturday morning?

A big difference was the opponent. Lamar is mighty. Aurora West College Prep is not so mighty.

The other difference?

Byrd doesn’t hesitate before answering.

“Well, Krystina was there,” he says of his star sophomore point guard Krystina Hagood. “It makes a difference when she’s there. We’re a totally different team.”

He’s not exaggerating. Hagood averages 20.1 points per game, which is impressive no matter the situation. But consider this: James Irwin averages a total of 31.6 points per game. In other words, Hagood scores 63.6 percent, or nearly two-thirds, of her team’s points.

For comparison, James Harden leads the NBA with 31.4 points per game, but his Rockets average 114.3 points per game. Harden would need to average 72.6 points to match Hagood’s percentage of team points.

On Friday night, that huge chunk of James Irwin’s points was elsewhere. Hagood was participating in her Catholic confirmation. She realized this was an important moment in her spiritual journey. She also realized her teammates were competing without her directing the show.

“It was very tough,” she said.  “I wanted to get of there, put on my jersey and go play.”

On Saturday, back with the team, she scored 25 points. She did the scoring despite the usual double and triple coverage.

Byrd has been impressed by Hagood’s spirit this season. The Jaguars (4-13) have often struggled, but their best player never backs down. And she’s never satisfied. She constantly asks Byrd, “What can I do better?”

She challenges herself, often competing in games at Peterson Air Force Base. She’s almost always the only female on the court. The other players decline to go easy on her. Their aggression, she says, feeds her aggression.

She brings this roaring intensity to her James Irwin games. Byrd is impressed by what he calls “her motor.” She pays no attention to the score.

“She doesn’t give up,” says James Irwin’s Tanea Warner.  “Even if we’re down by 40, she still pushes.”

On Friday against Lamar, the Jags fell behind by 40, and much more. It wasn’t easy, Warner says.

“I was devastated,” Warner says. “Lamar is a good team, but James Irwin isn’t a bad team. We wanted to get a couple points on the board. The fact that we didn’t do it, it hurt a little bit.”

On Saturday, Warner helped with the near-instant revival, grabbing 21 rebounds. The weary Jaguars instantly placed the Lamar Disaster in the back of their minds.

The victory could serve as an encouraging prelude to next season. (The current season ends Tuesday with a home game against Manitou Springs.) The Jags return their entire roster, and Byrd hopes the tough nights of this season will inspire his players to spend the spring and summer working to build a winner.

You can be sure Hagood will labor every day.

“I hate losing very much,” she says. “It just pushes me harder to try to win the next one. You can do anything if you believe.

“I believe that we can be good.”