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Alisha Andrews is living large (at 4 feet 11) (AJC.com)

January 23, 2010
Redan High School

For the AJC

This article is not super-short even though its subject, Alisha Andrews, is. How she grew (figuratively) into the leading lady at 4 feet 11 on the state’s hottest high school basketball team, Redan, is quite a story. And not the tall tale it may seem.

Her parents and two older sisters claim no athletic bones in their vertically challenged bodies. Wyatt Andrews (5-9) funneled his hyperkinetic pre-schooler into sports only so she could burn off energy.

“She wouldn’t go to sleep,” he said. “I had to find something for her to do.”

Alisha took up T-ball with the boys, later becoming a youth league pitcher. She dabbled in other organized sports -- even football, where Wyatt later drew the line.

“Her dad wouldn’t let her play,” said mom Tara (5-1).

Video games? Borrr-ing. Dolls? Shoot, she used to break her sister’s.

Any breakage from throwing balls of various shapes around the house was accidental. And unusual, because Tara and Wyatt would steer her outside for some aural relief from the constant bump-bump of a bouncing basketball on the floor.

Wyatt put up a court, with baskets at both ends. “We’d be out there till 2 in the morning in the summer,” Alisha said.

Four years later, he dismantled it, disappointing hordes of neighborhood boys. And one girl.

“Dad said we were messing up the grass. Wasn’t no grass. It was straight-up dirt,” she recalled.

What little television Alisha watched included footage of Spud Webb, the former Atlanta Hawks dynamo who stopped growing halfway between 5 and 6 feet.

“I started doing his moves,” she said. “He inspired me to [believe] that short people can do it.”

By age 10, Alisha was competing on summer travel teams. Families of players involved in other games would linger to watch the human wind-up toy darting about, the ball like a yo-yo extending from her tiny hands.

Eventually, Wyatt was overhearing comments such as, “She looks like a little girl but has all the moves of a grown man.”

One adult dubbed her “Show ‘n’ Tell.” Tara explained: “Give her the ball and she’ll show you, then you go tell about it.”

Alisha has started on varsity teams since ninth grade. She has not stomached defeat in two seasons, Redan having gone 27-0 a year ago and riding high at 15-0 entering tonight's game with Douglass.

She leads the Lady Raiders in every statistical column but rebounds, blocks and on-court smiles. Businesslike, the pony-tailed one rarely exposes the braces on her teeth between tip-off and final buzzer.

First-year Redan coach Jerry Jackson most appreciates the influence Alisha wields over her teammates. One day after a sluggish victory last week, the naturally shy senior assembled a 25-minute, pre-practice shoot-around. She has called players-only Sunday afternoon workouts.

Between the lines, “I’m a whole ‘nother person,” she said. “It’s like a mood swing.”

Redan trailed a preseason scrimmage by three points with a few seconds remaining. She looked up at Jackson, a towering one-time college quarterback with the girth of an NFL lineman, and said, “Coach, just give me the ball. I’ll dribble down, step back and drill the 3.”

Which she did, forcing overtime.

Said Jackson, who first witnessed such wizardry years ago when the middle-schooler Alisha flummoxed his then-unbeaten team on a buzzer-beater, “Most kids don’t command the ball, tell you what they’re gonna do and then go do it.”

The no-look passes and between-the-legs dribbles serve a purpose beyond triggering high-fives from the audience for the under-five Alisha. She plays low to the ground, heeding the personal advice from her latest 5-6 exemplar, Ivory Latta of the Atlanta Dream. What appears flashy is functional, a sort of keep-away from the defender.

The most astonishing aspect of Alisha’s portfolio is her laser-like cross-court passes. They are flick-of-the-wrist marvels that Wyatt traces to her baseball-throwing days.

What’s more, “She’s really matured as a basketball player,” Jackson said. “Earlier, she had only one speed: fast-fast-fast. She’s not going 100 mph all the time now.”

As the final seconds of the first quarter disappeared in a game last week, Alisha isolated a defender and dribbled in place some 30 feet from the rim while keeping tabs on the clock. Two ticks remained when she let fly a 3.

Bank-swish. “That’s her shot,” said Jackson, who regularly signs off on the play.

Next quarter, same situation, a knowing voice rose from among the Redan boys players. “Alisha time! Alisha time!”

Early on, she was taught not to let lack of height be a hindrance.

“It doesn’t matter how tall you are,” Wyatt told his daughter. “If you’ve got heart, you can do anything. Kids are gonna look up to you, even if you’re the smallest one.”

Of the foremost 100 college prospects ranked by the scouting service Rivals.com, the smallest is 5-4, the next-smallest 5-6. Alisha may be getting overlooked by SEC and ACC schools, but she has been promised scholarships from a few mid-majors.

“I think she can play college ball,” said the Dream’s Latta, who delivered North Carolina to two Final Fours. “Work hard day-in and day-out. Always believe in yourself because there will be times when other people won’t.”

History has no shortage of accomplished women who hit their ceiling just south of 5 feet: actress Judy Garland, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, performer Nell Carter, author Alice B. Toklas, rapper Lil’ Kim, gymnast Cathy Rigby.

If Alisha someday joins them, she will embrace her size, not suffer from it.

She feigns indifference to getting short-shrifted. “Don’t matter to me,” she said, other than rolling her eyes when asked if a seat cushion is required to drive her Jetta.

Nor should others be concerned, she said, not even pro women’s leagues: “If Ivory Latta can make it, then so can I.”

Privately, Alisha would welcome a growth spurt that is unlikely to come. When her doctor recently projected little upward movement, she was disappointed, according to Wyatt.

Still, with a slight uptick in her latest measurement, her official height can now be rounded up. So last Saturday, Alisha called her coach to request a numerical change. Not on her jersey or in the stat book.

“We will,” Jackson said, “start listing her at 5-foot.”

The sky’s the limit.

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