Derby edges Wichita Heights in meeting of undefeated league-leaders
Late in the fourth quarter, Tor’e Alford cocked back and fired an 80-foot pass on the numbers.
Aliyah Myers laid it up and in to give Derby a 12-point lead and clinch an eventual 66-52 victory over previously undefeated and City League leader Wichita Heights on Thursday. She looked like legendary quarterback Tom Brady.
“I am Tom Brady,” she said.
It was Alford in a nutshell.
Alford is one of the most creative boys or girls players in Kansas high school basketball. She makes passes others are blind to. She passes on good shots for great ones, even if they aren’t hers. She does the little things that have made Derby into one of the best teams in the state looking to defending its Class 6A state championship.
Panther coach Jodie Karsak said without Alford on the roster, it doesn’t work.
“When it matters, like tonight, in those last minutes, she knows when to go and when to pull back and who to get the ball to,” Karsak said. “I trust her completely out there in those situations. She is incredibly unselfish.”
Alford is a Division I talent. She signed with Missouri State on Nov. 14 along with her teammate and long-time friend Kennedy Brown, a 6-foot-6 center going to Oregon State.
Brown has become one of the top players in the country. She understands angles in the paint, where and when to post up and is clinical with the ball in the low block. She scored a team-high 25 points Thursday on Heights. She said Alford has helped elevate her career.
“I don’t even think I’m open sometimes, and she’ll give me the ball,” she said. “I got to have somebody get me the ball. I can’t do that all by myself. We work well together.”
With about 30 seconds left in the first half, Alford dribbled at the top of the key. She lobbed an enter pass to Brown in the high post, bounced to her left, got the ball back, rounded a screen and delivered a touch pass back to Brown rolling to the hoop for an and-one bucket.
The play gave Derby a seven-point lead at halftime. The game just moves more slowly for Alford.
“I feel like my job as the point guard is to distribute and to kind of run it,” Alford said. “My job is to run it. I have four scorers with me, so I just got to get the ball in their hands.”
Derby has gone through a fairly rough schedule eight games into the 2018-19 season. The Panthers’ road opener came against defending Class 4A-Division I champion McPherson. They followed it at home against league rival Maize and carried with road games against Newton and Salina Central.
In their toughest games, including Thursday night, the Panthers have won by an average of 15.8 points. They are on another level not only in Wichita but at the state level. Derby is one of four undefeated teams left in Class 6A, and none of the the other three score more on average than the Panthers.
Although she is setting up a lot of the buckets, Alford isn’t scoring at what some would consider a Division I level. But she doesn’t have to; her creativity on the ball, combined with her scoring ability, is worth about 25 points a night.
“What makes Tor’e so special is her awareness,” Karsak said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever coach another 6-6 (Brown), but I also don’t know if I’ll ever coach another point guard with her court sense and awareness of what’s going on in the game.”
Also active on defense, Alford often jumps passing lanes to launch fastbreaks, but if she feels a defender on her hip, she doesn’t force to ball to the hoop. She circles around and finds a better look.
Alford’s Derby teammates know what a talented scorer she is, so a lot of times, they want her to go up with the ball.
“I’m screaming on the court sometimes,” Brown joked. “She sees everything and knows how we’re going to get the best shot before it happens.”
Alford’s unselfishness is a conversation she and Karsak have frequently, Karsak said. Riding the line between giving, taking and giving too much is one Alford dances on. She said she has always been that way and always will.
“My dad, he’s a ball hog,” she said. “My brother, he knows how to pass, but he prefers to shoot it. I’m just the odd ball out. I’d rather pass it than score two points.”