Union Pines' Hicks Heading to East-West Game
Although her storied career as a Union Pines player ended back in late February, Crystal Hicks still has one more high school game to play.
Recently, the Lady Viking senior point forward and 2011-2012 3-A Cape Fear Valley Conference Player of the Year was selected to play in the North Carolina Coaches Association (NCCA) East-West All-Star basketball game.
The honor caps off an illustrious run for Hicks, who was a four-year starter and three-year captain for the Union Pines basketball team.
Cyrstal Hicks: A Career in Photos
Union Pines Lady Viking Crystal Hicks will play in the 2012 NCCA East-West All-Star game on Monday, July 16, at 6:30 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum. This fall, Hicks will be enrolled at Brunswick Community College, a Division II member of the National Junior College Athletic Association. The following is a look back at her four-year hoops career at UP, where she was a three-year captain. Photos by Philip Taylor.
In a statement issued Thursday by Union Pines athletic director Bobby Purvis, who served long stints as both the Vike boys’ and girls’ head hoops coach, the former East-West All-Star coach and recent UPHS Athletic Hall of Fame inductee illuminated the significance of Hicks’ selection.
“It is a great honor to be chosen to play in this game where so many deserve but only a few are selected,” said Purvis. “Crystal is one of six female basketball players at Union Pines to have been selected to play in the East-West All Star game.
“This honor certainly puts her in very select company. She has truly earned a special place only shared by a select few.”
The total number of roster spots on the two squads combined is 20, with 10 each for the East and West
Hicks averaged 11.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.9 steals a game during her final season. Her assist-per-game average led the 3-A ranks statewide. On the season she tallied 15 double-doubles while running the offense as a point forward on the way to becoming an all-district selection.
A two-time 3-A Cape Fear Valley Conference (CFVC) all-league selection, Hicks helped guide the Vikings to 89 victories in her career, including back-to-back sectional championships in the 2010 and 2011 state playoffs. Over that span the Union Pines girls also claimed one CFVC tourney title (2011) and one regular-season championship in 2010.
In an extended interview, Hicks reflected back on her four seasons as a starter for the Vikings, touching on her growth as a player and a person, reflecting on a few of her many highlights, and discussing the lessons she has learned from the game of basketball. The strands that ran constant throughout the discussion were her passion for the sport, her dedication to her school and coaches, and the love she has for her teammates.
“Winning the CFVC award for player of the year meant so much to me,” said Hicks. “It was one of the biggest accomplishments that I have achieved in my basketball career, and it was a great way to finish my senior year. I was so honored to have gotten the award by all the coaches’ votes. That is what meant the most, to have their support.
“Then, to be selected as an East-West All-Star sort of solidified that award. Over my career I would always do anything for my team that I needed to do to get us on top without hesitation. It is a true honor to be recognized alongside some of the truly outstanding players in our state.”
Plagued her entire senior season by several maladies, among them a nagging shoulder injury, a fractured nose and two left-knee injuries — including the one that had her battling at around 65 percent full capacity in Union Pines’ 65-50 playoff loss to Asheboro in the second round — no matter what, Hicks kept right on trucking.
Before her final game in the Viking blue, wearing a pressurized knee brace for an undiagnosed lower left-knee strain, Hicks told Union Pines’ head coach John Lewkowicz that she intended to “just go until (she) fell out.”
In the end that is what happened, as her body gave out when she fell fighting for a steal and smacked her right kneecap dead center on an unforgiving floor.
The spill marked the last of hundreds she had taken while donning the Viking blue as she simply could not go anymore.
“Even though I had my few injuries I couldn’t let myself just give up or even sit out a game,” Hicks said. “I just couldn’t do it. I had to push through and try my hardest to ignore the fact that I had the injuries or pain.”
Over her career Hicks collected 989 rebounds, despite being a wing player her first three seasons before bringing the ball up the floor for the Vikings in her senior campaign on the hardwood. In her final two seasons Hicks began shooting more jumpers from the perimeter. As a junior she was the second or third scoring option for Union Pines, and by the time she was a senior Hicks had become the team’s go-to offensive player.
“After my freshman year, coach L (Lewkowicz) as well as a lot of other people explained how I needed to shoot the ball a lot more,” Hicks said, “but scoring wasn’t something that I strived to do. I was more of a rebounder-passer and the person who stole the ball and got it to the person who I thought had the better shot.
“However, coming into my senior year was a major change. We had lost our top scorers my junior year. I knew this was my turn to put up some points, but even though I had to score I didn’t let that get in the way of getting the ball into someone else’s hands who had a good shot.
“Me being point guard, it wasn’t something that I preferred, but it was something that I had to do for the team. I just had to work a lot with different dribble drills and pushing the ball was what I looked for when coming up the court and becoming more confident when the balls was in my hands.
“The sacrifice of being point guard and being up at the top of the key was that I couldn’t really move without the ball and be a playmaker. It also meant not being in the paint as much and being closer to getting a rebound, but I eventually made my way down there.”
While embracing the role as a top scoring threat took Hicks some time, she admitted it was one she eventually warmed up to. However she did confess that missing the 1,000-rebound mark for her career was one of her only regrets.
“Learning to accept the role as a being a primary scoring threat from the perimeter was difficult at first because I had always looked up to Alishia Mosley and Tyesha McLean,” she said, “and for me being that person was different, but it was a good different.
“Once I accepted being that player — one my teammates counted on with the ball and looked toward to keep the game in our hands by making the big plays — it just started working for me.
“The 1,000-rebound mark was one of the things that I really tried hard to accomplish. So naturally I was disappointed in myself for not going just a little harder in some games to get maybe just two or three more rebounds than I did, but after a little time I realized I can’t dwell on the little stuff — I had to get past it and move on. Plus, I was so proud of Tyler (Ross) getting her 1,000 rebounds because she’s a beast in the paint and she also worked very hard.”
Desire to Win
Despite all the personal accolades, the true essence of Hicks as a player for Union Pines was her desire to win and her determination to never let her teammates down
“Looking back on my time here, it means so much to be a part of some amazing teams,” Hicks said, “and creating that bond with my teammates while being on those teams that had such big successes and made those achievements was incredible.
“Then to end out my senior year by having the chance to lead a great team to some victories just feels even better, even if we didn’t go as far as my previous years, we were a great team and fought till the game was over and we never gave up. To lead teams like that is what all captains want to do.”
Along the way Hicks has realized that the majority of her on-court experiences will serve to help her in life as she soon moves forward past high school.
“Some valuable lessons about life that I have learned through basketball are to always be a leader and don’t be a follower, never back down from a challenge, prove to others that you can get the job done, and always work hard at things.”
Four things Hicks proved to be in her time as a Viking hoops player was a true champion, a strong leader, a quality teammate and a good person. In her interview she touched on the qualities she feels best exemplify each.
“A true champion is someone that takes it all in but never lets it get to them,” she said. “It means going all out until you can’t go anymore while giving it your all, even if the outcome isn’t what you want. Being a strong leader is being a good listener to your teammates’ opinions and taking in notes.
“In addition, a leader does not let things get to them and keeps their head up the whole time to show that it is going to be OK to make mistakes. It also means being able to stop things when they are going poorly before they go too far. Most important, being a leader means making things fair.
“A quality teammate is always encouraging and never puts down anyone. It means being there for your teammates, always pushing them in practices and not letting them slack, because when you slack you are only cheating yourself.
Hicks will play in the 2012 NCCA East-West All-Star game on Monday, July 16, at 6:30 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum. This fall, Hicks will be enrolled at Brunswick Community College, a Division II member of the National Junior College Athletic Association located in Supply, near the southernmost portion of the state, south of Wilmington.
“I have committed with the Brunswick Lady Dolphins,” said Hicks. “I’m very excited to move to the next level and keep playing ball. I have met the team and coaches and I am so ready to begin, the biggest part of it is that Tyesha (McLean) will be joining me and that feels so good to have my side kick back on the court with me — I can’t wait.”
Contact F.W. Manning II at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story