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Posted: October 18, 2011 6:57 p.m.

She's got game

NHS star Carter picked preseason C-USA player of the year

Newton basketball has a rich tradition. The boys’ team won the state championship in 1964 and legendary coach Ron Bradley guided his team to a state-record 129-game home winning streak spanning a nine-year period. More recently, the Rams have won two region championships and made it to the Class AAAAA Final Four in 2010.

Newton’s girls’ basketball program has also been on the rise as of late. The Lady Rams made it to the state playoffs last year and are poised to be even better this season. Over the years, Newton has seen many great players come and go. For the boys, it’s hard to say which one was the best. For the girls, the conversation usually starts and ends with Brittany Carter.

Carter, a senior at the University of Memphis, was recently named Conference USA preseason Player of the Year in a poll of league coaches. She’s entering her third season at Memphis and has the Tigers poised to make a run at a conference championship and berth in the women’s NCAA tournament in March.

"It’s an honor. I’m humbled and I just want to get to work for my teammates, because I feel that if I am the best player in the conference that it will ultimately help my team fulfill our goals this year," Carter said earlier this month at media day.

Carter was a blue-chip recruit coming out of Newton in 2006 after averaging 19 points and eight rebounds per game for her career. As one of the top prep players in the state and a top-25 prospect nationally, she chose to stay close to home and picked the University of Georgia over a host of top programs.

The decision made perfect sense. Georgia had been a national power under Andy Landers throughout the 1980s and '90s and second to only Tennessee in SEC championships and NCAA tournament berths.

Carter never quite took to Landers style of coaching though. She played sparingly at Georgia her freshman season, averaging just 3.4 points per game in 14 appearances and at year end, decided to transfer, choosing Memphis over several other top programs.

After sitting out the 2008-09 season under the NCAA's transfer rules and using her redshirt year in the process, Carter immediately made an impact in her first year of eligibility. She led C-USA in scoring with a 19.2-point per game average and led the Tigers to their first 20-win season and postseason berth since 2004. Despite Carter’s 31-point effort, Memphis lost to Appalachian State in the Women’s Basketball Invitational final that year but she was named to the all-tournament team. She also took home C-USA Newcomer of the Year and All-C-USA First Team honors.

Carter was hampered by a foot injury last year and saw her production fall slightly. Her scoring dipped to 13.6 points per game but she improved her free throw and 3-point shooting percentages and her assists and steals per game also went up. She still led the Tigers in scoring and managed to score double figures in 21 of 29 games while being named All-C-USA First Team for a second straight year. More importantly Carter led Memphis back to the postseason and to its second straight 20-win season.

Carter is healthy again entering her senior season and the two-time All-Conference guard has one goal in mind, leading Memphis back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.

"We were picked to win it so our goal definitely is to win Conference USA," she said. "We want to have another 20-plus-win season, we want to get to the NCAA tournament and once we get there be good enough to win."

Carter is poised to become one of Memphis’ greatest players in school history. Last year, despite seeing her scoring average drop, she became the third-fastest player in school history to score 1,000 points and 20th overall. A similar season to her sophomore one when she scored 654 points would move her into the top-10 of all-time scorers.

If she does win player of the year, Carter would become only the second player behind Tamika Whitmore, who earned it twice, and third overall to do so. Going back through Memphis’ history in other conferences, only Whitmore and Wanda Dillard have taken home player of the year honors. Dillard won it in 1987 when Memphis was a member of the Metro Conference.

"You really don’t think about it. You just go in everyday and work hard in the gym and continue to grow as a team," Carter said. "You really just don't think about it, you just work hard and once you get to playing it will pay off."

Current Newton boys' coach Rick Rasmussen, who watched her play for three years, said Carter is the most dynamic female player he's seen in Newton or Rockdale County in his 12 years at the school.

"She’s the best I’ve seen," he said. "Brittany was a good student-athlete, and you knew that she would do well in college. Moving from UGA to Memphis was the right move for her obviously."

Carter earned her degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis on criminal justice last December and is currently working toward a second bachelor's degree. And while she is prepared to use her education after her career at Memphis is complete, she may not need to for a while.

Don’t be surprised if Carter, with her unique combination of size and athleticism, follows Whitmore of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun to play professionally.

"She has done great at Memphis and certainly will have a great chance to play in the WNBA," Rasmussen said. "She has always had the athletic ability, so the sky is the limit for Brittany."

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