0406 Zuri Dunlap signing.jpg

Hernando basketball standout Zuri Dunlap, seated center, signs to play at Itawamba Community College next season. She is joined by (seated from left) aunt Caroline Phillips and father Andre Dunlap, along with (standing from left) athletic director David Lara, coach Daniel Forbes, and principal Duane Case.

The Hernando girls basketball team reached levels it has not been to in a long time and a player who helped make it happen will be in line to do the same thing next year on another floor.

The Lady Tigers’ Zuri Dunlap Thursday signed an offer to play at Itawamba Community College.

The 5-foot-7 guard led Hernando to a 26-7 record this year, a district championship and a Final Four appearance in the MHSAA 6A state tournament at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.

Hernando coach Daniel Forbes said Dunlap has been a key component since he took on the job of head girls’ basketball coach.

“She’s been a starter for me ever since I took the job three years ago,” Forbes said. “She’s been a centerpiece to our offense and our defense and the heart of this team ever since she set foot in this high school. She’s going to be greatly missed as a player and definitely as a person and a leader in the locker room.”

While Dunlap has triggered the offense for the Lady Tigers, she thought her best basketball assets come on the defensive side of the court.

“I think defense is it, I really don’t care that much for scoring because it’s my defense that turns into offense for me,” Dunlap said.

That passion for defensive play and her skills on offense led to Dunlap being named to the 6A state all-tournament team, which was announced earlier in the week. She became a two-time all-district selection this year and was named the district’s most valuable player. Dunlap was also a participant in the Ultimate Preps all-star contest.

“She just has raw speed and you can’t teach that and you can’t coach it,” Forbes said about his departing senior.

Dunlap said she likes the program she is heading to next fall in Itawamba Community College, led by coach Nanci Gray, who just completed her 11th year coaching at the Fulton school.

“They have a really nice team and had a nice season,” said Dunlap. “They’re known for winning and they play at a really fast pace. When I went, it was like everything clicked for me so I just felt at home when I went there.”

This past season, Itawamba finished with a 21-5 record and played in the NJCAA Region 23 tournament at Mississippi College, where they reached the second round.

Returning players from last year will include Kealy Wilson of Horn Lake, who at 5-foot-10 played guard for Itawamba this year.

“I think the first year they expect her to learn and grow and then I think the second year they’re really looking for her to step in and be a big role player,” Forbes said about what Wilson might be planning for Dunlap next year. “That’s not limiting her this coming year, but they have a lot of returning players and they’re a very good junior college program.”

Hernando made several moves forward in girls’ basketball this year with Dunlap among the catalysts for the improvement on the court.

“We made a Final Four appearance and we beat Tupelo,” said Dunlap. “We hadn’t beaten them for numerous years, at least since I was a freshman we had not beaten Tupelo. That was a game we won to go to the Final Four. We won district this year and we’ve been fighting for districts since I was a freshman and this year we got back-to-back 20-win seasons.”

And while the 48-44 loss to Terry in the semifinals was a disappointing end to the season, Forbes believes Dunlap and her fellow seniors knew the impact they had on the program.

“Usually when the season ends and everybody’s crying in the locker room, they’re wishing that they had wanted more,” Forbes said. “We did want more, but you could just tell in these seniors they had a good amount of satisfaction and a good closure to the season. It could have been better, but every team ends the season with a loss but one.”

Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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