Girls Basketball Player of the Year

Banks becomes leader in scorebook, on floor for Palatka

Elexus Banks was expected to take on a leadership role for the Palatka High School girls basketball team upon the graduation of the greatest player in its history.

A few games into the 2015-16 season, even more was being asked of her.

It was one thing to have to take up the scoring slack and of Jonell Williams, the school’s career scoring and rebounding leader. Suddenly, after only a handful of games, Banks found herself running the show at point guard.

She responded well enough to be named Daily News Girls Basketball Player of the Year, succeeding Williams, who had a firm grip on the award throughout her high school career and recently completed her freshman season at Ole Miss.

Banks averaged 13 points, eight rebounds five assists and five steals per game for the Panthers as a junior. Palatka struggled to a 6-20 record after four straight district championships and while Banks acknowledged it was a difficult year for the team, she believes better days are ahead as a senior in 2016-17.

“I think the incoming players are going to be a big help,” said Banks, who expects one of them to take over at the point while she returns to her more familiar role as a swing player.

She moved to the point when two-time all-county guard Tamara Roberts left the team early last season. Given Banks’ experience and the relative inexperience of her teammates, then-PHS coach Jason Shaw had little choice but to have her running the offense.

“She was our small forward last year. We didn’t realize she would continue to be our leading scorer while running the offense,” said Shaw, who was promoted to Palatka police chief in December and has given up his coaching role. “She also stepped up in other areas. Her rebounds increased and her steals and her assists increased.

“The transition did come with some growing pains, especially because point guard is not going to be her position (in the long term), but she handled it very well.”

A varsity player since she was a freshman at Jacksonville Englewood, Banks had not played the point since middle school. She embraced the change when thrown into the breach early last season.

“I like leading my teammates and spreading the ball around,” she said. “I like being part of the team and working with my teammates.”

“She was very accepting of the move,” Shaw said. “She’s a very competitive person. She works hard and she listens.”

Banks wasn’t able to fully replace Williams’ 20 points and 20-plus rebounds per game, but the Panthers found themselves an impact newcomer in Lar’Queria Watts, who averaged 10 points and 13 rebounds per game.

“It was harder this season without Juicy (Williams), but Lar’Queria really helped me down low,” Banks said.

Banks distinguished herself as a sophomore in 2014-15 as a slasher not afraid to drive to the basket. Her style of play repeatedly sent her to the free-throw line, where she struggled much of last season. She’s looking to improve in that area as well as become a stronger left-handed shooter and ball handler.

Banks hopes to play at the college level, possibly at Florida A&M, and is interested in becoming a nurse. If her basketball career progresses, she would welcome an opportunity to play in the WNBA. She credits her parents, Elijah Banks and Lawun Banks, and her uncle, George Ford, as positive influences,

Whatever the future holds, she’s shown she’s not afraid of a challenge.