Sophomore guard ready to lead

Shantell Black had last season to ease into and adapt to the college game behind a seasoned senior. Now, the high-octane Rebels are squarely in her hands.

The sophomore was able to cut her teeth during Ole Miss' Elite Eight run as a valuable player off the bench, giving an occasional breather to Ashley Awkward. That experience is proving valuable since Black is the likely choice to lead the Runnin' Rebels down the floor.

"It prepared me for this season because I knew that I would have to step up this year because Ashley was leaving," Black said. "It allowed me to know the game more and understand what to expect at this level. We are still the Runnin' Rebels, so the point guard has to be on top of her game."

The runnin' adjective came into focus during last year's postseason run as Ole Miss' helter skelter, fast-paced style frustrated opposing teams and displayed a high conditioning level for the Rebels.

That style for 40 minutes forced the 5-foot-4 spark plug to up the fitness in the offseason.

"First off, I had to lose some weight because I was getting tired too quickly during the games last year. I lost a couple pounds, and I am definitely in better condition. It is tough, but we are pushed hard to make us better."

As a freshman, Black averaged just less than 13 minutes a game and provided four points a contest. Her career-high for points came against defending national champ Maryland with 13 during the Junkanoo Jam. She also finished third on the team with 59 season assists.

Solid numbers, but the important thing was to learn from Awkward, who was a multi-year starter.

"She taught me to be smart with the ball and don't rush," Black said. "I was in a hurry at times last year, and she constantly had me slow down. Also, she hit a lot of clutch shots. I need to fill that role."

Black is the point guard, thus hitting shots isn't as important as directing traffic and running the Rebel offense. That means that her vocal chords need more of a workout than her jumpshot.

"I've had to become more of a leader," Black said. "We had to run extra the other day because the point guards weren't talking. I realize how much of a leader I need to be because of my position. Whether it is directing traffic or whatever, I have to talk.

"That is the one thing to improve on. I have never been very vocal, but now I have no choice, and I am working on it. If something goes wrong, it is my fault."

The preseason has been difficult because of injury after Black sprained her foot on the first day of official workouts and missed three days before returning with a brace.

Black wasn't the only point guard banged up. Senior Tasi Worsham and freshman Kayla Melson also went down, so wing player Alliesha Easley was forced into action as the one.

"She did good," Black said. "If we ever need a point guard, then we know who to call on, but I'm going hard and won't let it hold me back. It is ok, and I can go full out."

Full out is the only way to go for Ole Miss and its offense that doubles as its identity.

"We are a short team in the paint comparatively," Black said. "So we have no choice but to be the Runnin' Rebels."

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