Kursh crush

For­mer player sets early tone to North­side’s bas­ket­ball legacy.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - SCOT­TIE BORDELON

In rare mo­ments of down time, long­time Fort Smith North­side girls bas­ket­ball coach Rickey Smith al­lows his mind to wan­der a bit.

The spells of clar­ity are of­ten re­minders of how tal­ent-rich his Lady Bears ros­ters have been in 23 years at the school. Smith’s teams have made four con­sec­u­tive state fi­nals ap­pear­ances an un­prece­dented two times. And out of the first run of cham­pi­onships from 1999-2002 came Tamika Kursh, the pro­gram’s most her­alded player.

Kursh earned McDon­ald’s All-Amer­i­can Game hon­ors in 2002 and trav­eled to play in Madi­son Square Gar­den, her first big trip with­out her mother by her side. That sea­son, she led North­side (29-1) to its fourth straight state cham­pi­onship and a No. 3 rank­ing in the USA To­day

Su­per 25 — still the high­est rank­ing of any team in Arkansas. The Lady Bears’ lone loss came to Lyn­wood, Calif., the No. 1 team in the na­tion by USA To­day.

Even now, 15 years re­moved from the 2002 run, those ac­com­plish­ments re­main fresh on her mind.

“It’s amaz­ing to be a part of his­tory and to share it with team­mates you re­ally care about. I do still think about it,” she said. “We knew how good of a team

we were. We ba­si­cally broke ev­ery record and ev­ery bar­rier one can set. We set the tone and fol­lowed the lead from the girls be­fore us.”

In three years, Kursh’s Lady Bears won 84 games and dropped a game in 5A-West Con­fer­ence play just once. Her fi­nal game in a Lady Bears uni­form was one to re­mem­ber, too, as Kursh scored a game-high 32 points and grabbed 12 re­bounds. But if Smith was asked about it, Kursh’s mys­tique was born years be­fore.

“Her sopho­more year, we’re play­ing West Mem­phis in the state semi­fi­nals and we’re los­ing,” Smith said. “Run­ning down the floor, I see Tamika point to her chest and I’m think­ing she wants to come out. But dur­ing a dead ball, she comes over to me and says, ‘Get me the ball.’ She scored some­thing like 10 of our fi­nal 12 points.

“I looked at coach [Scott] Thomp­son with a big smile and said, ‘We’ve got her for two more years.’”

Th­ese days, the now-Tamika Wil­liams is hap­pily mar­ried — five years on June 22 — to Ted Wil­liams, an engi­neer, and mother to 3-year-old daugh­ter Tay­den, who has taken a lik­ing to soc­cer. Wil­liams lives in the Dal­las area, teach­ing phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion to six­ththrough eighth-graders and coach­ing vol­ley­ball, track and bas­ket­ball at DeWitt Perry Mid­dle School.

“I’ve en­joyed it a lot,” she said. “I like the mid­dle school level way bet­ter. Just to see them progress from not know­ing any­thing about bas­ket­ball to grow­ing is spe­cial.”

Wil­liams says she re­mains in con­stant con­tact with many of her for­mer team­mates. Tan­dem Mays, a slasher-type guard who played from 2001-03 and now an as­sis­tant women’s bas­ket­ball coach at the Uni­ver­sity of Ne­braska, Ash­ley Cole­man, Chivis Mer­ri­weather and oth­ers are part of a group Face­book chat.

“We talk all day through­out the day just about ran­dom things,” said Wil­liams, who kept up with North­side’s girls in the 2017 state tour­na­ment through a live stream passed along in the chat. “We’re a pretty tight-knit group.”

The for­mer stars do their best to meet up twice each year, and even host Christ­mas par­ties in Fort Smith.

Wil­liams also passed along heady ad­vice to the cur­rent cast of Lady Bears, which Smith be­lieves could be­come a mem­o­rable bunch.

“Hope­fully they’re get­ting out and play­ing ball in the sum­mer and keep­ing their heads straight and grades up be­cause you can’t play with no grades,” she said.

“That was the thing about our group, we pushed each other. We didn’t let that one per­son get out of line. We held each other to­gether.”

File Photo/Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette

Tamika Kursh (45, now Wil­liams) of Fort Smith North­side (cen­ter) drives to the bas­ket through a West Mem­phis de­fender dur­ing the 2002 Class 5A state girls bas­ket­ball cham­pi­onship game in Pine Bluff.

Cour­tesy photo

Tamika Wil­liams (Kursh, left), who led the North­side Lady Bears bas­ket­ball pro­gram to three con­sec­u­tive state cham­pi­onships from 2000-02, has a 3-year-old daugh­ter, Tay­den (cen­ter) and hus­band of five years, Ted.

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