PORT ARTHUR —
Forget what Ben Franklin said. In the sports world, sometimes adversity is the mother of invention. Port Arthur Memorial senior guard Crystal Sallier is a great example of that.
The 5-foot-2 Sallier has been on the varsity since her freshman year, but has constantly had to re-invent herself. She struggled through a knee injury her sophomore season and an irregular heartbeat that requires her to wear a pacemaker-like device.
Oh, and in much less important, non-health related adversity, Sallier has had to learn a whole new position in her senior year.
“I like her hard work and dedication,” Lady Titan head coach Kevin Henry said. “She’s an inspiration. As a sophomore, she tore her knee up. She came back last year and earned a starting position. Also, she’s playing with a pacemaker right now because of an irregular heartbeat. She’s had some medical obstacles to overcome. To still come out and give the effort that she does, she’s an inspiration.”
You wouldn’t pick up on any hits of adversity from just chatting with Sallier and seeing her smile and talk about how much fun her senior year has been.
“My senior year is great, great, great,” Sallier said. “I’m loving every minute of it. I’m just taking all of it and cherishing it to the best of my ability. I can say I’ve put in a lot of work, but not by myself. I’ve learned quite a bit from my teammates. It’s been pretty awesome.”
After playing the past two years at point guard for the Lady Titans, Sallier was asked by Henry to move to an off-guard spot this year. That was in part to get speedy sophomore Joyce Kennerson in the lineup, but also to help with Memorial’s general offensive philosophy.
Henry doesn’t believe in one true point guard and would rather have an offense that can flow, with any player taking over at point while the others rotate around the court.
“We don’t really designate a point guard,” Henry said. “We have a lot of guards who can handle the ball. When teams do pressure us, I give them the freedom that whoever is open can bring it down and set up the offense. We try to teach them all five positions for when we go small and guards have to go down to the post. We try to make them versatile players. It hasn’t been a big adjustment (for Sallier).
“She’s also a very smart basketball player. She’s another coach on the floor. She’ll get out there and she’s not afraid to direct traffic and put people in spots. She tries to fire them up, motivate them.”
One of the other benefits of the Titans offense is that teams may focus on Kennerson’s quickness to the hoop or senior guard Ariel Hutchinson’s scoring ability and forget about Sallier on the outside.
That’s a mistake, since Sallier has worked her way into being a capable shooter after struggling with her shot early in her varsity career.
“That’s a tough one,” Sallier said. “I’ve very much had to work on that. Being a point guard, I’m either driving or getting it straight to my shooters. I’ve come a long way. I’ve had to learn more about my form and how to drive and pull up. I think I’m getting there.”
Henry said when Sallier first got to varsity, he had her pegged as a slashing offensive presence, but has been impressed with the progress she has made with her shot.
“I had her labeled as a slasher and more of a defensive player than an offensive one,” Henry said. “But, last year, she made some big shots for us. This year, it’s even more. Teams look at Ariel, or try to take away our inside players like Dorcieve Davis, or they worry about staying in front of Joyce. A lot of times, they might forget about her or give her the shot, and she’ll knock it down with no problem at all.”
But, talking about just her offense ignores one of Sallier’s biggest strengths: defense. Though she only stands at 5-2, Henry does not hesitate to put her on the opponent’s best perimeter player. Often, he doesn’t even think about it again.
“She’s a great defensive player,” Henry said. “She’s very quick and she presses the ball really well. She causes a lot of problems for other guards. We let her start off on the other team’s best offensive guard. She started off on (Central’s) Malena Washington. When we went man against Ozen, she started off on Nekia (Jones).
“She gives us the freedom to bring her defensive energy right first, rotate and then bring her back when she catches her breath. I don’t know where they get the energy from, but they bring it. I go back and look at the games where we’ve pressed 30 minutes out of 32 and she might only rest two minutes out of the game.”
NOTES: The daughter of Van and Carolyn Sallier, Crystal would like to play in college and is currently going through the process to be recruited. She also has a chance to play softball in college because of her speed on the basepaths. … Crystal’s brothers Van and George Sallier both played football, with Van going on to play collegiately for Prairie View A&M. Jereem Augustine, a former Titan football player who is a freshman at Morgan State this year, is her cousin. … Sallier was named honorable mention all-district last season for her play at point guard.
Five Questions with Crystal Sallier
What is your favorite movie: Big Mamma’s House
What is your favorite NBA team: Miami Heat
What is your favorite color: Red
What is your best high school memory: My friends
If you could play another sport, what would it be: Softball