Cornucopia of thanks: Emma Staples’ love for basketball at West Forsyth is something she celebrates

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 23, 2023

By Jay Spivey

For the Clemmons Courier

Many people around the United States will be sitting around the dinner table on Thursday with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Emma Staples, a 5-foot-6 junior guard on the West Forsyth girls basketball team, is grateful to have basketball be such a big part of her life.

“Basketball is definitely something I’m thankful for,” she said. “And I’m really just thankful for all the support I have from my family and my friends. They really are just encouraging to me and everything I do.”

Staples’ love for basketball started when she was about 10 years old.

“My dad (John) played like his whole childhood. He really highly encouraged me to play just so I could play a team sport,” she said. “I started playing at the Y. I really just fell in love with it after that.”

It didn’t take her long to realize, even at such a young age, that she wasn’t bad.

“Once I started playing, I felt like I was pretty naturally good at it, so I continued playing,” she said. “I thought it was fun.”

Even in fifth grade, Staples graded out pretty well, according to her.
“When I started, I was pretty much at the same skill level as everyone else,” she said. “I picked it up pretty fast, and by second year playing, I was a lot more skilled than some other people.”

As an even younger child, Staples played soccer. However, she didn’t enjoy playing soccer and moved to basketball.

“It was more for fun and just like gain those team skills that you get from playing team sports,” she said. “I mean, I didn’t even care that much about it. It was more for fun, and it was just like something to do on the side, just as a hobby.”

Although an admittedly shy person, Staples has full confidence in her ability to play basketball, even dating back to her Y days.

“I was better than them. Like I just had more of like the natural ability,” she said. “Like I could shoot a lot better.”

As she progressed as a player, Staples started working more at her craft.

“Once I started playing, I really started going out in the backyard and just practiced shooting layups, shooting free throws, working on my jump shot, just trying to improve my ball handling,” she said. “Just trying to get better.”

She was in her own world while playing outside.

“A lot of times I would be by myself, especially even like when COVID started, like I’d always be outside by myself shooting around,” Staples said.

In sixth grade, Staples joined the Winston-Salem Stealers, a travel team led by Coach Brian Robinson.

“That really got me like going and where I was like, ‘Oh, I actually want to try and be good at this and play in high school,'” she said. “And once, like my freshman year for the team (at West Forsyth) and I made varsity, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m actually pretty good at this.”

While with the Stealers, she realized that things were starting to click for her.

“It was really good for me, and I got a lot better,” Staples said. “I grew like a lot, especially like confidence-wise. But I stayed there for like three years, and then I moved to CP3 after my freshman year because that’s where Coach (Catrina) Green (of West Forsyth) was coaching at.”

The decision to switch travel teams was actually pretty easy for Staples.

“A lot of my teammates from West were going to play there too, and Coach Green,” she said. “So, it didn’t feel like that big of a change.”

She believes that she picked different things from Robinson and Green.

“They have different coaching styles, for sure, but it didn’t seem like that big of a difference because I’ve had other coaches who were similar to Coach Green,” Staples said. “And so, it really wasn’t that big of a difference for me.”

Staples played in middle school at Meadowlark and is now playing for Green at West Forsyth, who is in her third season as head coach. Staples believes it’s paying dividends.

“The biggest difference is the speed of the game,” Staples said. “And the level of competition changed so much just from like going from the Y to even now. Like it’s so different.”

Green was hired the summer before Staples’ freshman season at West Forsyth.

“I just thought she seemed like a really nice and encouraging coach,” Staples said. “She seemed like she cared a lot about her players and wanted us to be successful.”

During her freshman year, Staples and the Titans finished 8-14 overall.

“It was definitely a challenge because I had to adjust to playing with, especially being a freshman on varsity, like playing with all the upperclassmen,” she said. “I also had to learn how to play point guard because I hadn’t really played that before. And so, that was definitely a challenge. It was hard at times, but it definitely made me better.”

No matter your gender or skill level, switching from shooting guard to point guard is a difficult transition.

“I really just had to be not too hard on myself when I made mistakes,” Staples said. “I really didn’t know what to expect. And so, I just had to learn to trust myself and trust my skills and just not be too hard on myself when I made mistakes.”

She also started playing lacrosse at West Forsyth Coach Dough Brawley the spring of her freshman year, something she’s still doing.

“Lacrosse is more just for fun for me,” Staples said. “Like I don’t take it as seriously as I do basketball. I still want to win and everything, but it’s just I just don’t care as much about my individual performance as I do when it comes to basketball.”

Encouragement from her teammates and coaches helped her as she moved from her freshman season with the Titans to her sophomore season, all while learning to play point guard. But she still had to encourage herself.

“I feel like for me, giving myself positive affirmations is one of the biggest things that I have to do because sometimes I’ll be down on myself if I make a mistake,” Staples said. “So, I have to constantly give myself those affirmations.

“And also, getting in the gym and getting in the weight room and getting stronger really helped me gain more confidence, as well.”

It worked well for Staples and the rest of the team. The Titans finished 16-12 overall, including 7-7 in the Central Piedmont 4-A, and beat rival Reagan four times, including winning the conference-tournament championship 33-30.

“Last year, we had our ups and downs for sure, but I feel like we rallied together at the end and just came together as a team,” Staples said. “And that led us to the conference championship.”

There were many unknowns for the Titans coming into the season. Abby Hunter graduated, and sophomore Jeanna Baskerville hurt her knee in May and is not expected to play this season.

West Forsyth, as of Monday afternoon, is 0-1 after losing to Reagan 54-44 in the first round of Mary Garber Holiday Tip-Off Classic in the Bell Davis Pitt Bracket. It played East Wilkes on Tuesday in the loser’s bracket and will have played either Parkland or East Surry on Wednesday.

“We have the potential to be one of the top contenders in the conference,” Staples said. “We definitely have the talent. We just like need to play together as a team and trust each other.”

Staples was also voted by her teammates to be a tri-captain, along with junior Campbell McClain and senior Alexis Waters.

“I just want to step into more of a leadership position,” Staples said. “Like last year, I was still like an underclassman. I didn’t feel as much of a leader. And this year, I want to be that leader for my team.”

Staples said she has a 4.4 GPA, and not only does that translate in the classroom, but that translates on the basketball court and lacrosse fields.

“I just try to bring my IQ of the game,” she said. “I think I have a pretty high IQ. There’s obviously things I still need to learn. And I want to keep learning things every day, but I think I understand.”

Basketball has also helped Staples break out of her shell.

“I feel like I would still be a lot more shy because I was always shy as a kid,” Staples said. “And I feel like basketball has helped me burst out of my bubble and more outgoing.”

And there’s still that plan of crowding around the table on Thursday to celebrate Thanksgiving.

“I’m so thankful for my teammates because a lot of them have become my really close friends,” Staples said. “And I’m just so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to play with them.”