Already a perennial top-three team in Region 7-AAA, and having qualified for the GHSA state tournament in each of the past four years, the Dawson County Lady Tigers varsity basketball team has lately experienced a level of success that can be largely attributed to the talent and leadership of senior Kaylee Sticker.
“Anytime you have a player that comes through a program that resets the bar a little higher, it creates that added excitement,” Athletic Director Jason Gibson said. “Absolutely, it generates more energy around the program.”
Sticker enrolled in Dawson County High School in 2015 and started as a freshman for the Lady Tigers having honed her basketball skills through participation in local parks and recreation programs and with a national level traveling team, and immediately made an impact as she contributed to the Lady Tigers' return to the regional and state tournaments.
Over the next three seasons, as different players rotated in and out of the roster, Sticker became the center-piece of a team that has come together this year, her final year, to make another deep run in the state tournament, as the Lady Tigers recently advanced to their third Elite Eight appearance in the four years of Sticker’s tenure.
During those years, Sticker slowly but surely built the resume of a standout player as she crossed off one career goal after another. She crossed 1,000 points during her junior season and then crossed the 1,500-mark one year later. Along the way, she also nabbed over 500 rebounds and set the all-time scoring record for Dawson County High School girls’ basketball as she finished her career with 1,656 points.
Those accomplishments came from a lot of hard work, and Sticker isn’t without self-doubt.
“I am very critical of myself, more so than those around me,” Sticker said. “I probably shouldn’t do it as much as I do, but it has made me the player and the person I am today.”
She however is quick to credit those around her for her success.
“You’ve seen the talent we have, [Marlie Townley] is a beast, [Sophia D’Oliveira] is a decent point guard,” Sticker said. “[Maddie Anglin] can knock down any shot she wanted.”
In her final season as a Lady Tiger, Sticker averaged 19.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game. She scored an incredible 607 points with four games of 30 or more points, posted double digits in 27 of 31 games and was named the 2019 Region 7AAA Player of the Year.
Her efforts culminated when she fielded offers from schools across the country before accepting a full scholarship to play Division 1-A ball with Clemson University during the early signing period prior to her senior year.
Dawson County Head Coach Steve Sweat found it difficult to assess the impact of a player of Sticker’s caliber on the team over the years, and, on a different level, the impact that her absence will bring next season.
“When you take Kaylee’s experience off the floor, because there were many games when she didn’t come out any, and a few games where she only came out minutes,” Sweat said. “When you take four years’ experience off the court, as many minutes as she plays in every game, you’re taking a lot of experience off the floor. When you take that out, you’re taking away a big chunk of the game.”
The daughter of Brian and Heather Sticker, Kaylee discovered basketball at a young age when she expressed the desire to join a team at the parks and recreations department at 8 years old. On Oct. 27, 2009, she took to the courts for the first time in her career.
“I don’t remember much, but from what I do remember, I had a good coach,” Sticker said. “It was fun, but at the moment I didn’t think it was going to be anything special.”
Kristi Kreegan, the athletic director of parks and recreation at the time, remembers Sticker’s debut very differently.
“I approached her parents immediately after that first practice and told them that I would love to work with her,” Kreegan said. “She has a ton of talent.”
Kreegan and Sticker worked together over the course of that first season and developed her talents to the point that she made the All-Star team, but Sticker kept her distance from the game as she expressed an interest in several other sports before ultimately returning to basketball.
“There were times that I wanted to quit so that I could play football,” Sticker said. “I did soccer for a little bit in middle school, and then I think that when I started travel basketball was when I really reeled in on it.”
Travel ball became a part of Sticker’s life after the summer between eighth and ninth grade, when Kreegan realized that she was a truly talented player that would need to raise the level of competition around her to take full advantage of a developing skill set.
“The kid is a natural athlete,” Kreegan said. “Whatever sport she picked and loved she would have dominated. I firmly believe that.”
With that in mind, Kreegan recommend Sticker enroll in Atlanta-based Peak Performance Basketball, an organization specifically designed for female student athletes.
According to its website, Peak Performance Basketball is a division of Peak Performance Sports & Development Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit public foundation founded by Coach Bruce Price with the mission of “developing the next generation of empowered women.”
Price founded Peak Performance after coaching his daughter at the high school level, where he recognized a distinct lack of resources to take young women to the next level compared to men’s’ basketball.
“Our goal is to take a group of talented female players on the road to play in front of college coaches,” Price said. “To give them the opportunity to show off their skills to the right people.”
Price said what makes someone successful in his program almost always comes down to individual effort and discipline, traits he identified in Sticker from the first moment she joined Peak Performance.
“She made the decision and had the discipline to drive an hour and a half each way, every day, for an hour and a half practice,” Price said. “She was quick to make friends as she is a personable person, a good athlete and humble of character.”
Sticker played her final season with Peak Performance over the summer of 2018 and her commitment to Clemson marked the 100th scholarship at a D-1 school awarded to a graduating member of Price’s program.
With the end of her career at Dawson County rapidly approaching, Sticker has begun to put some thought into her life after high school. She has begun the enrollment process for early classes at Clemson to begin her pursuit of a degree in business and sports management.
“I’m going to miss, you know, the team,” Sticker said. “No matter which one of those four years you talk about I could tell you anything about any one of the girls, I’ll miss that. I’ll miss that home town kind of feel where you know everybody sitting in the stands, but I’m excited about the next level of play.”