Prom? Anastasia Warren has a basketball tournament to star in

Courtesy Ty Freeman Photography

Anastasia Warren scored 22 points in the final to lead Westlake to a Georgia state championship.

Anastasia Warren had her eye on a couple of dresses for her senior prom -- one was champagne-colored and the other peach. She was just about to embark on a quest for the perfect shoes.

Turns out, sneakers work best for where she's going.

Warren and her Westlake (Atlanta) state-championship team are heading to New York at the end of the month after being invited to compete in the GEICO High School Basketball Nationals at Christ the King High School, a tournament formerly sponsored by Dick's Sporting Goods.

Accepting the invitation to the four-team tournament -- set for March 30-31 -- meant skipping prom, which is scheduled for March 31.

"A lot of my girls are returning dresses, but nobody flinched," Westlake coach Hilda Hankerson said. "This is the first time the prom has been held so early. But no one said they couldn't go to New York. All the girls and their parents were onboard."

Warren, a 5-foot-7 shooting guard, never had a doubt when it came to her trip to the Big Apple, where Westlake (30-1) will play undefeated Washington state champion Central Valley (Spokane Valley) in one semifinal. Top-ranked Hamilton Heights Christian (Chattanooga, Tennessee) plays Florida state champion Winter Haven in the other.

"We can always get dressed up another time," said Warren, whose Westlake team is ranked 15th in the espnW 25 Power Rankings, three spots better than Central Valley (27-0). "We are dedicated to basketball."

Warren's mother, Stacy Dancy, is thrilled with her daughter's commitment.

"These girls [at Westlake] are balling. They love the game," Dancy said.

Warren, who has a 3.55 GPA and wants to become a pediatrician, has yet to make a decision on college, postponing that choice until after her season ends.

Her dedication, and patience, is starting to pay off. After averaging 11 points for the season, Warren averaged 15 during a five-game playoff run.

Perhaps her best performance came in Westlake's 60-45 Class 7A state final win over Newton (Covington, Georgia). Westlake trailed in the second half but rallied behind Warren, who scored 22 points. She made 9-of-11 free throws and 5-of-11 field goals, including three 3-pointers.

Right after that game, Winthrop coach Lynette Woodard gave Warren her first scholarship offer.

"Miss Woodard made the offer as soon as [Warren] walked off the court," Dancy said. "You hear about those things happening but you never know until it happens to you. I'm happy she's finally getting recognized."

AAU coach Dwayne Hansberry recognized Warren's skill way back in sixth grade. Hansberry was in a gym working with his daughter, Kennedy, when his attention was diverted.

"She was on the other end of the court, playing against boys," Hansberry said. "She was this gritty little girl, playing hard, down and dirty.

"I looked for her mother. I found her grandmother, and she's been playing with me ever since."

Warren is a quiet person, but Hansberry said he has seen her leadership skills evolve and improve over the past six years with the Georgia Pearls and Team Elite.

In high school, she made the varsity team as a freshman, playing a reserve role on a team that had eight seniors.

Warren became a starter as a sophomore, but it wasn't until this season that Westlake got a true point guard, Raven Johnson, a freshman.

Johnson's arrival allowed Warren to move to her natural spot at shooting guard, and that has unleashed her inner scorer.

"When I told Annie I was playing her at shooting guard, her face lit up," Hankerson said. "We still use her some at point guard, but [college] coaches are now seeing Annie more in her element.

"People are starting to say, 'Oh wait a minute now, she is just a late bloomer.' I think the trip to New York will help her. She has an opportunity to shine on that big stage. I tell all of our girls, 'Play well. Somebody might see you.' "

One of the things the Winthrop coaching staff has surely seen is Warren's improvement from the foul line. She shot 67 percent as a sophomore, 74 percent as a junior and 80 percent this season.

In the five playoff games that concluded with the first state title in Westlake program history, Warren made 30-of-34 on free throws (88.2 percent).

Hankerson said Warren is especially good in end-game situations when opponents have to foul.

"We want to spread the floor and quickly put the ball in her hands," Hankerson said. "If our opponent is going to foul anyone, we want it to be her."

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