Decatur High's Queen Alford worked hard to become girls basketball player of the year for Region 6-AA.
“When it comes to basketball,” she said, “I’ve never had anything handed to me. I can’t wait around for somebody to hand me the ball or throw it away – I have to go take it.”
This attitude’s unsurprising considering that Queen, who’s lived her whole life in Decatur, is the fifth of 10 children in a family that lived, until recently, in the Wilson Apartments, Decatur's public housing.
She grew up playing on Wilson’s breezy, outdoor courts, competing mostly against bigger, older boys.
“For a long time,” she said, “I was nothing but a scrub.”
By this stage in her life – Queen turns 18 in July – it’s hard finding any longtime Decatur sports fan who doesn’t know the Alford sisters, or hasn’t seen them play at one level or another.
Jabril Alford, two years older than Queen, plays at Andrews Junior College in south Georgia. Her sister Jahmee Alford-Reeves is a Decatur freshman whom coach Bill Roberts says might even surpass Queen someday.
Queen is probably the school’s best girls player in the last 40 years, since the late Pearl Worrell. Worrell, who graduated in 1972, is one of seven athletes (and the only woman) with a plaque on Decatur’s Wall of Honor.
Queen averaged 24 points per game last year and a shade below 22 for this year’s 22-6 Bulldogs.
Coming into Friday night's first-round state playoff game at Heard County, Queen had scored 1,826 career points, possibly a school record regardless of gender.
“I’ve never really been impressed with stats,” she said, “because I’m a perfectionist. I’m very self-critical, which can sometimes be like a curse. I’m never satisfied because nobody can ever play a perfect game.”
That innate perfectionism was evident even in the sixth grade when she made Renfroe’s eighth grade team.
In those days she played with an unwavering scowl on her face, seldom displaying the incandescent smile that’s become her off-court trademark in recent years.
Even back then, she erupted with a raw energy that often overwhelmed both her teammates and coaches.
Part of her development has been about corralling that energy into useable technique. Alford didn’t play AAU basketball until after her sophomore year; most elite players begin in the sixth or seventh grade.
She played for the Georgia Metros, a team that counts Maya Moore, last year’s WNBA Rookie of the Year, as an alum.
Queen began immediately turning the heads of coaches and scouts, for whom she’d previously been off the radar.
“One thing we do after every practice,” said her Metros coach Matt Huddleston (a Decatur assistant last year), “is that every girl has to speak in front of the team for a couple minutes. Basically we ask them to talk about the practice, what they learned, what they liked, what they didn’t like.
“It’s a little thing,” he said, “but I think it’s really helped Queen. For her, learning to project herself before a group, to project her thoughts and goals, it’s really helped her self-esteem. It’s brought out areas of her personality no one knew about, and it’s helped bring out new areas of her game.”
Her game has dynamic range, fusing grace and pure athleticism with a blue collar “I-have-to-go-take-it” ferocity.
One of Alford’s signature moves is removing the ball from an opponent’s grasp. She doesn’t just pull it out, she rips it away with a snarl, and one can almost hear Velcro snapping.
Queen is the first Decatur High athlete to sign a scholarship with a Division I program in quite a while. She'll go to Jacksonville University and reports June 25 for workouts and her first college class.
In coach-speak, Alford has a high ceiling. She is not as fundamentally polished as she’s going to become, and she’s the first person to admit this.
“I’m grateful for all the honors, and to hear all the nice things,” Queen said. “But there’s so much I need to work on like free throws, three-point shooting, mid-range shooting, my driving [to the basket], my left hand, my defense.
"The only person who can stop me is me. That’s why I have to keep working.”
Then, as if to lighten up for a moment, she flashed her smile, full-wattage, fully incandescent, the one part of her game that needs no work.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article had incorrect information about the schools where several other high school basketball players had competed. The article also gave an incorrect tuition amount for a private school mentioned in the story. This information has been removed.