From the start, Tasha Humphrey was not your average girl.
"When I was young, playing basketball outside with the boys, I was always the first player picked or a team captain," Humphrey said.
It was only a hint of things to come.
By the time she graduated from Gainesville High in 2004, Humphrey was a three-time state champion, the school’s and county’s all-time leading scorer (2,663 points), a Parade All-American and a University of Georgia signee.
Today, she is the first member of the Northeast Georgia Sports Hall of Fame’s Elite 10.
The Elite 10 comprises the 10 best high school athletes in Northeast Georgia of the past 10 years, and Humphrey — the daughter of Northeast Georgia Sports Hall of Fame member Brenda Hill — is at the top of that list.
"Tasha was the most complete basketball player I’ve ever seen," said Gainesville High girls coach Manson Hill, who has taught a number of top players through his years with the Lady Red Elephants — including current Northeast Georgia Sports Hall of Fame member Mahogany Hudson.
"Mahogany was the best point guard I’ve ever seen, but Tasha was so versatile. She could play point, and she could also play forward and post."
Fans and opponents alike marveled to see the 6-foot-3 Humphrey shoot both layups and 3-pointers with equal ease, and she was always ready to show her skills under the brightest lights.
"She was the best big-game player I’ve ever seen in high school," Hill said. "She loved the big occasion."
Never was that more on display than in the state tournament, particularly the state final four in Macon, which Gainesville and Humphrey turned into a second home every spring, making the trek south each of Humphrey’s four years in high school and winning the Class AAA crown in 2001, ’03 and ’04.
Perhaps her most impressive, and memorable, performance came in her first championship game, during which the freshman battled through illness.
"We had to take her to the hospital at 2 a.m. the night before the game because she’d been throwing up all night," Hill said. "We never did exactly find out what was wrong with her. But we left the hospital at 4 a.m., and we went to the shootaround without her and prepared to play without her."
Yet, after taking IV fluids, Humphrey came on to provide crucial minutes and 23 points in the Lady Elephants’ 51-32 win over Northeast Macon.
"I just remember winning that first state title, and knowing the group that was around and the kind of coach that Coach Hill was and knowing we had something special going on," Humphrey said. "It was a great feeling."
After winning two more state titles, Humphrey moved on to the University of Georgia, where she was a four-time All-SEC and All-America selection, averaging 18 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in her NCAA career. She reached the NCAA tournament each of her four seasons and helped the Lady Bulldogs to the second round of the tourney in 2008.
"It will always be a thorn in my side that we didn’t win a national championship at Georgia," Humphrey said. "But we accomplished some great things there, and, for the most part, we prevailed. We never had a full roster because of injuries or other things, but the girls that were there really bonded and fought for each other."
Humphrey was chosen 11th overall by the Detroit Shock in the 2008 WNBA draft and then traded to the Washington Mystics last August before being cut by the Mystics on July 7.
"It’s very seldom that people grow up and get to do something they love for a living," Humphrey said. "Basketball has taken me around the world and back, and it’s been amazing."
After recognizing the five newest members of the Northeast Georgia Sports Hall of Fame over the past five days, each member of the Elite 10 will be recognized over the next 10 days.
The Northeast Georgia Sports Hall of Fame is located in the Northeast Georgia History Center on the campus of Brenau University.
The History Center will recognize athletic excellence at a luncheon 11:30 a.m., Aug. 29, at the Georgia Mountain Center in downtown Gainesville. Guest speaker Damon Evans, athletic director for the University of Georgia, will help honor 15 Northeast Georgia Athletes and one highly successful team. There will be five retired athletes inducted into the Northeast Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. An additional "Elite 10" athletes, some of Northeast Georgia’s best athletes of the last 10 years, will also be honored.
Table sponsorships are available for $350, and table sponsors may choose to have their table host one of the athletes to be recognized on a first-come, first-served basis. A limited number of individual tickets are available for $25. Call the History Center at 770-297-5900 to make your reservations.