LAKELAND — December Stubbs sat in a chair on the sideline with her face smothered in her No. 15 American Heritage basketball jersey.
For more than a minute, she didn’t look up. The emotions, rightfully so, poured out of the senior point guard for many reasons at the conclusion of the Class 5A girls basketball state championship.
The 51-33 win against Pine Forest-Pensacola on Feb. 29 at RP Funding Center in Lakeland marked her final high school game for Heritage, her last game with her sister Tiana as a Heritage teammate and the last time she would play in a state championship game which have come to serve as proud, culminating accomplishments each year since the passing of December and Tiana’s mother.
For most of their high school basketball careers, the sisters played without their mother watching from the stands as she often did while they were growing up.
Victoria Stubbs, at age 49, passed during their freshman season in 2016. Since then, with the memories of their mom and her support of their basketball careers, December and Tiana proceeded to win state championships as sophomores, juniors and, this year, as seniors.
“In ninth grade, my mom passed and she was one of my biggest supporters, so to be able to win three times in a row, I feel like I made her proud,” December said after she doled out a game-high nine assists to help Heritage win title No. 3.
The Stubbs sisters also made their dad, Glen, proud. He said that as the girls were growing up on the Hollywood Reservation, he and Victoria never pushed them into playing basketball, but simply guided them along the way as the they fell in love with the sport on their own and became dedicated student-athletes.
“I’m really proud of them because it’s not something that’s forced on them; it’s something they want to do. That makes it even more special for me,” he said. “I’m proud of them because they motivated themselves.”
The girls are not only motivated on the court, but also in the classroom, where they carry grade point averages above 4.0.
“They’re at a really good school. Thanks to the Tribe, they’re afforded a real good education,” Glen Stubbs said. “On top of that, I’m proud of them for achieving the GPA they have.”
He said his daughters started playing basketball at about age 8 in the Tribe’s recreation program. Soon after, recreation’s Ashley Wilcox was taking them to travel tournaments.
It wasn’t until about 12 that the girls became serious about the sport. That was about the time they started to attend American Heritage, where so many student-athletes from the Tribe have excelled in sports and won state championships in recent years.
Those include the Jumper brothers – Blevyns and Andre – in football and their sister Ahnie in softball as well as Hunter Osceola, who helped Heritage win its first boys basketball state championship in 2014.
Hunter’s sister, Skyla, who now plays for Nova Southeastern University, paved the foundation for the recent success of the Heritage girls team, which included a trip to the state Final Four in Tiana and December’s freshman season.
When December Stubbs and Tiana Stubbs entered high school, the Heritage girls team had never won a state championship.
Now the Patriots have three. Unfortunately, Tiana suffered a torn ACL injury late in her junior season that prevented her from playing in last year’s state final and also kept her out of action all this season. She was regulated to cheering for her teammates from the bench.
What she saw in this year’s championship game was her team executing its game plan to perfection. Heritage wanted to pound the ball inside and it was December Stubbs’ job to get it there.
Similar to the success she had setting up teammates throughout the season, Stubbs fed the ball to Heritage’s tall and talented twins Taiyah and Tatyana Wyche.
It worked time after time as Taiyah racked up 31 points and Tatyana had 16. It’s not like Heritage is a one-dimensional team – they have plenty of other scoring threats with Stubbs, Daniella Aronsky and Maurissa Edwards – but on this Saturday afternoon Heritage flexed its power inside on the way to a convincing win.
For the most part, Heritage has made it look pretty easy in Final Fours.
The Patriots toughest game in Lakeland the past three years came in a 2018 overtime state semifinal win against Lakewood when the Stubbs sisters were sophomores.
December had five rebounds in 12 minutes of playing time and Tiana had an assist and a steal. The following day Heritage blew out Ponte Vedra as the Stubbs sisters shined. December had 7 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals; Tiana had 9 points, including three 3’s, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 rebound.
In 2019, December had 7 points, 4 steals and 3 rebounds in the state semifinal win against Weeki Wachee, and then had a balanced day in the state final win against Bishop Kenny with 4 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals.
There’s no doubt the Stubbs are leaving quite a legacy.
“This is the third in a row, so it’s special to us and the school. Hopefully we leave something behind for the younger players to come up and do the same thing we’ve been doing,” Tiana said.
“Three times in a row. They made history,” their father said. “That’s a legacy. They left a legacy.”