April 9, 2009
Danny P Smith -
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School''s Tay Odneal and Kierra Jones kept it within the family when it came to choosing their basketball future.
As cousins, the Lady Yellow Jackets wanted to go down the same path together.
They joined coaches, family members, and friends in the school library Wednesday afternoon in a ceremony in which they signed national letters of intent to play basketball at Meridian Community College.
"We''re all close like sisters, but since we''re cousins, we''re closer than most members of the team," Jones said. "We talk about everything. We both liked Meridian and liked the campus."
Since Starkville High has created a family atmosphere for the players, the process of moving on was emotional.
"We''re seniors, but it feels like just yesterday when I was a freshman playing," Jones said. "I can''t believe this day has come already. I''m just ready to play ball again."
Jones averaged a team-high 18 points per game and she also pulled down nine rebounds per outing this season.
Odneal, who averaged eight points, four rebounds and two steals per game, came back from a knee injury to provide leadership the past two years.
"I was scared, but I finally picked up the pace," Odneal said about bouncing back from injury. "I became more hard working and I started shooting the basketball well."
Both players said winning the Class 5A-Division 2 Tournament championship in Batesville earlier this year was the highlight of their career with the Lady Yellow Jackets.
Starkville coach Kristie Williams will miss what Odneal and Jones provided her program, but she understands it is time for them to move on.
"It''s bittersweet because we''re losing two great leaders," Williams said. "They were my captains on the floor and off. To see them mature throughout these years is a testament to how hard they''ve worked in the classroom as well as on the floor."
Odneal and Jones are the first two of what Meridian Community College coach Hilary Allen hopes is a recruiting class of eight this year.
Allen has had a reputation of recruiting Starkville before getting Lindsey Cannon.
Odneal and Jones will fill a need for his program.
"They know the style we want to play," Allen said. "We play 40 minutes of intense basketball with full-court pressure, so we want players to work hard. There is no sense coming to my program if you are not going to do that.
"I''m not worrying about them. They work hard. That''s what''s impressive about both of them."