May 18, 2013 11:34:36 PM
LaTerrica Jefferson completed the turnaround Friday afternoon.
Nearly four years ago, Jefferson was a ninth-grader with a load of potential. At the time, basketball was a consideration, but it wasn't something the Columbus High School student believed could help put her on the path to a college scholarship.
Little did Jefferson know how much a young woman can grow in the span of a high school career.
On Friday, Jefferson took the next step in her maturation when she signed a scholarship to play basketball at Snead State Community College in Boaz, Ala.
"I am proud of myself for accomplishing all of the goals and things I have set for myself," Jefferson said. "I plan on going far with basketball and my education and doing something with my life."
Jefferson said her attitude has made a 180-degree change from her freshman year. She realized as a sophomore she had plenty of work to do if she wanted to be an important member of the Columbus High girls basketball team. She showed signs of that as a junior, and emerged this season as a senior with classmates Kiki Patterson and Daisha Williams. Her development also helped her attract interest from Itawamba C.C., East Mississippi C.C., Northeast Mississippi C.C., East Central C.C., and others.
"It was surprising (she drew the attention of those schools), but I was proud of myself because I worked for it," Jefferson said. "Once you work for something you get congratulated."
Columbus High girls basketball coach Yvonne Hairston said she is blessed to have three players get the chance to sign college scholarships to continue their basketball careers. Patterson will play for Mississippi State University, while Williams will sign Monday to play at Northeast Mississippi C.C. in Booneville. Hairston said Jefferson grew as a player in her three years with the program. She spent the past two as a contributor on the varsity team. This season, Jefferson averaged 10 points and seven rebounds and helped the Lady Falcons finish 19-8.
"I think she is a diamond in the rough," Hairston said. "She started basketball late in her 10th-grade year. She has so much more to learn. One of her great attributes is she is a big girl who can run with the guards."
Hairston said she isn't sure if Jefferson, who also played volleyball at Columbus High, knows how good she can be. She acknowledges Jefferson has things to learn and catching up to do, but she saw this past season that Jefferson was learning and that she understood the importance of her senior year.
"I am excited to see what she is going to do being able to play basketball year-round and how her game is going to improve," Hairston said. "She is going to have to stay motivated and disciplined to do the workouts they are going to ask to do. High school is high school and college is college, so the workouts are going to be more strenuous. I think that first month is probably going to be the toughest time in her life, but once she masters that she is going to be fine."
Snead State C.C. plays in the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC), went 14-16 this past season and lost to Shelton State C.C. 84-52 in the second round of the ACCC Region 22 tournament.
Snead State C.C. coach Jarrod Plummer credited former Columbus High standout Jaitra Abrams, who is Jefferson's cousin, for recommending Jefferson as a player who could help his program. Plummer took Abrams' suggestion and invited Jefferson to the school in March for a tryout. He said he liked what he saw from the 6-foot-1 post player. He said Jefferson showed good footwork and potential to take the step up to the next level.
"She is not scared to bang with anybody and go at it," Plummer said. "She has a really nice dribble drop step, which I think is going to help her a lot. She has to develop a little bit more on her mid-range shooting, and we will have to get her into a little better shape for the college level, but she still moves well. She has a lot of things going for her."
Plummer realizes Jefferson still has a lot of potential to improve as a basketball player given her relative lack of experience. He said it will be up to Jefferson how hard she wants to work to get to the Division I level, if that winds up being her goal. He said he can teach her everything she need to know and to continue her basketball career at a senior college.
"Ninety percent of it is heart, to me," Plummer said when asked about the transition high school players make when they go to college. "If they have the heart and they really buy into what you're doing at the college level -- whether it is academics, off the court or on the court -- that will translate and take care of all of those other issues. They will figure out how to do the time management if they really buy into what you're doing."
Jefferson isn't backing away from that challenge. She feels playing against some of the best teams in the state of Mississippi for the past two years gave her a taste of what she can do. Now she wants to take advantage of what Hairston calls a "job opportunity" and a chance to get a free education.
"I can achieve anything that is possible," Jefferson said. "I am still going to work hard and anything is possible. I believe it is going to be outrageous and more competitive. It is the next level. Bring it."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.