New Albany junior standout Spears adapts to role change

By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY – Jazmine Spears scored 36 points and grabbed 22 rebounds last week in a game against Pontotoc.
However, the 2010-11 Daily Journal Player of the Year from New Albany and her Lady Bulldogs, the defending Class 4A state champions, lost by 40 points to the Lady Warriors.
Spears, a 5-foot-11 junior, is the lone starter returning from New Albany’s championship team. As a matter of fact, of the eight players who participated in the title game at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson, she’s the only one back.
“It’s definitely harder than it was last year,” Spears said after scoring 32 points Tuesday in her team’s loss to Ripley. “I’m getting used to doing more.”
Spears plays with three freshmen and a senior in the starting lineup.
“We’re a very young team,” New Albany coach John Stroud said. “Even the sophomores and juniors we play had no experience.”
Spears’ role has definitely changed. She’s been the team’s leading scorer since her eighth grade season, but now she’s been forced to become a leader.
‘Whole new dimension’
“She’s added a whole new dimension to her game by becoming a leader,” Stroud said. “She’s impressed me with her leadership. She’s a complete player who has become an all-around team player.”
Spears is averaging career highs in scoring, 26.5 points per game, and rebounding with 15.6 rebounds per game. And that’s against defenses geared up to contain her.
“Other teams know what she does and she’s still putting up those numbers,” Stroud said. “She draws double teams every game. We rarely see man-to-man defense.
“One high school player cannot guard her. She’s too strong.”
New Albany’s opponents agree with Stroud on his assessment.
“It takes all five players to guard Spears,” Ripley coach Katie Bates said, then smiled.
“You have to know where she is at all times,” added North Pontotoc coach Shane Montgomery. “You want to make her get rid of the ball, make the other girls beat you.”
Spears was switched to point guard this season when a projected starter moved. Still, Stroud uses her “all over the court” when she’s not bringing the ball up against a press. She’s averaging 3.7 assists.
“She’s really an unselfish player,” he said. “She likes to pass and get other players involved. She gets frustrated when they don’t finish plays.”
Despite losing a lot of talented teammates, Spears believes her .500 team can make some noise in the postseason.
“We’re getting better game by game,” she said. “Hopefully, we can go back to state. I know I’m playing as hard as I can.”
gene.phelps@journalinc.com