Soph already the 'go-to' player

By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY – There are times when Jazmine Spears simply takes over a game.
Fortunately for New Albany, one of those times came in the Class 4A state championship game last month at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. The powerful 6-foot sophomore forward scored 23 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to lead the Lady Bulldogs to 71-61 win against Lawrence County.
“She took over,” New Albany coach John Stroud said. “What she did in the championship game is what we’ve come to expect.”
During three quarters of the 2010-11 season, the coach will tell you his star seemed locked in “cruise control” and content to be just a part of the Lady Bulldogs’ talented, senior-dominated lineup.
Spears, the Daily Journal’s Player of the Year in high school basketball, agrees with Stroud’s assessment of her work throughout the season.
“I just played,” she said, “even when I didn’t feel like playing.”
Told about Spears’ response, Stroud laughed. “She was content with it because of the other good players we have,” he said. “She’s got great instincts and she’s a gifted player.
“She doesn’t know how good she can be.”
A three-year starter, Spears averaged 17.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, blocked 51 shots, had 66 steals and recorded 22 double-doubles this season.
“Even though she’s only a tenth grader, she was our go-to girl,” Stroud said. “She was consistent and that’s the mark of a good player. She was the player everybody wanted to stop and she still had success.”
On the big stage
Spears’ desire to win a state championship, she says, was all the motivation she needed to play so well on the champion-ship stage.
“Everybody on the team wanted to go to state, play hard at state, and win state,” she said. “It would have been very disappointing if we had not won.
“We wanted the gold ball.”
Spears and her teammates, who finished the season with a 29-4 record, were 87-10 overall the last three seasons. Along the way, they captured Union County Tournament titles and North Mississippi 4A championships.
Now, she faces two years of playing without them.
“This was a great group of seniors,” Spears said. “It’s been a privilege to play with them. I don’t know what to expect next year. They’ll be all new girls.”
Stroud knows what he expects from his star.
“We’re going to see if she can take her game to another level; she won’t have the supporting cast,” he said. “We know she can play with her back to the basket, but can she face up, be a complete player? Can she be a leader, a vocal leader? That’s what college coaches look for.
“We’re going to find out.”
Spears knows what’s ahead and she plans to work even harder. “I know I need to get better, a lot better,” she said.