Once a Team, Always a Team For 07-08 Women's Basketball Seniors
March 7, 2008
LOGAN, Utah - Through all the games they have played and all the awards they have received Utah State women's basketball seniors Jamelah Brown, Taylor Richards and Jenny Gross give unanimous consent that the one thing they will miss the most about basketball at USU is each other.
"I will miss my teammates and the time we have spent together," said Gross. "We have made many memories together and built strong relationships that will go on long after we graduate."
"I will miss being around the girls all the time. It's such a comfort to know that you always have 14 people who've got your back," Richards said. "There is always someone to talk to. You laugh, you cry, you sweat, you go through everything together. But once you're done, that aspect is gone."
"Of course playing is fun, practices are hard, but if it wasn't for the girls we wouldn't be here, it wouldn't be fun," adds Brown. "We just build off each other, we are like family."
`Melah' as her teammates call her, is a junior college transfer from Phoenix, Ariz.. Brown said she grew up playing basketball but was also a cheerleader. When she was a sophomore in high school she said her basketball coach told her that she had to choose between basketball and cheerleading.
"My high school basketball coaches made me decide whether I wanted to cheer or play. I just went with what I would get the most out of (scholarship wise) and that was basketball," Brown said.
Her first step out of high school was to play at Yavapai Junior College. Upon graduating from Yavapai, Brown signed with a Division II school in New Mexico. After the coach she signed with left the program, Brown said that she was back to "square one." She was then contacted by the USU coaching staff and they asked her to come play for the Aggies.
Brown said the first time she visited on a recruiting trip, she felt like she already meshed well with the team.
"I just loved the girls," said Brown. "You could just feel the togetherness and they were all about the team. I felt that I mixed in real well and I felt that I was already a part of the team."
"She came in and right away after transferring here, she was already contributing to the team," Richards said.
That contribution has continued over the two seasons Brown has been an Aggie. Earlier this year she marked a career-high 24 points at Boise State and has led the team in rebounding in 12 different games this season.
Brown's teammates say there is more to her than being a good ball-player.
"One thing that I have always loved about Melah is that she is full of life," said Richards. "She is always super energetic and her laugh is just contagious. She can get along with anyone, she is all about the team."
Gross put it simply in saying, "She is a competitor. She's there to play and brings enthusiasm to the team."
Gross grew up in the small town of Caldwell, Idaho with her younger sister Stacie, who also plays basketball at Boise State. She said that the locals still keep track of her playing record and give her advice whenever she goes home.
"Caldwell has about 1,400 people," Gross said. "It's just a farming community with one gas station and that's about it, so I am kind of a local celebrity there."
Growing up in a small town helped Gross be able to excel at many sports, but she chose to stick with basketball because that is what she was the best at.
"I played volleyball as well as basketball, but I put more time into basketball and just developed into a better player," Gross said. "If you are spending that much time on a sport you are going to get better and I just loved playing."
Gross said that being a college athlete can get pretty busy, especially since she is also trying to plan a wedding, which will take place in August this year. She said the key to being a college athlete is to make sure you balance everything. She said it's as important to be a good person off the court then to be a really good player on the court.
"It's very important for me to try and maintain some kind of balance in my life between basketball, family, friends and school," she said. "Basketball is kind of your job and if you focus too much on one thing which is easy to do, then something else gets out of balance and it's not so enjoyable."
Earlier this year, Gross was named WAC Athlete of the Week. She has scored in double-digits 14 times this season and is the leading rebounder on the team with 434 career rebounds.
Not only is she a force on the court, but according to Brown and Richards, Gross is the "sweetest person we have ever met." Sometimes the team calls her "Momma Jenny."
"I just love Jenny's character, it's different from anyone I have ever met," Brown said. "There is no comparison to the way that she acts. She's always positive."
"Jen has been my girl for a long time," Richards said. "We were the only freshmen when we came in so we had each other and that was kind of it. We just had a bond really quick that has lasted through a lot. We've kind of been each other's crutch through the hard times."
Richards said that those team bonds are what help her to become a better person and a better player.
Richards grew up in West Valley, Utah with her older brother Tarell, who just finished his eligibility on the USU football team this past season. Richards said she was first introduced to basketball by her brother and his friends.
"He was my babysitter and he played the boy sports so I played the boy sports. I couldn't get him to play Barbie's or ballerina with me," Richards said. "I was good enough to play with the boys at that time so it gives you motivation to keep going with it."
From the time she was six, Richards said she knew she wanted to be a college athlete and even had dreams of competing in the Olympics. Her first love was track, but when she found out that it was an individual sport, the pressure was too great and she hung up her shoes.
In high school Richards excelled at both volleyball and basketball. When it came to her senior year she decided she wanted to play basketball instead because she didn't want to be a "background player."
"In high school, I played volleyball and people kept asking if I would go to college playing volleyball," Richards said. "But I'm too small, I played outside hitter and I didn't want to just be a defensive specialist. I just don't like being in the background."
This is one of the reasons Richards decided to come to USU. She said it excited her to come to a place where the program was new. She would have better playing opportunities here.
"The reason I liked the idea of coming to USU is because you don't have any expectations, you set them," said Richards. "The standards that you established start the tradition for future teams to follow."
Richards has raised the standard high for future USU players. In her four-year career she holds the school record in assists (363) and three-point field goals made (91). Richards also ranks third in total points scored (1,128), second in three-point field goals attempted (288), second in steals (166) and third in games played (111).
According to Richards, the hardest part about graduating is not being associated with the game she loves. Ever since she was a child, she was always "Taylor the basketball player."
"I love being a part of something that is looked upon so highly. You identify with your sport from the time that you started," said Richards. "I kind of feel like I am losing a part of my identity. What am I going to be competitive at now?"
Richards' teammates agree that she is a very hardworking person and does all she can to make the team around her better players and better people.
"Taylor is a very kind-hearted person. Right off the bat after I transferred, she made me feel so welcome," Brown said. "I really admire the way that she works, she is a go-getter. Taylor works hard on and off the court, it doesn't matter what it is, she gives her all."
"We have gone through a lot," said Gross. "We have been here all four years together and we've had our ups and downs. I totally admire her work ethic and her desire to always give her best. As a teammate that's important for all us to know that she's always going to bring what she has. But most of all I am just thankful for her friendship."
In two short seasons together these seniors have managed to give more to the USU women's basketball program than just records. They have managed to bond together and become more than just teammates, they said they are "like family."
"Right now the most important thing that we have accomplished is the comradery we have with one another," said Brown. "The relationships that we have, I think that is going to be important as the program goes on. I think we have started that great tradition."