Kelsei Ewings thought she would use her chance to play in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star girls basketball game as a final chance to attract the attention of college coaches.
But the West Point High School standout”s decision late last month to give a verbal commitment to play basketball at the University of North Carolina A&T changed how she is approaching her opportunity to play with some of the state”s top players.
“I was going to come down and try to play my best game so I could get a Division I scholarship, but now that I have committed I am looking to better my skills and to have fun with the All-Star team,” Ewings said.
The 5-foot-4 senior guard is one of 12 players who will compete at 5 p.m. Friday against an All-Star team from the state of Alabama.
Mississippi State signee Kendra Grant, a 5-11 guard from Richland High, will join Ewings on the Mississippi girls team.
MSU signees Rodney Hood and Deville Smith will be among the boys players who will take on the squad from Alabama at 7 p.m. at the Pelham Civic Center.
Ewings, who led the Green Wave to a district title and a trip to the Class 5A North Half tournament, took an official visit to UNC A&T, a Historically Black College and University in Greensboro, N.C., on Feb. 26. She stayed for two days and enjoyed the environment, the players, the coaches. She didn”t realize UNC A&T was a HBU, but the scholarship opportunity she received fit in with a dream she always had to play basketball in the state of North Carolina.
Ewings said she had been to the state only once before, but she grew up admiring men”s and women”s basketball players from North Carolina and wanted to follow in their footsteps.
The trip proved beneficial for UNC A&T, which also secured a verbal commitment from former Columbus High and current Tupelo High standout Chy Cunningham. Ewings and Cunningham play together on the Amateur Athletic Union basketball team Mississippi Hoop Dreams, coached by Moses James.
Ewings feels she will be able to step in at UNC A&T and earn playing time as a freshman. She anticipates signing a National Letter of Intent next month.
“It is a relief to know I have somewhere to go and all I have left to do is to graduate and work on my game,” Ewings said. “I want to work on my strength and my left hand. I can use it, but I want to work on it more, and to work on getting my shot off quicker.”
Ewings, who also received interest from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Delta State, said she would listen to offers from other schools that might be interested in her after watching her play Friday. But she said she liked the way UNC A&T recruited her and feels confident that is where she will be in the fall.
“I am a small guard and everybody looks down on small guards,” said Ewings, who earned defensive player of the game last season in the junior All-Star game. “I am shorter than most and maybe (other schools) looked at that and thought she isn”t going to be able to compete like everybody else. (UNC A&T) didn”t look at that. They said, ”You can help us with your quickness, your defense, and your shot.” ”
Grant, who led her team to the quarterfinals of the Class 4A South State tournament, also is looking forward to her chance to compete against the best. A member of The Clarion-Ledger”s Dandy Dozen, which recognizes the top 12 players in the state, Grant felt her game matured this season and that she as able to be more of a distributor. She feels she will be a two guard at MSU and that she is eager to face the competition in one of the nation”s top conferences.
“I am going to push myself as hard as I can and get some weight on me,” said Grant, who is 140 pounds. I am a little slim, so I am pretty sure I am going to be hitting the weights.”
Grant said she can handle the basketball well and that she is comfortable shooting the ball beyond the 3-point arc. She also feels her quickness is one of her strengths.
MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis compares Gran”t shooting ability to Mary Kathryn Govero. She said coaches love players who have a natural strokes, and she feels Grant has the potential to step in a play a key role in 2011-12.
“Kendra is a great shooter and she really does more than that,” Fanning-Otis said. “When we got to know her we saw how hard she works and how she passes the ball. I guess what impressed us the most is she knew a lot more about the game and she is a lot more versatile. She is a long kid and a great team player. She has all the basketball skills to be a two, a one (point guard), or a three (small forward).”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.