The confidence was there.
Alaysha Jennings believed after her junior season at New Hope High School that she would get an opportunity to play basketball in college.
Still, Jennings realized in March 2017 there was plenty of work to be done in the offseason after she talked about her future with New Hope High girls basketball coach Chad Brown. The plan was simple: Get in the gym and work on skill development and leadership skills so Jennings could have a special senior season.
“We just started working,” Jennings said. “(Coach Brown) told me I could do it and that I had the potential.”
When New Hope returned for practice in October, Brown quickly discovered all of the time Jennings invested in her game had paid off.
On Tuesday morning, Jennings reaped a tangible reward from all of her offseason work as she signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba.
“At the beginning (of my senior season), I was a little nervous, but coach Brown told me there were a lot of coaches who wanted me and told me to keep doing what I was doing,” Jennings said. “That kept me working, and he was right.”
Jennings said the offseason between her junior and seniors seasons was the hardest she has worked at basketball in her life. She said she trained with twice a day in hopes of realizing big dreams for her final high school season.
Jennings said her confidence grew as the season progressed and she learned more and more coaches were interested in what she was going to do.
Brown, who coached Jennings for the last three seasons, said he immediately saw a more confident player who had more consistency with her jump shot. Brown also said Jennings had matured into a better leader and a more vocal presence on the court.
“She would do what she needed to do to get better,” Brown said. “This is what she wanted to do.”
Jennings, a 5-foot-5 guard, has started the last three seasons for the Lady Trojans. She averaged 12 points and four assists in her final season.
Brown said Jennings’ effort makes her a “special player.” He also said she pushed her teammates and increased her scoring five or six points per game from her junior season.
Brown said Jennings always has had the athletic ability to play at a high level. Following the 2016-17 season, Brown said he encouraged her to develop her all-around skills and to get her teammates more involved. He said Jennings also grew more aggressive on the offensive end of the court and complemented defensive skills that enabled him to put her on point guards and two guards.
“The jump she made from March to the next season was good,” Brown said. “She had a great summer last year. That was a big jump for her because people started to talk about her. People wanted to know, ‘What is your point guard going to do?’ ”
The waiting game ended Tuesday in a ceremony in front of family, teammates, and friends. Jennings said she did well at a tryout in March at EMCC and liked coach Sharon Thompson and the Lady Lions’ style of play.
Jennings said she is excited about the chance to keep growing as a player and as a leader in college. She sensed in the offseason after attending team summer camps at Northeast Mississippi C.C., Mississippi State, and Birmingham-Southern that her increased willingness to be vocal was going to help her.
“Everybody seemed to connect with me more than they did with other seniors,” Jennings said. “Once I figured out they understood what I was saying and they liked it, I just decided I needed to be more vocal and I needed to show them.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.