Jemerigbe ready to lead St. Mary's
We've all played it out in the backyard.
You bring the ball down court. Your buddy counts down the time: "Five, four, three, two, one "
Sometimes you score, and the hands go up in the air, the imaginary crowd cheers. If you don't, well, there's always the old standby: "But she was fouled."
Afure Jemerigbe played out that backyard dream in real time on the floor at Arco Arena, where LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have taken just those kinds of shots. Her St. Mary's of Stockton, Calif., team, unbeaten and ranked fifth in the nation, was playing Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco, also unbeaten, and No. 1 in the nation. The NorCal Division III crown was at stake, as well as a berth in the state title game a week later; the national championship was in play.
"I felt like, 'I can make it,'" she says. The ball was in her hands with 10 seconds left. Her Rams had led by 11 early in the fourth quarter but now were down by one, 46-45. Jemerigbe, a 5-foot-11 guard, came down the middle of the court; veered right, under pressure, to the baseline; and took her shot at glory as the clock ran down. There was contact
Jemerigbe's shot hit the backboard, and the rim, and bounced away. The whistle stayed silent.
"It didn't turn out the way I wanted," Jemerigbe says months later. "It was so sad. I lost the game for my team."
But the daughter of Nigerian immigrants may get another chance to win that championship -- or two more chances, because even though she's already the focus of some serious collegiate interest, she's just a junior.
St. Mary's is in the driver's seat, as it starts the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the ESPN RISE Girls' Basketball FAB 50. Check out ESPN HoopGurlz's preseason content:
"It's a lot easier [dealing with the missed shot] because I can come back and give it another try," she says. "We only lost two seniors."
And more important, Chelsea Gray is also coming back, and she and Jemerigbe give St. Mary's one of the best backcourts in the country. Both are tall, athletic and skilled, and they've known each other since the seventh grade. "We have good chemistry," Jemerigbe says. "We can read each other."
They don't play together in the summer, though, and Jemerigbe played the point for NorCal Elite. "In high school, I'm the five because we're not very big," she says. "St. Mary's is more of a full-court press, and it's either 3s or layups. There's no mid-range game."
"We want to win it all," Jemerigbe says of the Rams, and if it comes down to the last shot again, she's more than ready to take it. "Definitely," she says -- and with her mix of 3-point range, ability to penetrate, and serious hops, the chances of a fairy-tale ending the next time around are pretty good.
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Clay Kallam is a contributor to ESPN HoopGurlz. He is the founder of Full Court Press, an online magazine devoted to women's basketball; the author of "Girls Basketball: Building a Winning Program"; and a voter for several national awards, including McDonald's and Parade All-Americans and the Wooden Award.
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