As Sylacauga head coach Derrick Crawford explained, it will be a great opportunity for both players. However, with Thomas having been the state’s 5A Player of the Year for two seasons in a row, the event carries more weight for Richardson.
“You’ll have a majority of college coaches there trying to see if somebody’s going to slip through,” Crawford said. “Shakayla right now is on an elite level with girls’ basketball nationally. I did an interview with ESPN magazine on Monday where her ranking went up some and they’re going to have a big write-up soon on it. As far as college coaches knowing about her, they know about her. But I think what this is set up to do is to really help some of the kids that might not be getting the notoriety of Shakayla Thomas. For her, it’s just going to be another ballgame. We expect her to go out and play at a high level and to do well. She’s extremely excited about it. She has seven girls on the team that she’s playing with on the North squad that played on her AAU team together. So, it’s pretty much going to be like playing on her AAU team because seven of the girls on the team played travel ball with her.”
According to Winterboro head coach Sheroderick Smith, Richardson’s accomplishment is one for Winterboro’s record books.
“This accomplishment is the first in Winterboro history with her being invited to the Alabama North-South game,” Smith said. “The Alabama North-South game will have 30 players that are the best juniors in the state of Alabama. However, Jasmine, with her being selected to the team, it will be a chance to get some more colleges and universities in front of her to see how well she can compete against some of the best and get her some more scholarship opportunities. It’s a great award and accomplishment for her. It’s also a testament to the work that the coaching staff has done, some of her summer playing experiences and Winterboro high school.”
Smith acknowledged the game could be a chance for Richardson to impress college coaches who have yet to discover a player who scored 37 points in a Regional game.
“I think she is aware of the impact that this game will have for her college recruiting experience,” Smith said. “Right now, we’re trying to get more schools and draw some interest. We have her team highlight film, game film and individual highlight film on youtube.com/winterborohoops. I’ve been actively getting the message out there as much as I can. We want to maximize the scholarship opportunities. At the game, I hope she does her part because it is an honor. She understands the magnitude of this game.”
Smith has already started a campaign for Richardson as Class 1A player of the year and sent out her individual highlights to college coaches. Smith has also issued strong challenges to Richardson as she looks toward the next level.
“What’s going to set you apart from your freshmen class? You may not go in and play right away,” Smith said. “You won’t have your parents to lean on because you’re going to have to grow up and be a mature female that aspires for better things in life. That’s what I challenged her on a few weeks ago. It’s about her; it’s not about anybody else. You have to study for your ACT, you’ve got to keep your grades there and you’ve got to get in the gym.
“With that being said, I also put the challenge on her for our team to make it to the Final Four because we can’t continue to keep going down to Alabama State and losing. I put a lot of pressure on that because it’s going to be the same pressure at the next level. With my college coaching experience, I understand what it takes for players to compete at the next level. Right now, she’s the face of our program. I am doing everything that I can do to put her in a position to have greater scholarship chances, and Jasmine is going to have to take it from me and put it on her back.”
Crawford said Thomas is hard at work on elevating her game.
“She’s having a pretty good offseason,” Crawford said. “I’ve had opportunities to talk to several coaches the last several weeks about her progression over the summer — coaches from Florida State, as well as Alabama, coach (Kristy) Curry and some of those, we’ve talked. So, she’s having a great summer and she’s really doing well. One of the things that I’m anxious to see when we get to the All-Star weekend is how she’s shooting the ball. She’s shooting the ball from the perimeter really, really well right now, and that will be big to go along with her inside game.”
Both coaches stressed the importance of both players having support during All-Star Sports Week in July.
“If people could, come out and support her and get down to Montgomery to see her,” Crawford said. “We’ll have our whole coaching staff there, football coaches and all. We’ll be there to support her. Not just my kid from Sylacauga, but the kid from Winterboro, Jasmine Richardson. It’s a Talladega thing, not just a Sylacauga, Winterboro thing. We’ve got two kids that are going to be representing our area and I think both of them will do extremely well.”
Smith also hopes to see support from his fans.
“I want the Winterboro basketball fans to come out and support her on the Wednesday (July 17) of the North-South game,” Smith said. “The campaign shirts, they’ll be available to purchase here probably on Monday. Everybody purchase their shirts, wear them and support Winterboro High School. It’s a student athlete — she is deserving of it, and she represents her teammates, she represents me and she represents our program. It’s all about action. If we’re proud of Jasmine, we’re going to show up. I do all I can for my players and it’s not about anybody else.”