Jasmine Stone refused to sidestep the question. She knew it was coming, and she was ready to answer it.
“Well, with sophomore year and this year, I don’t know, I just had a hard time focusing. Sometimes I focused too much on basketball and not enough on my schoolwork,” Stone said about her academic ineligibility two of the last three semesters. “But I got people I’m working with now that help me balance the two. I’m a student first and an athlete later. It’s been difficult, but I’m trying to get myself together.”
The 6-foot-3-inch junior forward was highly recruited out of Martin Luther King High School in Detroit by the likes of DePaul, Louisville, Tennessee and four or five Big Ten schools, her high school coach William Winfield said. A fourth-team All-American, Stone averaged 19.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 5.2 blocks per game as a junior while leading MLK to a 24-1 record and state runner-up finish after the team won the state title the year before.
“She did well when she wanted to in school,” Winfield said. “And she certainly did well on the court. At about 6-4, she could block shots with either hand, dunk, rebound and was one of the best passers I’ve ever had at King High School in my 32 years. She was quite a talent.”
Basketball was her ticket out of the city, one ranked as the third-most dangerous in the United States in 2008.
“It’s hard coming up from Detroit. It’s very difficult. It’s different than a lot of my teammates’ experiences,” Stone said. “I had to deal with a lot of stuff growing up. Crimes and family stuff. Being carjacked. It’s serious there. It’s very serious in Detroit. But I made it here into college and got blessed enough to get a scholarship.”
And despite Detroit’s problems, Stone said she looked for a school with that fellow big-city atmosphere.
“I came here for my visit, and I just loved it here. It reminded me a little bit of Detroit,” she said. “I didn’t make my decision based on [former Temple coach Dawn] Staley. I just made sure I got along with all my teammates, and I liked the city. Coaches can leave just like coach Staley left, so I’m glad I didn’t make a decision based on a coach. But I like [coach Tonya Cardoza]. She likes to let everyone score, and she’s more about offense, so I like that. Anyone would like that.”
Unfortunately for Stone, she didn’t exactly leave the best first impression on her new coach when she was ruled academically ineligible for the second fall semester in a row. She couldn’t go on road trips with the team, and Cardoza even thought about not letting her practice. She’s just now getting back into shape to the point where she can run for extended periods of time without becoming winded. In her six games this season, Stone’s averaging 3.8 points and 3 rebounds in just more than 10 minutes of action per game.
“I don’t think she’s the type of person to get down. She’ll find a way to get herself back up. I think a lot of times, being able to practice was an outlet,” Cardoza said. “I thought about not letting her practice, but I thought that that would maybe make her down. So having that outlet, getting away from the studies just a little bit and being around her teammates, I think that that was probably the thing that made her happy.”
One teammate in particular, junior guard Kristie Watkins-Day, kept Stone’s spirits up during her darkest days. The two call each other sisters and do just about everything together, whether it’s going out to the movies or shopping at Villa on the 1200 block of North Broad Street for sneakers, jeans and hats every Thursday when there’s a sale.
“Freshman year, we barely even talked, and last year, we just got close. I don’t know how, but she’s really like my sister,” Watkins-Day said. “I think we think alike so we just tend to grasp onto each other. She’s just always around. She’s always in my room. I can’t shake her.”
And Stone’s glad Watkins-Day doesn’t want to. It was Watkins-Day who helped make sure the classes Stone picked out were the right ones and the ones she needed, and it was Watkins-Day who made certain Stone attended the class she needed to pass to become eligible, walking her back to the dorms every day afterward.
“When I found out I couldn’t play, I cried, I drove back home,” Stone said. “But KC kept me up with ‘You’re gonna keep yourself in shape, and you got next year,’ and all that. And I got another chance. So KC, she’s definitely always here for me. I’m glad she’s here. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
In Watkins-Day’s absence, Stone turned to her grandmother and mother at home in Detroit. Ironically, her grandmother is a retired math teacher. Too bad Stone’s majoring in communications rather than in mathematics.
“They’re two strong women, especially my grandmother. I look up to her. She came from down South and moved to Detroit and got her master’s and everything by herself. And my mother, she’s raising kids and dealing with me and all my stuff and being in trouble, and they never gave up on me,” Stone said. “Sometimes they got mad, but they never gave up on me at all. I really look up to them.”
Stone’s two younger brothers, Martez and Marcellus, who are 6 and 3, in turn, look up to her, wanting to do everything the same way their big sister does, from dressing in the same clothes to playing basketball. Stone said she “wants to make it for them.”
To do that, she’s going to have to maintain a 1.8 grade point average, academic coordinator Tamra Greer said.
“Athletes come in to see me knowing their schedules, and then I see their syllabus and help them with planning, time management, study skills like writing papers and taking tests and coordinating tutors at the MSRC, Writing Center or during their study halls,” Greer said.
But, ultimately, it comes down to the athlete doing what he or she has to do to stay eligible.
“Yes, we have to harp on it and make sure that she’s doing what she’s supposed to be doing,” Cardoza said. “We know the situation that she’s been in, and I think everyone – coaches, players, Jasmine herself – has to stay on top of it. I mean, obviously Jasmine has to want it.”
And besides wanting her own Oprah-like talk show when she graduates, Stone wants to show everyone that she can still reach her true potential on the basketball court. After all, next year, the women’s basketball team will count on her to anchor the post after senior forwards Shenita Landry and Shanea Cotton graduate.
“I’ve got big goals. I’m a real good player,” Stone said. “I played for USA Basketball [the Under-18 National Team trials]. My college career hasn’t been as good as my high school career, so I think I’ve got a lot to prove to people. I didn’t come here to just be a no-name or something. I’m real focused right now, and I’m going to turn everything around with my grades and stuff, and my senior year should be awesome.”
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.