The more LSU senior guard JAILIN CHERRY went over the possibilities for this season’s backcourt, the depth and combinations appeared endless.
The more Cherry talked on both fronts, the more you detected an elevated level of excitement in her voice.
“This is probably the deepest we’ve been,” Cherry said. “Everybody can play. We’ve got big guards, small guards, quick guards. We’re long. We have so many different lineups that we can throw out.”
Whether she’s starting or coming off the bench, Cherry will be part of that wave where the 5-foot-8 senior brings back a wealth of experience and versatility. Those elements help LSU enjoy a distinct advantage this season in a backcourt that also features fellow senior KHAYLA PORTER at point guard.
“When you have Khayla Pointer and Jailin Cherry who have logged the most returning minutes,” LSU women’s basketball head coach NIKKI FARGAS said, “that gives you the experience and veteran play and they understand competing at an elite level. When your season ends like it does for your juniors last year where they were postseason bound and then now, you’re a senior, there’s a different level of sense of urgency.”
Cherry can relate.
The coronavirus pandemic cancelled the NCAA Tournament in March where LSU appeared headed as an at-large team, thus creating a sinking feeling in players such as Cherry, who is now one of six seniors with a heightened sense of awareness going into her final season.
“I’ve reflected on how far I’ve come as a person, not just as a basketball player but as the person I am today and the confidence I have,” she said. “It’s flown by so fast. It seemed like last year I was just a freshman coming in under (LSU guard) (RAIGYNE) MONCRIEF.”
Cherry’s career – 22 starts in 79 games – has been one marked by its share of ebbs and flows with a scoring average of 4.3 points and 2.1 rebounds.
She saw an increase in playing time down the stretch last season (averaging a career-best 19.8 points. After an injury to the team’s leading scorer AYANNA MITCHELL, Cherry worked her way into the team’s starting lineup and wound up with career-highs in scoring average (5.8) and rebounds (3.1) to go along with 51 steals. She also shot a career-best from the field (42 percent).
Cherry registered six double-figure scoring games – all of which were in Southeastern Conference play – with a season-high 16 in a 75-71 setback against Arkansas.
“I can be an all-around player for the team,” Cherry said. “Whatever they need me to do. I can control the team and get people the ball and get more assists like in practice as a point guard. I can come off the dribble, score or come off screens. Whatever we need. . .rebounds, defense.”
LSU’s experience is spread around to seniors KARLI SEAY (2.4 ppg, 1.0 apg in 27 games) and RAKELL SPENCER (1.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg in 18 games). There are increased expectations for sophomores TIARA YOUNG (4.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg) and DOMONIQUE DAVIS (1.5 ppg, 0.9 rpg), both of whom enjoyed standout in-state high school careers.
The Tigers are also expected to count on newcomers DESTINY LOMBARD, a 5-9 freshman from Ft. Bend, Tex. as well as 5-10 freshman SHARNA AYES from Melbourne, Australia. Also, 6-2 SARAH SHEMATSI, the nation’s No. 1 ranked junior college signee from South Plains (Tex.) College, is expected to play both guard and forward.
“Depth and versatility,” Fargas said. “Those are going to be the cornerstones.”
Said Cherry: “Everybody’s stepped into their role and getting more confident in what they’re doing.”
Cherry believes she’s positioned herself to flourish, the byproduct of being committed to working on different aspects of her game in the spring despite being quarantined at home in Pascagoula, Miss.
Cherry carried that mindset into June when the team returned to LSU for voluntary workouts and several months later into fall practice. It provided her a gradual build-up to a senior season in which her veteran leadership will be a key ingredient in the team’s success.
“As a leader, I’d rather show you than tell you,” Cherry said. “That’s why I go hard every day at practice for the new people to see how we do drills, to get better and to progress. You’ll definitely see more leadership out of me this year.
“I’m a lot more confident than I was my freshman year and the past years. I’m way more confident in my shot. Whenever I’m in my mode and confident in my shot, I’m going to let it go. Everything about me is a lot better.”
19: Points scored vs. New Orleans last season by then-freshman guard TIARA YOUNG, the closest any LSU freshman player has come to matching SEIMONE AUGUSTUS’ collegiate debut of 27 points against Arizona in November 2002.
66: Points needed by senior guard KHAYLA PORTER to become 34th LSU player to score 1,000 career points.
88: Games that Pointer has seen action, every game of her LSU career.
NEXT WOMAN UP
Sophomore guard TIARA YOUNG, named the Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018-19, is primed for a more prominent role.