Kendra Coleman and Jasmine Jefferson have combined to be one of the most successful tandems in the history of Southern women’s basketball.
Coleman is a dynamic shooter whose scoring ability exceeds what her 5-foot-7 frame might suggest. Jefferson is a forward whose athleticism allows her at 6-1 to be as effective away from the basket as she is in the low post.
They’re four-year starters who have helped the Jaguars to a 58-20 record in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, including a 32-6 mark the past two seasons.
Their last hurrah is supposed to come this week at the SWAC tournament in Houston, beginning with a quarterfinal game against Grambling at noon Wednesday, and their final week got off to a good start Monday when Coleman was named first-team all-SWAC and Jefferson was named to the second team.
But things changed Monday night when the SWAC took away the Jaguars’ share of the SWAC regular-season title and suspended Coleman, Jefferson and five of their teammates for Wednesday’s game.
The penalties resulted from a benches-clearing brawl in a game against Texas Southern on Saturday that the SWAC changed Monday night from a Southern win to a loss for both teams, giving the Lady Tigers the outright title. Eight TSU players were suspended, forcing the school to withdraw from the tourney because it didn’t have enough players.
Jaguars players were unavailable to talk about Monday’s developments, but Coleman and Jefferson reflected recently on their careers.
“Starting from freshman year when I first met her, we came with the same mindset,” said Coleman, from Donaldsonville. “I didn’t know her and we talked and we just bonded from that first talk. We talked about what we were going to accomplish while we’re here and we said we’re going to stay here the whole four years.”
They’re the only players from seven in their freshman class to finish at Southern. If they win the SWAC tournament, it will add another major accomplishment to their legacy, though a trip to the NCAA tournament is unattainable because of an NCAA postseason ban.
“They’re the core, they’re the team captains, they’re the leaders,” coach Sandy Pugh said. “They’re very humble. They’re very giving, caring, loving kids. They’re probably two of the best kids I’ve ever had here.”
Pugh said Coleman was one of the top-five most sought-after recruits she has signed during her 15-year tenure. Initially she had some doubts about Coleman’s size, but assistant coach Carlos Funchess was more certain.
“Carlos was adamant,” Pugh said. “He said, ‘She can shoot it. She shoots a jumper.’ Watching her play, we were so impressed with the way she would come off screens and get her mid-range jumper.”
Pugh calls her “Little Stephen” after Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.
“That’s who she plays like,” Pugh said. “She’s a little fighter. She’s tough as nails, always wants to get a workout in, wants to get better, wants to improve. Watching her go from a freshman until now has just been a pleasure. She feels like my own child in a lot of ways.”
Jefferson’s athleticism enabled her to play wide receiver on the junior-varsity football team at South Ridge High School in Miami before she switched to basketball. She was one of three candidates for the final scholarship Pugh had to offer. The staff was pushing for a guard, but Pugh said “the little voice” in her head told her to be more thorough before deciding.
She took a look at some videotapes of the recruits and Jefferson made an eye-opening play.
“They threw an inbound pass to the timeline,” Pugh said. “All I could see was this kid coming in from out of nowhere at midcourt, jumping up into the air, grabbing it with two hands and coming down without touching the sideline and then passing the basketball out.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I don’t know many girls that can make that play at all.’ That requires athleticism, balance, agility. When I saw that I picked up the phone and I called Carlos and I said, ‘We’re going to go with the post player.’ He said, ‘Why?’ I told him, and he said, ‘I didn’t see that clip.’ I said, ‘I’m glad I did’ — and the rest is history.”
Pugh smiled before adding, “I think we got the best of that deal.”
“Jas just has that rock kind of demeanor that you just instinctively know you can depend on her,” Pugh said. “When you first meet her, you know she’s dependable and what she’s telling you is the truth. She’s a very honest kid, and I think that comes forth in terms of leadership.”
Coleman and Jefferson’s partnership provides much of the inside-outside balance that has been key to Southern’s success.
“Her shot is amazing,” Jefferson said. “I tell her, ‘Just shoot that thing; I’ll go rebound.’ ”
The two, who are roommates home and away, had a heart-to-heart after the Jaguars lost at Grambling two months ago and fell to 1-2 in the SWAC.
“We just said, ‘We need to pick each other up; we need to pick our teammates up,’ ” Jefferson said. “ ‘You control your guards; I’ll control my post.’ We pick each other up.”
Southern went out the next night and won at Jackson State, starting a 14-game winning streak.
“This has been a special year,” Pugh said, “and it’s special because this is the last year with those two kids.”