Junior Jerontay Clemons drives the ball to the basket against Michigan Sunday afternoon as the Lady Eagles play in the WNIT Elite 8 at the Reed Green Coliseum. Southern Miss ends their season 60, 69. -Susan Broadbridge
With just four days separating the Southern Miss women’s basketball team from its loss against Michigan in the 2015 WNIT Elite Eight game, the team has not stopped in its quest to reach greater heights as a team.
After losing in the Women’s Conference USA Championship game and ending their dream of making it to the 2015 NCAA Women’s Tournament, the Lady Eagles began their quest to win a WNIT Championship.
Despite falling two games shy of achieving their goal, players such as junior guard Jerontay Clemons do not look at this obstacle as a failure, but a challenge to be better in the coming year.
Clemons, a junior interdisciplinary studies major, finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 12 points per game, second in rebounds with six per game and leading the team in steals with 62 this season. During the WNIT, Clemons played a significant role in the Lady Eagles’ success on the court, averaging 13 points through the four games and recorded double-digit performances against TCU and Michigan.
Now in the offseason, Clemons reflected on the 2014-2015 season.
“It was a great experience for me and my teammates to make history at the university,” Clemons said. “It took a lot of focus and hard work to get there and I would do it all over again any day.”
The Coldwater, Mississippi, native also said having a core group of senior players surrounding her made her experience playing even more worthwhile.
“Our seniors players played a huge role in our success this year,” Clemons said. “I think replacing them is going to be very tough, but with the recruiting coordinator we have and the players we have returning, it is going to work out just fine for us as a team.”
Due to the departure of former Lady Eagle point guard Jamierra Faulkner, many thought the team would struggle to duplicate its success on the court. However, the team proved critics wrong, going 25-11 overall and advancing to the Elite Eight of the WNIT, which was the furthest any Lady Eagle team has gone in school history.
“Jamierra was the key player in our success last year, so we knew what had to be done to fill in her piece of the puzzle,” Clemons said. “All of us, as returning players, had to step up and really bring our A-game early on in the season to have back-to-back winning seasons without Faulkner.”
Preparing for her senior year, Clemons gained a new perspective and will look to embrace a new leadership role on the team next season.
“As a rising senior, I learned from this season that my younger teammates look up to me and that I have to set a example for them to follow,” Clemons said. “Nothing is going to be handed to you and if you want successful results, you have to work hard each and every day to get those results.”
With leadership comes responsibility, and Clemons said head coach Joye Lee-McNelis stresses consistency and being a team leader on the floor.
“Coach is like a mom to me. She told me that in order for the team to be successful, I have to show up with a positive attitude and the will to win everyday, whether for practice or gameday,” Clemons said. “I truly value her advice and I know what I have to do in the offseason to be a better player, staying in the gym all summer and improving my game.”
Beyond her individual goals, Clemons said her ultimate goal is to win a conference championship and make it to the NCAA Tournament.
“We did really well this season, but as a team, we will not stop until we win a championship in Conference USA and receive an automatic bid into the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament,” she said.
To do so, she plans to improve on her skills as a player to better put the team in position for success.
“I plan to master shooting the three ball more, sharpen my jump shot and enhance my basketball IQ,” Clemons said. “I look forward to meeting my new teammates and building a bond with them off the court, helping us to build a strong chemistry and feel for each other.”
Clemons definitely has the talent to be a go-to scorer for the Lady Eagles and lead them further than this year’s history making squad. Now it is time to prove it.