Photo: Gadsden State sophomore Diamond Jolly, pictured during a pre-game introduction earlier this season, recently was named to the National Junior College Athletic Association’s 2017-18 All-America women’s basketball team.
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Diamond Jolly capped her junior college basketball career in historic fashion.
The Gadsden State sophomore forward was recently named to the National Junior College Athletic Association’s 2017-18 All-Am-erican Team.
Jolly is the first Gadsden State female basketball player to be named an NJCAA All-American in 36 years.
“I was really excited when I found out (about the honor),” said Jolly. “It felt really good.”
The Huntsville native and Grissom High graduate averaged 14.5 points and a league-high 9.8 rebounds per game along with 50 assists and 17 blocks as she helped the Lady Cardinals make to the semifinal round of the Alabama Community College Conference Tournament. Jolly was selected to the All-Region 22 first team following the state tournament.
In Gadsden State’s conference tournament play-in game win against Coastal Alabama and the Lady Cardinals’ first-round victory over Bishop State, Jolly averaged 23.5 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 79 percent at the free throw line and coming up with 10 steals.
“It was really exciting when we beat [Coastal Alabama), because the year before we got that chance and didn’t go as far,” she said. “It was even more exciting when we beat Bishop.”
Gadsden State lost to eventual ACCC champion Shelton State, which finished third at the NJCAA Tournament.
Gadsden State women’s head basketball coach Marty Dixon pointed out that Jolly established her presence in the post early on in games, freeing up the perimeter for the GSCC sharpshooters.
“Diamond’s very athletic and always went to the rim. She’s long at 5-11 and has really good speed and quick hands, and that allowed us to put her on the other team’s point guard a lot of times make their lives miserable. She’s also a good defensive player, which is what got her on the court he freshman year.
“A big thing for Diamond is that she knew what her bread and butter was in terms of helping us win games. She also has a great all-around personality, and she came to every practice with a smile.”
After starting a handful of games her freshman year during which she averaged 4.8 points and 4.7 rebounds, Jolly spent last summer on campus in order to sharpen her skills and get herself into top condition.
“I stayed in the gym and worked out and just worked hard to get better,” she said.
Jolly said that the Lady Cardinals began to jell as a team prior to their conference schedule beginning in mid-January.
“In the beginning of the year, we were together but not all the way, and then we kind of lapsed a little. As we closer to the conference games, we sat down and talked a lot with the coaches and figured out what we needed to work on and what we needed to do get to where we wanted to be.”
Although her scoring and rebounding are what stands out for Jolly on the stat sheet, she is an above-average defender who had 57 steals this past season.
“Ever since I started playing basketball, defense has always been my favorite thing, because it wins games. If you play hard on defense, the scoring and the other stuff will take happen their own.”
As one of the team’s seven sophomores, Jolly was more than willing to step into a leadership role, which included giving pep talks to the freshmen teammates who did not log much playing time.
“I could relate because I was in their position, and I told them just to keep working hard and their time would come.”
Jolly, who currently is finishing up her associate degree and will graduate in August, has several offers from four-year schools but is leaning toward Alcon State in Lorman, Miss. The 2017-18 Lady Braves went 12-18 overall and 8-10 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Jolly relishes the opportunity of competing in Division I athletics.
“I’ve never been in a position before to play at that high a level, and [Alcorn State] showed a lot of interest early on,” said Jolly, who plans in majoring in early childhood development. “That made me want to go there and strive to become better and see how far I can go.”
Dixon envisions Jolly succeeding at the next level of collegiate basketball.
“Diamond’s certainly has the athletic ability; she’ll just have to put the work. There’s a couple of skill areas that she needs to work on, like her ball handling and extended-range shooting, but she’s improved dramatically in both of those areas since we’ve had her.”