Dec. 20, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Every team needs some Jaz, but not every squad has one like the Georgia Tech women.
Jasmine Blain is playing more than ever for head coach MaChelle Joseph even though she’s being asked to play a position that she’d never played. The 6-foot-1 senior was always on the big side for a guard. Now she’s smallish as a forward.
The Yellow Jackets have six freshmen, senior guard Sharena Taylor has struggled with an injury, and they’ve all played a nearly brutal schedule that was more than this team was ready to handle so early in a season.
There is good news as the Jackets (4-5) prepare to play Washington (7-2) today in McCamish Pavilion. With a light recent schedule thanks to finals, no class for the next couple weeks, and a smattering of non-lethal opponents coming up, the needle is pointing up.
“I think on a scale of one to 10, we’re probably at like a six. But by ACC play, we’ll be at a nine or a 10,” Blain said. “It’s difficult for us because we have five or six freshmen, and they don’t pick up so quickly.”
Indeed, the Jackets’ youngest roster has prompted Joseph to weave some zone defense into the plan, something that she has rarely embraced. Blain is helping.
That the Jackets are relying on Blain at all is a surprise of sorts.
When she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in the third game of last season, it was the second time that had happened. She did the same thing while playing for North Cobb High School. The second time, she was injured while diving to tip away a Marquette pass only to land in the Tech bench.
She tipped that pass, but . . .
“As soon as I took off, I felt it happen in the air. When I landed, I told coach Jo that my knee was hurting really bad,” Blain said. “I tore my ACL in high school. Having that feeling, I knew that something was wrong.”
Blain didn’t go away, even though her basketball career was in danger.
“I was really sad for Jaz. She was playing really well, and it was the first time in her career that she was getting quality minutes,” Joseph said. “It’s like life. If life was fair, nobody would be in wheelchairs.
“She became our biggest cheerleader. She brought energy every day, and she demanded a lot from her teammates.”
Blain averaged 7.5 minutes per game as a freshman, but just 3.6 as a sophomore. Her playing time was up to more than 10 minutes again over the first three last season, and then that knee became a problem again.
“There was a point where we had decided that she wasn’t going to play any more, and she was going to take a medical hardship and just finish as a student at Georgia Tech,” Joseph said. “As time went on, the knee healed in a way where she had an itch to compete.
“She and I talked with her parents, and we decided that she would have regrets if she didn’t give it another chance. She’s never looked back.”
That’s an understatement. Blain has started seven of nine games, and she’s playing about half the minutes in each game. She’s the Jackets’ second-leading rebounding while grabbing six per contest.
She’s averaging 5.0 points per game, and there’s still some of that guard in there as Blain is third on the team in assists behind guards Dawnn Maye and Tyaunna Marshall – the only two players who have started every game as Joseph keeps experimenting.
Asked to list the two most important improvements that her team needs to make in order to realize the squad’s potential, Blain said, “The first thing would be communication. Everybody needs to talk and be on the same page. The second thing would be . . . we need more of an inside game. We can’t just rely on our guards.”
Enter Blain, who may seek a medical redshirt once this season is complete in order to gain another year of basketball eligibility.
“We’ve asked her to play post when she’s never played post before,” Joseph said. “She’s only been a guard since she’s been at Tech. She’s never complained.”
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