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Jerica Coley's career a success with or without the WNBA

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Sun. April 13, 2014 | John C. Cotey | Email

Jerica Coley's career a success with or without the WNBA

She left St. Petersburg as one of its most decorated high school basketball players, an unselfish teammate with the ability to take over a game when she needed to, with a basket or an assist or a steal.

But usually a basket.

And yet, college coaches weren’t banging down Jerica Coley’s door. USF said it had too many guards, same for Florida. Miami didn’t have room, and the St. Petersburg Catholic star’s smaller frame didn’t help.

Here’s what they missed out on:

Jerica Coley scored 3,073 points at Florida International.

She led all of Division I in scoring as a junior and a senior.

She racked up conference Player of the Year awards, and was one of five finalists for the Nancy Leiberman award.

Her number was retired during her senior season, while she was still active as a player.

And she spawned one of the great hash tags in sports: #HolyColey.

When the WNBA draft is held Monday night, the 5-foot-8 guard has a chance to be one of those selected.

After all, this is a player who on one memorable night last month leapt a veritable Mount Swishmore of women’s college basketball. With 42 points -- her third 40-point performance of the season -- against East Carolina on March 11, Coley passed USC’s Cheryl Miller, Tennessee’s Chamique Holdsclaw, Connecticut’s Maya Moore and Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne on the NCAA career Division I women’s scoring list to move into fifth all time. 

#HolyColey, indeed.

• • •

Truthfully, Coley says, she hasn’t given the WNBA much thought, except for the million of times she’s been asked about it, which has been a million times too many.

“It’s not like it was ever a huge dream or anything,’’ said Coley, who if anything, thought she’d end up being a professional tennis player, her sport of choice as a kid. She worked out at a combine two weeks ago in Tennessee. Afterwards, she was approached by business-card wielding agents.

If Coley, the Times' 2009 and 2010 Girls Basketball Player of the Year, is selected, she would be only the second area player ever drafted, joining 2007’s No. 6 overall pick Bernice Mosby, out of Hernando.

“She’s surprised me,’’ said her father, Jerry. “But that’s just hard work. She puts her mind to it, and does it. And she’s got a feel for the game.”

That “feel” produced seasons of 23.4, 26.3 and 29.6 points per game, to go with career averages of 6.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.4 blocks.

“The total package,’’ FIU coach Cindy Russo said.

But Coley will tell you that of all the accolades, she is most pleased with being named the conference Student-Athlete of the Year.

She will complete an internship this year and graduate with a degree in dietetic nutrition, and she intends to attend graduate school.

Ultimately, she sees herself working in a hospital and is currently volunteering at Jackson Memorial.

She is so serious about her post-graduate career, you almost get the feeling the WNBA is Plan B.

“One step at a time,’’ she says, with no indication which step is first.

• • •

When other schools passed on Coley, Russo was relieved.

The longtime head coach saw something special when others didn’t and recruited her with fingers crossed.

“I spent the whole summer with her, I maxed out on what I could do with her (when recruiting). I saw I was getting a steal,’’ said Russo, who got more than even she expected, on and off the court.

Her Conference USA coaching brethren have been sending Russo condolence cards. 

“I’m a little depressed right now,’’ the longtime coach said.

She decided to retire Coley’s No. 22 this season, doing so at halftime of a men’s game. Jerry and Cathy Coley drove down as a gold banner with their daughter’s name and number was raised to the rafters.

“That doesn’t happen too often,’’ Jerry said.

Coley says her accomplishments haven’t made her a celebrity at FIU, but that’s not completely true.

The hash tag, a website promoting her at holycoley.com, and her record-setting success have made her more visible than she may be comfortable being.

She is recognized as the school’s most prolific and decorated women’s basketball player, and maybe the best athlete this side of football player T.Y. Hilton (now with the Colts), and quite popular.

“People love her,’’ Russo said.

At the school’s athletic banquet last week, which is attended by every athlete from football to basketball to tennis, Coley was recognized for her outstanding season and career.

Afterward, every athlete at the banquet stood up and began to clap for their top women’s basketball scorer, this shy, smart, sometimes goofy but always charming star.

WNBA Draft

When: Monday night

TV: ESPN2, 8 p.m. (live)

Note: Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike is expected to be the first pick by the Connecticut Sun. Over three rounds 36 players will be drafted, and St. Petersburg's Jerica Coley could be one of them.

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