Making Western go

Girls basketball: Senior Jeanell Hughes energizes a young team with her area-leading scoring average and spirit.

High Schools

January 28, 2003|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

With a lot of young players surrounding her, Jeanell Hughes planned to play three roles in every Western girls basketball game this season - score, score and score some more.

Through the first five games, that plan played out perfectly. Hughes, a 5-foot-9 senior forward/guard, was averaging 27.4 points and leading the metro area in scoring. She accounted for 47.4 percent of the Doves' offense.

On Dec. 20, she scored 18 points in the first half against Lake Clifton, but she never finished the game. In a freak collision, Hughes ran into trouble.

"I was coming off a screen and someone ran into me on the right side of my face," said Hughes, 17. "And all I can remember is everything ringing, my face ringing, my ears ringing. I just fell. Coach Don came over, and he said, `Your jaw can't be broken - you can talk.' "

Coach Donchez Graham was wrong. That night, X-rays revealed a broken jaw. Hughes had surgery on Christmas Eve to insert a metal plate to help repair the fracture.

"Christmas was the worst," said Hughes. "I couldn't eat everything from Christmas dinner - turkey, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes. My grandmother froze me a dinner. We thawed it out two weeks later and I ate it. It was really good."

It was also really good that Hughes missed only five games. The Doves (13-3) lost twice without her - to Bryn Mawr on the day after her injury and to No. 6 Severna Park the next week in a holiday tournament.

"It hurt a lot to watch the game and not be able to help my team when they were down. All I could do was cheer them on," said Hughes, a second-team All-Baltimore City/County pick last season.

At first, Hughes wasn't expected to see action until tonight's 5:30 showdown at No. 15 Dunbar, which should be a preview of the Baltimore City championship. But Hughes came back Jan. 7 at Northwestern with 17 points.

Two games later, she matched her career high of 32 points in a win over Carver.

After scoring 31 in Thursday's 65-51 win over Southside, Hughes is averaging 24.4 points. She's still the top scorer in the metro area.

Graham, the Doves' first-year coach who also coached Hughes on the Amateur Athletic Union Baltimore Cougars 16-and-under team, said she knows she has to score a lot of points.

"She's stepped up to the challenge," said Graham. "With such a young team, we told her she was going to have to hold their hands until they became acclimated to doing a lot of scoring."

Hughes can score in just about every way. A quick player in the backcourt with good ball-handling skills, she can also post up and doesn't mind the inside contact. Opposing coaches have rolled out all kinds of defenses designed to stop her, but her agility and versatility make her difficult to handle.

"Jeanell's one of the toughest competitors I've every played against," said Southside senior Mone't Johnson. "She can go inside-outside. You've got to play her honest. She doesn't have a one-dimensional game."

Hughes also brings something more to the court, something that the Doves missed as much as her offense while she was sidelined. She infuses the Doves with a certain verve.

"It's a personality. It's a swagger that she has," said Southside coach Dafne Lee-Blakney. "She has the same skills as any other player, but what puts her above the next player is that will. She just has a certain air about her."

Teammate Lauren Brooks said: "She knows she can do it all, and she goes in with that mentality no matter what - even with that broken jaw. She's so intense and so determined. She keeps us focused."

Hughes, who carried a 3.0 grade point average in the marketing course at Western, is still looking for the right college fit. She plans to major in sports marketing and become a sports agent - a fitting extension of her playing career.

"She's such a competitive and determined person," said Graham. "She can't stand for someone to one-up her, and she does not like not getting better. You cannot work her hard enough."

She likely will play the shooting guard position in college and Graham said she could play at a mid-major Division I level.

Lee-Blakney agrees. "I hope no one overlooks her. She has what they look for first at the next level. They can't teach that desire or that determination that she has. The next coach that gets her is going to have a joy with her."

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