Buying into sport pays for Ledbetter

Southside's Sheree Ledbetter didn't have any interest in basketball when her father insisted she play in the third grade, but now she loves the game - and excels at it.

March 01, 2006|By KATHERINE DUNN | KATHERINE DUNN,SUN REPORTER

To watch Sheree Ledbetter work the court for Southside, it's hard to believe she never wanted to play basketball in the first place.

The lightning-quick moves to the hoop, the effortless flight for a rebound and the smooth three-pointers might never have emerged had Ledbetter not listened to her father when she was in the third grade.

Until then, she spent most of her time watching television or playing hide-and-seek with her friends in their Cherry Hill neighborhood.

"One day my father said, `I'm going to make you start doing something.' I said, `No. No. I don't want to do nothing.' He talked to the coach at my elementary school and he made me play. I used to be so mad. I did not want to play. I used to say, `I hate this game,' because I was so bad at it."

But father knew best. It didn't take long for Ledbetter's natural athleticism to elevate her game beyond that of her young peers. As she began to excel, she began to love the game.

"I started seeing progress and I was like, `This is something I want to do,' and then I got really into it," she said. "I saw how I was making my parents proud. I was doing something positive."

A family-centered teen, she wants to be a role model for her nephew Daqan, 8, and niece Tayshira, 2. She's already starting to steer them toward the game.

Wanting to play basketball made her shape up in elementary school, where she admits having gotten into a little trouble for talking in class and being a jokester. Missing out on a Loyola basketball camp in the fifth grade for such behavior set her on the right path for good.

"When my coach said, `You can't go,' it broke my heart. I cried for days. I think I cried the whole week they were gone. They came back and they were like, `Sheree, we had so much fun.' After that I knew [the coach] was serious. I was like, `I'm not messing up no more.' "

Recently, Ledbetter met an even bigger challenge. After Southside coach Dafne Lee-Blakney decided it was about time someone on the team challenged Tiffany Lewis, a straight-A student ranked No. 1 in the senior class, in the classroom, Ledbetter earned a spot on the Principal's Honor Roll.

"Sheree is so focused this year academically," Lee-Blakney said. "When she got here, I think she was just doing enough. Now, she's getting her grades up. I've seen a lot of 90s and 80s and no 70s or 75s. I'm very impressed and I told her that's what college coaches want to see."

Her athleticism, natural flair and versatile game have made the 5-foot-10 Ledbetter one of the area's best players. She was a second-team All-Metro selection last winter after leading the Jaguars to the Class 1A state final for a second straight time.

Ledbetter, a junior and an Amateur Athletic Union veteran, gets so much mail from college coaches that she's becoming a legend at the Cherry Hill Post Office.

"The mailman told me I was the talk of the Post Office. I get more mail than anybody," Ledbetter said. "I was laughing. He told me they were making bets on where I'm going to go."

While Ledbetter is struggling to narrow down her list of colleges, Lee-Blakney said she's down to about 30, half ranking in the Top 25 of Division I.

Most of her interest is focused on the Atlantic Coast and Big East conferences, although she's not ready to talk about specific programs.

"She has the college body," Lee-Blakney said. "She's been concentrating a little bit more in the weight room, because we knew we weren't going to have a big body in the middle and we need her to do some unconventional things like play the post when she's really a `three' player."

Ledbetter doesn't mind playing different positions.

"I met some of the college coaches, and they say, `If you come here, what do you see yourself playing?' I say, `Put me anywhere.' "

She can be an effective high school post player against taller opponents. Two weeks ago, facing No. 4 Western, she battled the 6-1 duo of Zhondria Benn and Nikki Matthews and came away with 18 points and 17 rebounds in a 65-44 loss.

"On post defense, even though she may not have the height, she's very athletically built and she's strong, so she's a big body in there. You can't do anything you want against her," said Benn, a close friend and AAU teammate.

Ledbetter draws praise for her ability to create offense and to finish what others, especially veteran point guard Lewis, create for her.

"She makes me want to pass her the ball, because I know when I pass her the ball, she's going to do something with it," said Lewis, who began playing with Ledbetter at 12.

As the No. 10 Jaguars begin regional play today, Ledbetter averages 22 points and 13 rebounds. She is already the best player in Southside's five-year history as a varsity program, but Lee-Blakney, who played at Maryland, is working with her to improve the mental side of her game.

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