HILLARY SMITH: Merrillville found its next freshman phenom

2014-02-16T21:00:00Z HILLARY SMITH: Merrillville found its next freshman phenomHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
February 16, 2014 9:00 pm  • 

HOBART | As soon as Jasmine Wright was fouled with 20.5 seconds remaining in Saturday's sectional championship game, her Merrillville teammates swarmed and hugged her.

Now the pressure was on.

The Pirates had a two-point lead over Duneland Athletic Conference rival LaPorte and the Slicers had just committed their 10th foul.

Wright had two shots that could help clinch a win, or put more pressure on Merrillville. She hadn't shot from the foul line all night.

"She had a lot of confidence," Merrillville coach Amy Govert said. "When I went to the locker room this morning, she was in there and said, 'I'm ready.' She's focused and she's played a lot of games, not just in high school and middle school, but with AAU. Nothing fazes that girl."

The 5-foot-2 Wright will beg to differ just a little.

"A lot of pressure," Wright said after her shots went in and Merrillville won back-to-back sectional titles. "(My teammates) said concentrate, block everything out, clear my mind and relax. I did that."

Quiet and shy, Wright has let her teammates take the lead this season.

A freshman who isn't ready to make noise just yet, Wright could be the guard of the future for the Pirates.

She had a team-high 16 points Saturday night, with five of those coming from the free-throw line in the last 20 seconds.

When the first one went in to give Merrillville a three-point lead, Wright breathed a sigh of relief.

"I was like, 'Oh, my God, thank you,'" she said while clutching her portion of the victory net.

The remaining buckets were just bonus.

Senior AJ Downs, who herself made adjustments to her role this season, said that bringing along Wright has been an important part of the Pirates' success.

"Her coming in as a freshman, she knew it was going to be a tough season," Downs said. "During the second part of the season, she knew what she had to do on the team, and we tried to help her out during practices. She knew she wanted to come in here and help us win this game, too."

When Wright told Govert she was ready, she it was more than just lip service.

"I was ready to play," she said. "I was mentally ready."

Wright is ready for whatever comes next.

The schedule says that Penn is next, a rematch against the Kingsmen for a chance at the regional title. Merrillville lost to Penn 70-63 earlier this season.

For Wright, it's a little more than that. She's a freshman starter with a sectional title. There's pressure there.

The expectations will remain high, not just because it's Merrillville and not just because Wright is a guard.

In a season of freshman phenoms, Wright has included herself as part of the conversation. There are another three years to talk about how good she could be.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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