Tanasia Russell has watched her skills elevate this season, but the Vineland High School junior says she wants to take an almost unimaginable leap next year.
The 5-foot, 8-inch guard wants to dunk a basketball.
“It won’t be spectacular, but it’ll be a dunk,” she said. “It’s a goal for me. I only need a little bit more height.”
Russell, a junior, held her thumb and index fingers about 2 to 3 inches apart when asked to describe how much more altitude she needs. The guard says she comes very close to touching the rim now, but knows there is a major difference from tapping the iron and clearing a basketball over it.
Russell isn’t the only one who thinks she can pull off the extremely rare feat.
“I think she has a chance of doing it,” Vineland coach Will Breese said. “She’s made tremendous improvement with the height on her jump shot. Who knows, if she grows a little bit, maybe she can dunk.”
While dunking is a dream for the future, emerging as one of the Cape-Atlantic League’s rising stars has become a reality for Russell this winter.
The guard blends sneaky-quick moves, great court vision and a developing jumper into a prolific scoring combination. She has registered 26 points twice this season, including once against Sacred Heart last Saturday, and has hit double-digits in seven of her nine games played.
“I’m just feeling more comfortable on the court,” she said. “It was kinda crazy in the beginning (after she transferred back to VHS from Sacred Heart before the season).”
It’s hard not to notice Russell’s jump shot. She skyrockets straight up, rising high above the defender before releasing the ball. While the results with the shot haven’t been consistent yet, Russell knows that when they start to fall, it will be a shot that is difficult to defend.
“I’ve been working hard on it,” Russell said.
Cumberland’s young Colt
While winless Cumberland has endured a rough start to its season, freshman SyDonnie Dawkins is providing promise for the future.
The 5-foot-8 forward has worked her way into the starting lineup and has become a solid source of offense for a Colts team that has struggled in the offensive zone.
“She’s starting to figure out that she might be a pretty decent basketball player,” Cumberland coach Todd Jorgenson said. “She’s still a raw basketball player, but she’s starting to gain confidence in herself and it shows in her play. She’s being more aggressive on offense and hitting the boards more. She’s growing as a player.”
Dawkins scored six points in a 34-29 loss at Schalick on Tuesday, but showed off her athletic ability in the first quarter when she ran the length of the floor and finished off a pretty fast break play with a layup.
Schalick’s Nikki Adams and Delsea’s Amanda Schmidt both have busy schedules off the court, but each has made room for basketball to be a part of their senior seasons.
Adams will attend the University of Delaware in the fall on a soccer scholarship. While she has a commitment to a club soccer team, the guard didn’t want to give up basketball, according to Cougars’ first-year coach Les Berry.
“She came to me before the season and told me her situation,” Berry said. “She’s a great kid. She’s a very good basketball player, but soccer is her thing and I understand that.”
Adams is scheduled to miss some games, including Tuesday’s contest against Cumberland, but the team hopes to have her for any playoff games come next month.
When she’s played, she’s been on fire. The guard has averaged 19 points over her last three games, including a career-high 22 against Deptford on Jan. 3.
After taking a year off from basketball, Schmidt has hit a high note in her return to the Crusaders, giving the team another major scoring threat. The 5-foot-7 guard ranks third in the area with a 15.1 scoring average. On Tuesday, she sank eight 3-pointers en route to a career-high 26 points in a win over Gloucester County Tech.
“We’re glad to have her back on the team,” Delsea coach Rob Briles said.
Schmidt is also an accomplished musician, playing the flute, and is a member of the All-South Jersey Orchestra. Her music commitments have caused her to miss some time with the Crusaders including last Saturday’s game against Shawnee.
Dribbling around the area
Vineland played 10 games in the first 25 days of the season, leaving very limited time for in-season practice. … Buena’s current six-game win streak is the Chiefs’ longest since 2007-08. … The Cumberland girls’ basketball alumni will face the current Colts in a game on Jan. 19 at 2 p.m. Last season, 19 former players came out to play. … Delsea’s Sarah Stuart has scored 18 and 11 points in back-to-back games. … Cumberland Christian’s Kelsey Hoffman has notched double-digit points in each of her last three games, scoring a combined 32. …. Delsea’s Nicole Carney has been shut down for the remainder of the season. The senior, who is a three-sport star for the Crusaders, tore the ACL in her right knee for the second time in three years, according to her father Tom. She actually tried to play through the injury, competing in two games, but couldn’t go any further.
Games to Watch
Sacred Heart at Buena, today, 4 p.m. — Could this be the game that reignites the fire in this rivalry? The Chiefs could put a serious crimp in the Lions’ division title hopes with an upset win. Note the game time, it’s a change from the beginning of the season.
Cedar Creek at Sacred Heart, Monday, 7 p.m. — The Lions’ biggest threat to their United Conference title defense comes to town for a game that could be among the season’s best.
Millville at Absegami, Tuesday, 6 p.m. — Lexi Bruno finally gets her shot to suit up for the orange-and-blue. The junior guard had to sit out the first 30 days of the season per the NJSIAA transfer rule.
Tom’s Super Six*
1. Sacred Heart (8-1) — The Lions are 3-1 in games decided by five or fewer points, including an overtime win over St. Joseph.
2. Millville (3-5) — Winners in two of their last three games, does a long winning streak lie ahead for the Thunderbolts?
3. OLMA (4-4) — The Villagers are gaining strength with three consecutive victories, big showdown vs. Ocean City on Jan. 21.
4. Buena (6-3) — The Chiefs will take an area-best six-game winning streak into their showdown with Sacred Heart tonight.
5. Delsea (2-6) — Injury to Carney hurts, but the Crusaders still have enough talent to surprise teams.
6. Bridgeton (2-6) — The flu bug has hit the Bulldogs’ offense, which has coughed its way to just 51 points combined in their last two games.