St. Pauls ‘sisterhood’ signs to play basketball at Johnston CC
ST. PAULS — Two seasons ago, St. Pauls girls basketball senior forward Diamond Simms-Moore was a part of a group that finished 3-20 and had no aspirations of playing hoops beyond high school.
On Wednesday, Diamond Simms-Moore was joined by a few of her “sisters” as Jivee Nettles-Graham, Jordin Brewington and Kenija McGougan all signed to play for Johnston Community College next year inside the St. Pauls High School library.
“It was rough, but it was a lesson,” Simms-Moore said about the trying season. “Everybody goes through trials and tribulations to get to where you need to be.”
During one of the lowest periods in the Lady Bulldogs recent history, Simms-Moore, Nettles-Graham and McGougan had to endure five coaching changes in their sophomore season, which McGougan said made for a disjointed culture.
“We always said family, but it never was because everyone always left,” she said.
The following season, Mike Moses took over , to which all four girls said shifted attitudes and created ambitions of playing at the next level. The foursome took turns shedding tears during their speeches to relatives and friends after signing.
“It was a lot of emotions because I’m about to start a new chapter without Coach Moses,” Simms-Moore said. “I changed mentally and physically. Mentally…I finally had somebody to push me to do better. If it wasn’t for him, I honestly wouldn’t be here right now.”
Moses lauded his long, athletic wing player and has watched her attitude and game develop since taking over the program.
“It was hard to get her in the gym, she gave me attitude. But then she started to see change, and once you see change and you get a little success, then you want more and want to get better.” he said. “Her ceiling is through the roof. I believe she’s going to go on and play at a four-year school if she wants to.”
Simms-Moore’s hard work was rewarded this past season as she collected an all-conference nod and was named Robeson County Most Improved Player of the Year. The Jaguars took notice of her breakout year and were the first to recruit Simms-Moore with Division II schools Winston-Salem State and Livingstone showing interest late.
McGougan has been alongside Simms-Moore through what she termed as a “rough path,” but feels Moses’ impact not only helped her, but changed the way each girl viewed the unit.
“Before Moses…I didn’t take basketball seriously because I had been through so many coaches,” McGougan said. “So, when Moses came and he stayed, I said, ‘OK, now we got a family.’”
Meanwhile, Brewington started her athletic career at the school as a cheerleader, but has benefited from the ‘sisterhood’ that’s binded the group since Moses’ arrival.
“It really means a lot because we’re a family,” Brewington said. “We don’t see each other as just basketball players, we see each other as sisters. I just think it’s special because…it’s something that’s not going to stop, it’s just going to continue for the rest of our lives.
“When Coach Moses came in the picture, he made me want to play basketball. From the end of my sophomore season to the end of my senior season there was a big transformation and it was all because of him.”
Moses has been impressed with how quickly Brewington has changed her game and credits her undeniable worth ethic for the huge jump.
“[Jordin] wasn’t confident in herself, but she was my hardest worker and that’s key,” he said. “She wanted to be good.”
Despite picking up the game later than most of her peers, Brewington feels as if that motivated her to improve and is thankful for the opportunity to continue to grow at the college level.
“A lot of people doubt you if you start playing late, which really kind of rubbed me the wrong way because my coaches though differently,” she said.
The 3-20 days are now in the rearview mirror and the four seniors leave coming off the best season in recent memory.
“This group has experienced a lot of firsts and today is just a great day. I’m proud of those girls,” Moses said. “To think I have four seniors playing college basketball and being honest, going into the season, I wouldn’t have thought that. But they’ve worked hard and proven themselves.
“Someone else besides myself believed in them, which is the most important thing. I’m very excited for them and the program.”
JCC head coach Alonzo Lunsford, a former athlete at Richmond, said he was always aware of the “overlooked” talent in areas like St. Pauls.
“As a coach, I don’t look at stats…I look at the chemistry,” Lunsford said. “We all have similar, but different systems. They’re all athletic and can run, that impressed me because I have a running offense. … This is the nucleus of a new era.”
Lunsford went 1-16 in his first year as Jaguars coach and says he has just two players from that team. He expressed his excitement of obtaining a group with potential and has plans to improve their game that includes weight training, speed drills and lifting after games and practices.
Simms-Moore acknowledged how competitive college basketball will be, but says she’s ready and is thankful for a coach with a similar passion to Moses, who also took a chance with her close friends.
“He believes in us. You can’t find too many people that believe in you and believe in your team at the same time, so I’m glad all of us took advantage of this,” she said.
Nettles-Graham echoed the comments and said before Moses, nobody took interest in her growth as a player.
“They want the best for us. [Lunsford] is going to push me like Moses did and he’s not going to be like the other coaches and give up on us,” Nettles-Graham said.
All four admit they’ll need time to adjust to their new environment and get used to being accountable for their own actions. But McGougan summed up the collective feeling of the group that has the luxury of starting a new journey alonside familiar faces.
“Going into a new college school with new people is very scary, but going into it with girls that you know since middle school and elementary school is good,” she said.
By Donnell Coley
Donnell Coley can be reached at 910-416-5165 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Sportsinmyveins.