The Evolution of A J Downs

AJ Downs

 

The young lady I bring before you readers today, has shown strength over the years. She has overcome some personal challenges along the way, some low grades & left knee surgery; here is her story…

It has been a little more than a six year process for Miss Audrianna Jac Quanae Downs (known as AJ by her family & friends), to reach her dream to attend college; this fall semester. She would dream of being successful, & playing the game she loves (basketball) in college; from as long as she could remember. The game of basketball came to her early in life, and was a lot easier to master than her studies in the classroom; but she was determined to do good in both.

The early years, AJ was full of energy but a little shy around people she doesn’t know; but she gained some interest in the game of basketball. AJ asked her mother, Lavetta, could she play basketball at the local YMCA. Lavetta thought it would be a good idea; to let her young daughter play. She could have fun & make new friends in her community of Indianapolis.

To AJ’s mother surprise, her daughter wasn’t playing basketball with other elementary school girls her age; she was playing basketball with Junior HS and High School basketball players. If her mother had any fear or concerns of her young daughter getting hurt playing pick up basketball with older girls, she kept them to herself. She encouraged her daughter to compete, and “Do Her Best”. The older girls liked the young baller; she played with no fear against much bigger / older girls. She gained their respect.

AJ’s mother job at Ford transferred her to the plant in Hegweish, Illinois (The Chicago Assembly Plant); but the family makes their home in Northwest Indiana. AJ was actually born in Gary, Indiana before her mother went South to Indianapolis; to pursue a better life for herself. Lavetta’s move back to NWI meant new challenges for her children (AJ and her son Jordan) to adjust to a new school system, and making new friends. AJ faced another challenge for herself; trying to find other girls who like to play basketball as much as she did.
At first, she could not find many girls who loved the game as much as she did. AJ tried cheerleading for a little while; but she couldn’t shake her love for basketball.

She eventually found a team to play for that allowed girls to play with the boys; and she was one of two girl starters on that team. Playing against boys was a little tough at first, but she adjusted well to the physical part of the boys game. Finally, she found an all girls team to play for & was considered a very good player – again playing with older girls.

A small but successful girls traveling team later saw AJ, and asked her would she like to join them next season – once again playing with girls a little bit older than she was. AJ accepted the invitation, and played in that organization for over six years; a place she likes to call “home” until she graduated high school this past spring.

Her raw natural abilities have always allowed her to play up with girls much older and taller than she. AJ realized for the first time, things were going to be a little bit harder for her than usual on the court. She also started to struggle a little bit in the classroom. She had to learn how to really study & manage her time; a problem with most of our young people today.

AJ knew how her mother stressed education, because her mother knew that there’s life after sports; and she also understood the global job market facing our young adults today. Lavetta wants her children to have the skills to be competitive in the job market of today & beyond; no matter where in the world they may call home. Plus, AJ knew bad grades meant No More Basketball; so the game was also a driving force in her life to maintain good grades.

Her commitment to learn how to really study & learn the game started to blossom. A young middle school player learning the “Triangle Offense” (made famous by the Chicago Bulls), and numerous complex defensive sets; it was a little tasking on her at times, but she got it. Then, she came back from ACL & MCL surgery on her left knee, prior to her 7th grade year in middle school.

As she recovered from major knee surgery, she worked hard to get back on the court – with her protective knee brace. Her grades stayed moving in the right direction; which she was most proud of. She came back & played with her traveling team that following spring & summer season. Her 2009 team qualified for the AAU Girls National Championship at the ESPN Complex @ Disneyworld in Orlando Florida (19U Open Division).

The team overall was young, except for two players. The team had to play up because of of these two girls birth dates. AJ being the youngest girl in the 19U bracket; she found out later, that was a record at the national tournament: a 7th grader guarding HS Seniors & College Freshmen (Division II or lower, no Division I girl basketball players are allowed). It was obvious that her team was the smallest & youngest team in the 19U Girls Open Division that year. AJ standing barely 5′ 2″ at the time, guarding girls 5′ 8″ & bigger; her team’s biggest player was only 5′ 10″.

The team played OK in their scheduled bracket pool play; but was getting beat a lot on the boards and rebounding. Their signature win came by beating a Nike sponsored team from Texas by Rashard Lewis of the NBA Orlando Magic at that time. It drew a lot of attention during the medal round phase of the National Tournament. Coaches of other teams came over to meet the young player, AJ Downs. The Military All-Star Team coach from Europe & Mr. Rashard Lewis sat & talked to AJ. She was unfazed by the attention given to her because of her age; she has always been “The Baby” on all of her teams, except for her final year this past July.

The young team shocked the tournament by beating a team by 12 pts that they lost to earlier in pool play by 5 pts. That had three college Division II players on it from Central Florida. That advanced them to the National Championship Game against a undefeated team from Ontario, Canada. This Canadian team hadn’t come close to losing a game the whole week there in Orlando Florida..

July 10 2009 @ 7 pm, AJ’S team faced the heavenly favored, Canadian team in the title game that had her team down by 29 points at half-time. The team wasn’t going to use their age or height as an excuse; coming out in the 2nd half & scoring the first 16 pts & showed the packed gym their “No Quit” spirit. AJ’s team got as close as 5 pts, but eventually they lost by 11 pts by the end of the game. They looked up and realized how the gym was cheering for them, the underdog; and how they won over the gym because of their play that day..

They girls were so surprised & excited by the support of strangers after they received their National Tournament Runner Up Silver Medals; they left the team Runner Up #2 National Rank trophy at half court; the Director had to call the team captain back to the court to retrieve it. Losing the National Championship Game, but gaining respect of your peers & fans was the lesson she learned that evening. AJ returned back to the National Championship Tournament the following season in 2010 as a 8th grader, again playing up with half of the team being new. They didn’t do as well; finished in 6th place. The team did not surprise the field that year; because teams knew who they were from the previous year & were better prepared for their style of play – small but fast.

It has become clearly transparent, that the older AJ got, the better she became. She was maturing on & off the court. AJ was a four year starter once she got into high school, receiving post season honors every year. She continued to play with her off season traveling team. She truly felt at home and it helped her developed her skills. She represented the North, in a North vs South juniors All Star “Showcase” Game; and she later became a two time, all conference player her junior & senior year. She accepted a full basketball scholarship to a college in Iowa during her senior season year for this upcoming fall semester..

AJ Downs in the last six and a half years has directly contributed to about 292 wins combined from all the teams she played for during that time frame. This young lady is one of the most humble people that you will ever meet – a trait that comes directly from her upbringing. AJ loves life, and truly enjoys being AJ Downs; she’s comfortable in her own skin. She’s a young lady who’s not easily excitable, but does understand being true to herself; even if she have to stand alone. She even learned how to juggle a part time job during her already busy schedule her senior year in high school..

Ms. Downs will be a factor in the classroom & on the court during her time in college, and later, the business world. She is the type of person who leaves her Footsteps in the Sand, because she doesn’t like underachieving in anything she does. AJ is now ready for college & whatever life have to offer her. Going off to college to grow as an individual & mature is just a part of the process – that is life.

AJ, you have met every challenge put before you with your own style & grace. You have given freely of your time to mentor girls not much older than yourself during basketball training sessions & clinics in the surrounding areas. You were a captain on your AAU Team that raised money for Breast Cancer Research for the Southlake Methodist Hospital’s new Cancer Center. AJ Downs your greatest contribution is always willing to give back to your community and sharing your knowledge & time with others.

You are winning in the game called, life. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You & every other positive young person across America today, has a bright future ahead of them. We would like to salute you, and others like you; for staying above today’s problems facing our youth. Please continue to live your dream & to understand your purpose..

Never bend your head, hold it high; look the world straight in the eye.” – Hellen Keller

Stay Encouraged always..

Coach Tony Branch
(Contributing Writer to GLM)

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