By Joseph Staszewski
Jelleah Sidney could have quit often throughout her tumultuous basketball career.
There were tears of both ACLs during her high school career at St. Michael Academy and academic ineligibility that kept her from attending Syracuse.
“I could have given up to many times,” Sidney said. “I just kept grinding and getting through things.”
That included spending a year at Chipola College, a top junior college in Marianna, Fla. It all paid off as she recently landed a scholarship to Kentucky, realizing her Division I dream. A versatile and skilled power forward, Sydney will join former St. Mike’s teammates Jennifer O’Neill and best friend Bra’Shey Ali with the Wildcats next season.
“They stuck around through everything,” the 6-foot-2 Sidney said. “They were loyal to me. It felt like a perfect fit.”
Before he died Jan. 3 of a heart attack, Sidney and former St. Mike’s and Exodus AAU Coach Apache Paschall had many discussions about her future. He was an encouraging presence, along with her mother Annarie, while she dealt with injuries. He always told her he thought Kentucky would be the best place for her at this point in her career. Kentucky was still around when she went to Chipola and attended a number of her games. She chose the SEC club over Syracuse and South Carolina.
“I went to a lot of other schools; it just didn’t feel the same,” Sidney said.
Last year, the Queens Village native led Chipola in scoring with 11.8 points per game and was the team’s second-leading rebounder at 8.3 per contest. Sidney, who also attended prep school at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., grabbed 46 steals for Chipola. She joins a Kentucky team coming off an SEC regular season championship and Elite Eight berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“She is a player I wanted to coach the very first time I ever saw her play,” Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Her unique set of skills, which include many intangibles we look for, will add immediate value to our program.”
During her final season at St. Michael Academy, Sidney led the school to its first ever state Federation Class AA title. She is part of a family of Division I players: her older sister Elon attended St. John’s and younger sister Brianna will attend UNC-Greensboro this coming fall. Jelleah Sidney’s aggressiveness and motivation to play defense made her one of Paschall’s favor players. He compared her to a women’s version of Metta World Peace.
“That kid is going to do really great things at Kentucky,” Exodus Coach Lauren Best said. “Jelleah is one of the most underrated players we’ve ever had, probably the best we’ve ever had that nobody knows about.”
Sydney said the years away from home helped her grow up. She had to do simple things on her own, like laundry, budget her money and push herself in the classroom. It’s led her to that coveted Division I scholarship.
“I learned a lot, in life, in basketball, injuries and stuff like that,” Sidney said. “I can overcome anything. I feel like I’m blessed.”