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Thank You, Seniors

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Photo Credit: University of Louisville WBB Official Twitter Account

It seems hard to believe that less than a week ago we were sitting in Greensboro watching what ended up being the final game of the 2019-2020 season. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were supposed to have two more games in the Yum to raucously send out our seniors on their journey to what we hoped would be another Final Four. We had every right to believe this might be “The Year.” Instead, there would be no homecoming. No journey. No championship.

We should be watching basketball this week. We should be printing out brackets. It seems like when they turned out the lights in the arenas a little piece of our spirits went dark too. That sounds melodramatic, but we were raised on this. We pass it on to the ones we love. We’re buried in caskets draped in red and black. Basketball is friendship. Basketball is our common language. Basketball is life.

Still, it feels wrong to just move on without a coda so I decided to write about the seniors. The winningest class. They brought so much happiness to us over their time at UofL so I wanted to take a moment to show some appreciation to them.

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Jessica Laemmle, the hometown kid from Mercy High School, came to Louisville as a preferred walk on. She made herself indispensable to her teammates. Speaking to Danielle Lerner at the Courier Journal in 2016 Jessica said, “There was no doubt in my mind that, if I was walking on anywhere, I would walk on at U of L,” She added, ”There’s only 16 of us at the No. 2-ranked school in the country. One out of 500 high school students go to NCAA Division I, so I like the challenge of, ‘Not everybody can do it but I’m going to do it.’”

And she did.

By her senior year Coach Walz was saying things like, “Jess is our backup point guard. So I have no problem at all putting her on the floor. She knows what we’re doing. She knows our offense. She knows the defense as well as anybody. So I feel confident with that.”

Jazmine Jones said, “Jess is probably the most hard-working person on our team. She does every little thing. Like when Myisha was here she would always rebound for Myisha after practice. Like that’s the little things from a teammate that you need. And Jess she doesn’t care about scoring. She doesn’t care about starting or any of that. She just cares about making her teammates better every single day.”

Kylee said, “She’s evolved into a wonderful woman....the maturity with everything she’s been through...and she always has my back.”

Yacine said, “Jess is just....Jess. She’s a leader. She’s someone you look up to. She always knows what’s going on and how to do things right.”

In some ways losing this post-season makes me saddest for Kylee. She always seemed to have so much potential with her height and her smooth outside shot, but it never seemed like it was clicking in every facet of the game with her. Well....it was finally clicking. She had the post moves. She was getting double-doubles routinely. She set the shot blocking record. The Kylee we’d dreamed of seeing since she’d shown up on campus had finally materialized on the court. You just knew that she was going to set the tournament on fire. But alas, it was not to be.

Coach Walz said that in the beginning they had a “love/hate” but that it had evolved into a “love/love” one. He said, “She’s been battling every single day....The growth she’s made from her freshman year to her senior year is remarkable. I’m really proud of her. I’m happy for her. Not just as a basketball player but as a person. She’s really gone through a lot and has had some tough times but she keeps fighting. It’s been fun because I’ve seen her smile most this year than the past three years. So just really happy for her where she is in her life right now.”

Kylee said, “My journey’s been long and hard coming in as a freshman. The transfer from high school to college is big. I started my freshman year then I kind of slacked off. Then my sophomore and junior year I was behind great players. Now going into my senior year I realized I had to pick it up. It’s been struggle. I’ve had injuries, surgeries, all that stuff.”

She also talked about the fans, “Our fans are amazing....They’re so impactful. They don’t realize how much they really do mean to us when they cheer us on and help us in games.”

Jazmine Jones said, “I’m really proud of Kylee for real....Kylee been blocking shots all her life probably because she’s probably been bigger than everybody else....but it’s a true testament to her staying in the gym every day and watching film and timing blocked shots.”

Yacine said, “Kylee is just goofy. She’s a fun person to be around.”

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve written about players for the opposing teams in my recaps. One of those time was when Louisville played Pitt in 2018. I was so impressed at how Yaya carried them by herself for three quarters until we managed to foul her out. When I heard she was transferring here I was like “wait...THAT girl. HERE??”

Coach Walz said, “She came here as a grad transfer last year, she was excited, and then boom she tears her ACL. She bought in to coming back for a 6th year and then has just had an outstanding ACC season for us. We put her up for 6th Player of the Year.” He added, “She’s been as steady as anybody coming off the bench.”

Yacine said, “For me it’s been a special year. Transferring from Pittsburgh this is all I ever wanted—to win. To have a chance to win the ACC Championship and have a chance to compete for a National Championship. So this is a great experience for me and like a dream come true.”

She talked about growing more comfortable on the big stage at Louisville. She credited her teammates first then “coaches for giving me the confidence for me to be out there and playing. My teammates had a lot to do with that. Thank you guys for trusting me and welcoming me with open arms.”

Jessica laughed and said, “My first real memory of Yaya is we were playing pickup and she threw the ball off the backboard and went to get her own rebound and put it back up. I was like oh my goodness who is this girl?” She added, “Yaya’s great. She has the biggest smile and she can dance. She’s tried to teach me to dance but it just hasn’t worked out.”

Kylee said, “Yacine’s energy lights up a room. She’s great to be around.”

Bionca Dunham’s freshman year you could see she had the size to be a good post player, but her fundamentals were pretty raw. She came to the game late so that wasn’t a surprise. She was a project. However, if you’d told me that in one of the last games I saw her play that she’d drain a three-pointer and it didn’t feel like a fluke I would’ve said you were crazy. She worked hard on her post moves she’d perfected the short jumper. You could also hear her voice above everyone else on the court barking out directions on defense.

Bionca talked about her evolution as a player. She said, “I went to a small school in Philadelphia so I wasn’t really ranked. I wasn’t really known. So when I came here I played with a chip on my shoulder and knew I had to prove myself.” She added “The people I looked up to were Courtnee Walton, Sam Fuehring, Myisha [Hines-Allen]. They always talked on the court and I always wanted to know how can I get more playing time as a freshman?....So I just watched them and everything they did.”

Jazmine said, “B she’s awesome. She came in day 1 ready to work knowing that she wasn’t ranked coming out of high school. So she played with a chip on her shoulder and she still does to this day. That’s what’s so great about B she doesn’t care who you are in front of you she’s going to go at you no matter what.” She added, “She’s a great person too. She lights up a room....She can definitely make you feel good about yourself. She brightens your day and puts a smile on your face.

Bionca talked about the fans, “Our fans are amazing. We had some games where we had to grind it out to the end and we didn’t come up with the win but they were still there cheering us on. After the games we sign our posters and they’re still there congratulating us...always uplifting us. There are never no bad vibes.”

Yacine said, “Jaz and Bionca they’re just two special people. Their energy....how they carry us the court. Their leadership.” She added, “They’re both goofy and they both like to dance so they’ve both got great personalities. I love you guys.”

Last but certainly not least: Jazmine Jones. I know we’re not supposed to have favorites but from the second she stepped on campus and smiled that huge smile I think we all fell in love with her. Jaz is joy personified. She’s the kind of kid you dream will play for your program. Crazy athletic, enthusiastic, funny. She is an asset to the community both in her support for the other teams on campus but also in her service to the city at large.

Bionca said, “Jasmine is such a great person. Her personality is off the charts. She’s an amazing person to be around....Everyone loves her.” She added, “Since the first time I’ve seen Jaz she’s always been a funny person and always had a smile on her face no matter what. Unless we’re in a heated game. She gets mad and wants to score on you but you know that’s just a game.”

When Jazmine was a sophomore she told Danielle Lerner about how she uncharacteristically sobbed on television after she won a championship in high school. In that interview she said the only other time she might cry was, “When we beat UConn, when we win the ACC championship, when we get to the Final Four and when we win a national championship — those four things will probably be a happy cry.” Well Jaz, you accomplished three of those things. Now the only tears that will be shed will be when we wonder if this was the year she could’ve crossed that last goal off of her list.

Still, there are different ways that legacies are made and the most important ones aren’t necessarily hung on banners. The University of Louisville was a better place for having her there for four years. Perhaps her mother Felicia Jones said it best, ““She’s always been a very happy kid, always well-mannered and really cares about people....I can’t say enough about Jazmine. I always tell people that if I wasn’t her mom, I’d like to be her friend.” I think the whole city of Louisville feels like Jaz was their friend and friends live in our hearts forever.

So thank you to the seniors. Thanks to Coach Walz, the assistants, staff, and the rest of the team: As always, you’re the best. Even though the end wasn’t what we dreamed of thanks for your hard work this year and all the fun memories we’ll carry with us. Beating Oregon in St. Thomas. The close win over Kentucky. Getting to play the US National team. Another ACC regular season crown. It was a fun ride.

Next year can’t come soon enough.