Homegrown Talent

by Monique Bowman

When you think of homegrown and the state of Ohio, what comes to mind?

A company?

Maybe a high-profile coach?

A certain 6-foot-9 forward who ended a city’s 52-year professional sports title drought?

If you comb through Ohio State sports rosters, you will realize that Ohio is ripe with homegrown athletic talent that decided to stay close to home.

One example is the 2019-20 women’s basketball team. With 5-of-11 players hailing from the Buckeye state, these women bring a variety of experience and prep accolades to a retooling program.

Here are their stories.

The Best Christmas Gift Ever!

Savitha Jayaraman is the lone senior on the 2019-20 women’s basketball squad but the journey to this point was one that almost didn’t happen. Jayaraman was an accomplished high school player, helping Olentangy Liberty to a district title in 2015, and conference titles in 2015 and 2016.

When it was time for Jayaraman to go off to college, basketball wasn’t originally in the plans but that quickly changed.

“I came here my freshman year as a regular student but I really missed basketball, being a part of a team, competing—all of it. So I reached out, thinking, ‘why not? Let’s see what happens.’ I was so nervous for my tryout,” Jayaraman recalled. “I walked into Coach McGuff’s office on the last day of tryouts, and he’s like, ‘I really like what we see. Let’s get you some gear.’ And I was in disbelief.”

That wasn’t the end of it for Jayaraman that year, as she would receive more good news later in the season.

“It was right around Christmas time, they took us out for a team dinner and I was there was another walk-on at the time (Karlie Cronin) and they surprised us both with scholarships and it was the best Christmas gift by far!”

This is Jayaraman’s final year, and unfortunately it hasn’t been she thought it would be. An early season injury has sidelined her for much of the season.

“It was definitely a hard thing to come to accept that this was how my last year was going to go. But I started in November with Beth Howe, our director of basketball operations, helping her run the team behind the scenes because I can’t be on the floor contributing,” she said.

“It’s been awesome to not only be a part of that, but learn about her role and how I can apply her tactics to my job eventually. And, I still get to be a part of the team and be around. It’s been a cool shift to see another side of things.”

This homegrown player will keep her talents in Columbus, as she has been accepted into Abercrombie & Fitch’s Merchandising Leadership Development Program.

“It was a very long process; they definitely vet their people…They really want to get leaders in whatever role they’re in now, get the acclimated to the retail world, and push them up to be the next leaders of the company. I’m really excited about that.”

Welcome Back, Braxtin

If your name is Braxtin/Braxton Miller and from the western part of Ohio, it seems as if you’re going to be great whatever you decide to do. For Braxton Miller, it’s football. For Braxtin Miller, it’s basketball.

“I was getting kind of used to it when I was in high school,” said Braxtin Miller of the association between the two Buckeyes. “He was in high school when I was in eighth grade and they were already talking about him. He’s from Wayne High School and I was just down the street at Alter. It was something I was kind of getting used to. It was a little bit annoying but nothing too bad.”

While at Alter, Miller led the Knights to three consecutive state titles after finishing runner-up in her freshman year. She averaged 16.1 points per game in her senior year and earned All-Ohio honors and was named the Southwest District Player of the Year.

Oklahoma State was her next step in her basketball career, starting in 59 of her 62 games in two seasons and averaging 13.1 points, 3.8 boards and 2.8 assists for the Cowgirls. The transition from one OSU to another OSU has been interesting.

“It’s been challenging because on my old team, even as a sophomore, I was still a leader. Even my freshman year they expected me to be a leader, because I was the only freshman that started along four seniors. Then I came here and still wanted to be able to do that, but there are so many things that I don’t really know because I’m new to the team and new to the program. But as the months have gone on, it’s become easier.”

In her first season as a Buckeye basketball player, Miller has started in 20 of her 21 game appearances and is averaging 7.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Miller credits her time in the AAU circuit and at Oklahoma State for maturing her as a basketball player and as a person.

“I wanted to get far from home (after high school)…I grew up a lot. I think that was really good for me to spend two years there. Then I wanted to come back home and back to Ohio State.”

The season has been a roller coaster but this young Buckeye squad has shown plenty of promise as the season goes on.

“It’s been really up and down but I think that if we lock in and do what we do best, we can be up and keep going up. We just need to figure out what we need to do every night and stay disciplined to do that.”

Elite Ohio Company

Katie Smith. Jantel Lavender. Ameryst Alston. Kelsey Mitchell. Kierstan Bell. What do these names have in common?

They were all named Ms. Basketball in Ohio at least once and played at Ohio State.

Riddle No. 2: Lebron James. Kierstan Bell. What do those two names have in common?

They are the only two high school players to be named Ohio’s Player of the Year three times.

“It’s great. I’m the only girl, he’s the only boy. God put it in place,” Bell said in sharing that honor. “He’s in the league now. I’m building my legacy here. I think it’s pretty great.”

Growing up and still to this day, it was Lebron and Kobe Bryant that Bell looked to and tried to emulate on the court. From the former’s style, it’s his ability to do everything that she admires. “I can’t dunk like him but I’m going to get there. He can shoot, he can bring the ball up, he gets his teammates involved and that what I would love to do is to get my teammates involved…It’s about doing other things to help the team.”

From Kobe, it was “his mentality, his work ethic. Nobody played as hard as him, nobody worked as hard as him. He was in the gym all day, every day. If you’re not working, someone else is working to get better than you. He left a legacy and he’ll be forever remembered.”

Basketball was Bell’s calling from an early age, but she also tried football, softball, track and gymnastics. But in middle school she realized that it was basketball that was her sport.

“All I did was go hoop with my friends. We would go to the park and just hoop all day, from the morning until the lights came on. Sometimes I would get in trouble for it, but I didn’t really care. I knew basketball was it.”

While working towards ultimately finishing fourth in the state in career points (2,883), Bell was also searching for her next spot. Ohio State was with another Big Ten school at the top of her list, but hitting it off with Buckeye coaches and players won her over.

“I had more visits here. I liked the staff and the team. I looked at another school but it didn’t stick with me because when I went on my visit, I was only hanging out with the coaches. I wasn’t communicating with the team, so that took it off my list,” Bell said. “I wanted to interact with my teammates and get to know who I’m going to play with. That’s why it was Ohio State and it’s close to home.”

To say Bell’s debut year on the court is going well would be an understatement. The three-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week is second on the team in points (10.6 per game) and third on the team in rebounds (4.1 per game).

Still she sees room for improvement going forward, noting “I need to improve on consistency … Sometimes I come into the game and air ball a shot, or miss a couple of shots and try to get back in the flow of things. But I need to come off ready to go from the start and keep going.”

Familiar Territory

Playing at the Schottenstein Center isn’t new for Madison Greene. She hails from Pickerington Central where she led the Tigers to a state championship in 2018 and a runner-up finish in 2019.

“My junior year was a really special year. We had a great team; lot of versatility and that’s what helped us win the state championship that year,” Greene said. “My senior year, we had a different type of team. Our height was gone. We had to play differently so that contributed to not taking it all the way. It’s a great feeling to play on that court. The atmosphere is crazy and the fans are amazing.”

While familiar with campus and her now-home court, she wouldn’t necessarily say that playing for Ohio State was her dream.

“I never really had a dream school. I just wanted to play some place where I had some great opportunities, and have great teammates and great coaches so I could learn and grow as a point guard,” Greene said. “Committing to Ohio State was a last-minute type of thing…It didn’t start out as my dream school but now that I’m here, I’m definitely living the dream right now. It’s been great.”

As of late, Green has earned a spot in the starting rotation and has appeared in all 21 games this season. She had a monster game against That Team Up North in early January, putting up 23 points. Mind you, she had a combined 22 points in the first three Big Ten games leading into that contest. Still, there’s a lot of growth ahead for her and her teammates.

“As a team, we’ve made a lot of progress. It’s not really showing in the wins but I feel like it’s going to get there,” Greene said. “We’re young, but eventually we’re really start getting in the grove of how we’re supposed to play and find our identity. Personally, I feel like I’ve been learning from my teammates and coaches, and getting more experience has really helped me.”

It’s Kinda Perfect

Jacy Shelton grew up in the gym.

She had to—both her parents were coaches. Her father was a basketball coach, and her mother was a volleyball and track coach.

“It was tough but it shaped me into the person I am today,” Shelton said of growing up in a dual-coach household. “Both of my parents actually worked with me a ton. My dad mostly worked with me in basketball and worked with me up until I got here. It was really fun growing up.”

Shelton was a two-sport athlete at Dublin Coffman High School, competing in volleyball and basketball but made the choice early on that basketball would be it.

Even so, she was an All-State honoree in volleyball her senior year. In basketball, she was a three-time Ohio Ms. Basketball finalist and a three-time first team All-Ohio honoree.

“[My dad] asked me my freshman year of high school. I loved volleyball but I had this passion for basketball,” Shelton said of her decision. “I still played volleyball but my extra time and extra practice went to basketball.”

It was seemingly always going to be Ohio State for Shelton’s next step. She grew up an Ohio State fan and draws her defensive playing style from former men’s basketball player Aaron Craft. Beyond that, the university just down the road from where she grew up was the whole package.

“When I visited here, I fell in love with everything. The coaches, the campus, the academics. I knew I wanted to stay close to home so this is kind of a perfect for me. I have a little sister who has Down Syndrome and I couldn’t imagine going too far from her.”

Though she’s a new face for the Buckeye program, Shelton has earned a starting spot and sits third on the team in point production (8.3 points per game). The learning curve is still steep.

“The competition is very high in college. High school was too, but in college you really have to show up for every game or you’re going to get beat,” Shelton said. “You’re also playing with the best of the best, which is also a change but it’s a lot of fun.”

When you think of homegrown and the state of Ohio, what comes to mind?

In addition to that company, coach or NBA player, hopefully you’ll think of these five players looking to make their respective marks in Buckeye athletic history.