Thursday, March 3, 2016

Jalen O'Bannon (Central) First-Team All-OVC, OVC All-Newcomer Team

Article from the Richmond Register

The Colonels have rebounded nicely from last year’s disappointing 9-17 season that saw them go 4-12 in the Ohio Valley Conference and not make the postseason tournament.

EKU heads into today’s OVC Women’s Basketball Tournament in Nashville as the No. 4 seed, with a 16-11 record overall, and 10-6 in conference play.

One of the biggest reasons for the turnaround this year has been the outstanding play of junior Jalen O’Bannon.

In her first season at the school, the 6-foot-1 transfer from Arkansas State has been the most consistent player for coach Chrissy Roberts’ squad all season.

O’Bannon leads EKU in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 17.4 points (fourth in the OVC) and 10 rebounds (first in the OVC) per game.

She has scored in double figures 22 times and pulled down double-digit rebounds in 15 of EKU’s 27 games
Those 15 double-doubles, earned her the OVC Newcomer of the Week award a league-record tying nine times.

On Tuesday, O’Bannon was named First-Team All-OVC and was also selected to the OVC All-Newcomer Team.

O’Bannon’s road to Richmond came through her friendship with former Colonel Jasmine Stafford.
The two have been friends since their playing days in high school in Memphis.

After finding out O’Bannon was wanting to transfer from Arkansas State, Stafford mentioned it to Roberts and her staff.

They liked what they saw and invited O’Bannon to come check out EKU.

That one visit, O’Bannon said, was all it took.

“Jasmine and I have been friends for a long time. When she told me Coach Roberts was interested, I was excited,” O’Bannon said. “When I came to visit, I fell in love with EKU. I liked the coaches and the style of play and I felt really comfortable on campus. I knew this is where I wanted to play.”

O’Bannon, who had to redshirt and sit out last season after transferring, said it was difficult not playing, especially with the Colonels losing a lot of games.

“It was very hard sitting on the bench last year watching while the team was struggling and knowing I could have helped if I could get out there,” she said. “But I think the season off really helped me. I got stronger and I got to learn coach Roberts’ system better. And that’s helped me to be a better player this year. But it was really hard not playing last season.”

Last year, some internal strife lead to a lot of problems on the court for the Colonels.

Roberts addressed those issues after the season, and O’Bannon said the difference in team chemistry is a big reason for the improvement in the team this year.

“Last year, it’s no secret, we had some internal problems. Those were addressed and this year’s team is really close-knit,” O’Bannon said. “We love each other and love playing together. We are like a big family. Nobody cares about their numbers, we all want to see the team do well.”

O’Bannon, Michaela Hunter and Polly Murray are all averaging in double figures on the season, but in many other games, someone else stepped up and has big scoring games.

O’Bannon said this is the most unselfish team she’s ever played on.

“We are all just having so much fun out there. Nobody cares who scores. Whoever is hot, we’re all happy for them. All we want to do is win,” O’Bannon said. “As long as we look out for each other and play together, we know we play so much better. We know we need everybody on the team, so we’re always happy to see someone have a big game.”

O’Bannon averaged 9.1 points and 3.9 rebounds as a freshman at Arkansas State.

She improved that to 10.4 points and 6.6 rebounds her sophomore season.

O’Bannon said her mother always tells her she won’t be the player she wants to be if she doesn’t set high goals for herself.

Heading into this season, O’Bannon said she wanted to average 12 points and get eight rebounds per game, but realized soon, she needed to aim even higher.

“I wanted to get 12 (points) and seven (rebounds) when the season started,” she said. “But after I saw I could do that, about mid-season, I raised my goal to be 15 (points) and 10 (rebounds).”

She not only reached those goals before the regular season’s end, but surpassed her point total.

O’Bannon has been a scoring force on the inside for the Colonels all season, but it’s her league-leading rebounding prowess that’s she’s most pleased with.

“I love to rebound. Rebounding is all about effort. You’ve got to want the ball more than everybody else and work harder to get it than everybody else,” O’Bannon said. “I feel like every time a ball comes off the board, it’s mine. I want it, so I have to go get it.”

But O’Bannon is far from a one-dimensional player.

She has the speed and ball-handling skills to be a scoring threat on the perimeter and can guard multiple positions on defense as well, which makes her much harder for opponents to handle on both ends of the floor.

On many occasions this year, O’Bannon has grabbed rebounds and led the EKU fast break by bringing the ball up the floor herself.

“I’m really a point guard, just with a post player’s body,” O’Bannon joked. “We are always looking to push the ball, so when I can get the fast break started, it helps to get us some easy baskets. But it does make coach Roberts nervous sometimes.”

Despite having an outstanding season thus far, O’Bannon said she not satisfied and thinks the Colonels aren’t done yet.

“I think we can go to Nashville and make some noise,” she said. “We feel like we can beat anybody in the tournament and we think we can still win it.”

She also already has some lofty goals for herself and the team next year as well.

“I want be the OVC Player of the Year. I want to win the regular-season championship, win the OVC Tournament and go to the Big Dance. And ultimately, I want to go on and play professional basketball,” O’Bannon said. “I know those are some big goals. But I think if I can stay faithful, stay dedicated in school and work harder than I’ve ever worked. We can do it all.”

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