When the COVID-19 pandemic began raging around the world in early 2020, many goals and aspirations were put on pause. Towson standout guard Kionna Jeter is just one of many who had to put basketball on hold temporarily.
Calling quarantine a blessing and a curse, Jeter said it gave her an opportunity to improve as a teammate. Through it all, the redshirt senior said she worked to make her mind stronger than her heart — which, in her words, means to have the strength and faith to push through whatever obstacles are in her way.
And there figure to be plenty of those during the pandemic-altered 2020-21 season.
“My leadership skills,” Jeter said of what she worked on during the offseason. “I knew this year would be different and I would have to play a different role than before. My job [now] is to continue doing what I do but also [grow] into that leadership role where I can communicate with the team when needed and keep us grounded.”
Having a close friend and teammate to rely on in junior guard Shavonne Smith makes leading the team easier as well. During the early stages of quarantine, the two leaned on each other for support. They also share a dream of playing professionally — Jeter even considered entering the 2020 WNBA Draft — and have embraced being leaders for the team during the strange 2020-21 campaign.
“During the quarantine, the one thing I always told her was just remember what you’re doing it for,” Smith said. “I understand we have our hard days and some uncertain days, but the ultimate goal is for us to play professional basketball one day. So when the going gets tough [or] you don’t want to deal with it or you don’t understand why certain things are happening the way they are, you have to close in and focus on that one goal, which is to go pro one day. Remembering why we’re doing this and what we’re doing it for — the bigger picture.”
For now, Jeter can look forward to defending a Colonial Athletic Association title the Tigers never had a chance to lose. Towson won the CAA tournament in 2019, earning the program’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament in the process. However, the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 tournament, and the Tigers finished 14-15 overall and 9-9 in the league.
The 5-foot-8 Jeter played at a record-setting pace during her first two years at Towson after transferring from Gulf Coast State College. She’s a back-to-back first-team All-CAA selection, the first at Towson to do that since Shanae Baker-Brice (2009 and 2010). Jeter scored 1,098 points in her first 62 contests with the Tigers, becoming the fastest player in program history to record 1,000 points in the process. She’s also a two-time conference All-Defense pick after being among the leaders nationally in steals each year.
In November, Jeter was named the preseason CAA Player of the Year and earned a spot on the 2021 Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year watch list.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Jeter said of her preseason honors. “I’m very grateful. … It just shows what hard work does and just staying patient.”
Don’t expect that excitement to get to Jeter’s head, either. Towson head coach Diane Richardson anticipates her lead guard to continue being the same team-first player she has always been. In addition to scoring, Jeter will be tasked with guiding the offense along with Cincinnati transfer guard Aleah Nelson.
Look for Jeter and the Tigers to build on how Richardson’s teams have played since the coach took over in 2017.
“The way I want to play is up-tempo — and up-tempo for all 40 minutes,” Richardson said. “In order to do that, you’ve got to have talent in every position and reserves to come in and have no dropoff.”
The Tigers’ style of play is embodied by Jeter, a blur in transition and a bulldog on defense. Jeter utilizes her athleticism and quick hands to create turnovers and isn’t afraid to dive for loose balls. She has a deadly pull-up jumper, too.
With Jeter back in the fold, Richardson believes the 2020-21 team may turn out to be the best she’s coached at Towson given the collection of depth and talent this team offers. In addition to Jeter, Nelson and Smith, the Tigers also expect contributions from Allie Kubek, a freshman forward who was the 2020 Delaware Gatorade Player of the Year. Transfer Skye Williams is expected to provide stability at the guard position as well.
Jeter still has her professional dreams in front of her despite the challenges of the pandemic, so she is staying patient while embracing the grind. She firmly believes that her hard work and perseverance have helped her and will continue to drive her. Above all, Jeter wants to enjoy her last season at Towson and succeed both individually and as a team.
“This is my last year in college and I sure will miss it, the atmosphere, the fans,” Jeter said. “We’re grinding for a championship. The rest will speak for itself afterward. Just taking it day by day, step by step and having fun.”
Photo Credit: Nicole Curtin/Towson Athletics