Coppin State women’s basketball senior Jalynda Salley recently spoke with PressBox about playing for former Maryland star Laura Harper, the story behind her best friend on the team and more. The 6-foot-4 Salley averaged 9.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game last year, earning MEAC All-Defensive Team honors for her efforts.

PressBox: How did you become interested in basketball?
Jalynda Salley: My stepdad, [Brandon Ruffin], who I call my dad, he really pushed me into it and really gave me the push. He was like, “You’re so tall and I feel like you can be really good at basketball.” And so he put me in basketball. He took me outside. He would have me shooting about 500 free throws, [driving] full-court [for] layups. That’s really the person who’s really gotten me into basketball.

PB: What did your stepfather mean to you growing up?
JS: He basically stepped in as a father when my real father wasn’t there. For me, that means a lot because he’s the person that I feel like gave me the push and showed me the most love other than my mother, [Dakia Horsley]. Also, he showed me how to love through him loving my mom. He was a big part of my life. He kept me focused. He always made sure that I was on my P’s and Q’s, always made sure that I was up and running. For me, I’ve played in his honor because he’s the one that has really pushed me to get this far.

PB: Why did you choose to come to Coppin State?
JS: I got a letter from Coppin saying, “Hey, we’re interested in you,” and I came here on campus and instantly as soon as I came here it felt like home. It just felt like I was supposed to be here. My mom even said it. As soon as we walked on the court she was like, “I don’t know, I’ve got this feeling that [you are] supposed to be here.” I always wanted to play for a Division I HBCU. So I was like, “This is my perfect opportunity to put Coppin on the map and also put myself on the map.”

PB: What’s your favorite memory so far at Coppin?
JS: My favorite memory is us beating Morgan my freshman year in the MEAC tournament [on] a buzzer-beater by Kaiya Coleman. That was probably one of the best times here at Coppin because nobody really expected us to win. We were really the underdog, so for us to win and be able to go to the second round, it was just mind-blowing for me.

PB: What’s it like playing for Coppin State head coach and former Maryland star Laura Harper?
JS: It’s amazing, honestly. I couldn’t even pick a better coach to lead this program. She’s very energetic. She’s very loving. She has our best interests. And she’s a post player, so as a post it kind of is put to my advantage because she knows what I need to do. She’s played in the WNBA. She’s played at a higher level at my position, so I feel like it kind of gives me an edge because I have a WNBA player as my coach and who’s showing me the ropes. We’re very grateful to have her. I love her. She’s like my rock.

PB: What’s your favorite thing about Coppin and Baltimore?
JS: My favorite thing about Coppin and Baltimore is that Baltimore is its own place. It has its own culture. The culture is different than from where I’m from. I’m from Ohio. Here, everybody is I would say friendly for the most part. At Coppin, I know everybody. It’s a second home to me. Being here in Baltimore, it makes me feel like I’m at home.

PB: Who’s your best friend on the team and what’s a story that underscores your friendship?
JS: I would say Alexandria Hamilton would be my best friend. We both come from the same place. We played AAU together since I was 13. So getting her here was a big part of trying to put this team together because I feel like we play well [together] and I feel like she was a great fit for this. She’s kind of also my rock. She’s basically my best friend. We do everything together, especially when we’re going home. That’s my ride back partner. She’s so cool. I feel like with her being here, it kind of gives me another sense [and] feeling of home.

PB: Who was a player you looked up to in your college career?
JS: I would say for me, watching Brittney Griner at Baylor was the thing that set it off. … Watching her in college really helped me figure out my position and what moves [to do]. She basically led the way. She’s a dunker. Everybody wants to dunk. That was kind of like my admiration of, “Hey, this girl, she’s a female in college and she can dunk.” I basically looked up to her because she was a big name in the game. She was on her P’s and Q’s. She played for one of the best coaches in women’s college basketball history [in Kim Mulkey]. So for me, it would be Brittney Griner.

PB: What advice would you give to younger players?
JS: Stick to it. It’s not an easy process. I’ve been doing this for four years. You’re going to have ups and downs, especially as a freshman. You can get really down on yourself. It can lead to depression, a lot of stuff like that, so keeping your head above water and staying focused, that’s the biggest thing for a young player coming into college. Also, being able to get to know your teammates and listen to your older teammates … and applying it to your game.

PB: What are your goals for after basketball, whenever it ends?
JS: I’d say my ultimate goal is to play overseas for a couple of years. That’s always been my goal, to be able to play somewhere else other than America and show other people how American players play. I always wanted to put my game on another level. That would be one of the things I want to do, and I also want to go to barber school after I’m done playing and open my own shop.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Coppin State Athletics

Issue 271: October/November 2021

Luke Jackson

See all posts by Luke Jackson. Follow Luke Jackson on Twitter at @luke_jackson10