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Powerful senior Stallings signs with Jacksonville U

When Tamia Stallings was halfway through her high school basketball career, she realized playing the sport on the collegiate level was a goal she wanted to chase.

Thursday afternoon, it was “mission accomplished” for the Brookhaven High senior, as she inked a letter of intent to suit up next season for the Jacksonville University Dolphins.

Stallings was a huge piece for a Lady Panther team that finished 24-7 last season. She averaged 10.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for a program that made the 5A state quarterfinals.

Stallings became serious about basketball as an eighth-grader at Alexander. Blessed with great size and athleticism — she stands nearly 6-foot-1 now — Stallings saw then the game came easier to her than her peers.

The exposure that comes with playing for a good AAU program is something else that helped push Stallings toward her future. She began to travel with the South Mississippi Elite AAU program in the summers. SME is based out of Hattiesburg and led by Burnell Wesco. With that team, Stallings has traveled around the country playing in tournaments when many of her peers are taking it easy during their break from school.

This past summer, she saw her stock begin to rise as Division I colleges started to take notice of how hard she plays inside, especially the way she attacks rebounds outside of her area. The first school to offer her? Jacksonville University. She was then offered by nearly every school in the SWAC along with Central Arkansas, among others.

Jacksonville was losing a senior from Mississippi in Meridian High alum Kayla Gordon. Gordon left the program as the first player to ever go over 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. In Stallings, the Dolphin coaching staff felt like they found a determined rebounder that mirrored the way Gordon played. It didn’t hurt that Gordon was also an SME alum.

Jacksonville competes in the Athletic Sun conference and is coming off a red-hot, three-year run of success. The Dolphins finished 24-9 last season, 23-9 the season before that, and 22-11 in 2015-2016, when they also appeared in the NCAA tournament.

That led Ole Miss to come calling, as they hired away Dolphin head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin to come lead the Rebel women’s program after last season. Her top assistant, Darnell Haney, was promoted to take her place.

Jacksonville also has another Mississippi connection in assistant coach Dawn Brown. Brown was an assistant at Tougaloo and then later the head coach at Prairie View A&M. While at PVAM, Brown signed two guards from Copiah-Lincoln Community College — G.G. Williams and Kiara Etienne — in 2011.

Stallings says that so much of what made Jacksonville stand out through her recruiting process was the relationships she built with her future coaches.

“The campus is beautiful and it’s not too big (4,200 students), and it’s not too far away from home,” said Stallings. “The coaches have been great about letting me know they needed me and, after my visit, it just felt like the perfect fit.”

While the Dolphins are getting a player they will count on to help produce wins on the court, Lady Panther head coach Preston Wilson says they are getting something more than that.

“As good of a player as she is, she’s a much, much better person,” said Wilson. “Tamia has worked hard for everything she’s got, and I’ve got no doubt she’s going to be successful.”

Stallings wants to major in kinesiology and be a physical therapist. That’s down the road, though. Right now, she’s glad to see her dream realized and her future secured.

“I’m just glad to get this done and to be able to focus on my senior season,” said Stallings. “Playing in college is a dream come true, but I’ve still got a lot of games left that I want to win in high school.”

Story by Cliff Furr