Jasmine Jones is a petite, quiet, brainy fifth-grader known for rocking a braided bun with a bow. For two years straight, she’s won first place in the spelling bee at Frederick Douglass Elementary School. Most classmates think she’s smart and cool. But an athlete? Nobody saw that coming.
In fact, the first time that Jasmine showed up on the school basketball court, a few fifth-grade boys greeted her with, “You kidding me, shorty?”
Jasmine has always been the shortest among her friends, but her height never seemed a problem till she wanted to try out for the girls’ basketball team. She knew that being short was a disadvantage, but Jasmine enjoyed a challenge.
She also had a secret weapon. Her tough-but-sweet aunt Kinika, her mom’s sister, had been a pretty good college basketball player. Although Jasmine’s mom was on the small side, Kinika was an impressive 5’10.” Kinika had even had dreams of playing professionally in the WNBA… till she smashed up her knee.
“Hey, auntie,” Jasmine texted Kinika one September afternoon, “any chance you can help me become a better b-ball player?”
“Yes! How about Skyland Park tomorrow at 4?” Kinika texted back.
“See you there.”
The next afternoon, Kinika worked with Jasmine on the fundamentals—dribbling, bringing the ball down court, playing defense. She also laid down some advice: “Practice is important. The harder you work, the more you will have to show for it,” Kinika said. “But the biggest thing about basketball, Jas, is to play together. It’s a team sport. Leave your ego on the bench.”
Jasmine listened and learned with the same intensity that had made her the spelling bee queen. After school, three times per week, Kinika met her at the park for practice.
In late September, the Douglass Dragons’ basketball teams conducted tryouts. Fifth grader boys Tyler, DJ, and Keshon were in the gym when Jasmine showed up. “You again, short stuff?”
Jasmine ignored their trash talk. During the tryout, she focused on the court, hit a few three-point shots, and impressed Coach Simone with her willingness to pass the ball. When the Dragon Girls team list was posted the next day, Jasmine’s name was on it, along with Maria, Whitney, Rachel, Tasha, Shannon, Lavera, and Rhonda.
The Dragon Girls lost their first three games by lopsided scores, leading Jasmine to ask her aunt for some extra help. The day after the third game, Kinika stopped by to watch the team practice. With Coach Simone’s permission, Kinika worked with the players in an hour-long session, helping Maria improve her outside shots, encouraging Rachel to pass more, and showing Whitney a better way to set up before free throws. As for Jasmine, her real asset was her speed, so Kinika focused on teaching her how to get to the basket quickly.
“Your aunt is the best!” Maria told Jasmine afterwards. Maria was the star player, so Jasmine felt like making her better really mattered. Jasmine’s main goal for herself was just to prove that she belonged on the team.
The fourth game of the season was against the McMeen Elementary Coyotes. During the pre-game practice, Dominique, the McMeen center, shouted, “Anybody have a measuring tape? We didn’t sign up to play with little kids!” —and then unexpectedly launched a hard pass right at Jasmine.
Jasmine caught it, shot it back to Dominique, and said, “Maybe you should look for that measuring tape in the same place where you left your skills.”
“Oooh, shorty schooled you!” a McMeen teammate yelled at Dominique.
That school should have been named McMean, Jasmine thought, because those girls are downright rude.
In the first quarter, the McMeen Coyotes pulled way ahead, and by halftime the score was 25-12. But in the second half, the Dragons played with improved defense and felt themselves clicking, and McMeen’s big bad center Dominique began missing a lot of shots. Then Maria stole the ball! Jasmine flew down the court to the other end and smoothly caught Maria’s long pass. The littlest Dragon Girl swiftly swished a three-pointer from the corner.
“That girl can play!” yelled one of Douglass kids in the stands.
The Dragon Girls fought back fiercely. With just 10 seconds left, the Coyotes’ lead was down to one point. Every Douglass player secretly wished she’d get the ball to take the winning shot, but no one wanted it more than Jasmine. She zipped toward the basket but got knocked to the ground when the game-ending buzzer went off, just as Maria’s last shot missed the net.
Final score: McMeen Coyotes 41, Douglass Dragons 40.
The McMeen crowd roared with excitement, but Jasmine was surprised to hear ‘Dragon Girls Rock!’ coming from the Douglass section. Then her aunt Kinika appeared at the bench where Jasmine was trying to hide her tears.
“Congratulations,” Kinika said to Jasmine, loud enough for the other players to hear.
“What? Why?” Jasmine responded glumly. “We lost… again.”
“You did, but in that second half, you were really thinking and playing… together. Today, I saw a team, and that team almost won.”
Jasmine wiped her tears and smiled. “Thanks, auntie. And next time, we will win!”