MILLEDGEVILLE — Following a dominating season with the Baldwin High girl’s basketball team and leading them to a state playoff appearance in her senior season, Jayla Waller announced her decision Monday to take her game to the next level by signing with Lafayette College in Easton, Pa.
For Waller, signing with the Lady Leopards fulfills a life-long dream to compete at the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I level.
“It’s a very special day. I’ve been dreaming about this day since I was little, ‘cause I’ve always wanted to play D-I basketball,” she said. “It’s been very hard to decide; a very difficult decision I had to make, but I had to make it. My parents helped me out with the decision and I prayed, and I asked where I was supposed to go, and I got to sign with Lafayette so that’s where I’ll be going.”
Touted as one of the best players in Central Georgia, Waller let her actions speak louder than her words this season, as she was named Baldwin County Player of the Year and selected to be a part of the Middle Georgia All-Star Team in March.
“The biggest thing was for Jayla to be patient. She didn’t get a lot of looks early, just due to the coaching change,” Randall Owens, head coach, said. “I just told her to let the play speak for itself and all of the offers will come, and she had about seven or eight offers to choose from, so she was very patient throughout the process and never got discouraged and was very upbeat and optimistic throughout. Today, all that hard work paid off.”
After taking a recent visit to the college, Waller said she genuinely liked the feeling of the school and was impressed with both the academics and basketball programs.
“The school was a beautiful campus overall, and the team welcomed me with open arms; they were very supportive of me when I played with them and stuff. I just felt like I would gel with them and stuff,” she said. “Of course it’s a great academic school, so that was an even better decision I had to make, and that was a big thing for me, because I do value my education a lot. So for me to get both taken care of at one time, and for it to be so close to an Ivy League school in the type of education I would be getting, for free because of basketball, is mind-blowing to me.”
The senior shooting guard averaged 15.9 points per game with 6.7 rebounds, 4.6 steals and 2.4 assists a game as well, and is likely to make an immediate impact for the Lady Leopards next season.
“The coaches at Lafayette really love her and they definitely have her in their immediate plans, so she just needs to come in and do what the coaches ask and work hard, and I know she’ll do very well,” Owens said. “She has all the tools, and I know she’ll be very successful at Lafayette.”
Waller admits the decision to go to school in Pennsylvania, so far away from home, was a difficult one that she felt she had to make at this point in her life.
“I’m going to miss this place a lot, especially my teammates and being around my family all the time,” she said. “It’s going to be difficult, but it’s something I’ve got to do.”
While the BHS girl’s basketball program is pleased to see Waller continue her education and play at the next level, Owens hopes to have others follow in her footsteps in the coming years.
“I’m just really happy for her,” he said. “She serves as a role model, leader for our younger basketball players, so we hope to have these types of signings in the years to come.”