MILLEDGEVILLE — One of the most decorated players in Baldwin High School girls’ basketball history, Jayla Waller advanced to the collegiate level competing for Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. this past season as a freshman.
After seeing playing time on 20 different occasions at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I level for the Leopards, Waller plans to return to her roots and sport the blue and green of Georgia College this fall.
For the rising sophomore, the decision was a no-brainer, as returning to Milledgeville and playing for the Lady Bobcats allows her to continue her athletic career, as well as academics while living close to home.
“I knew I wanted to be back closer to home, and Georgia College is just a great school,” Waller said. “So, the opportunity to come back here and just to play basketball is just a great opportunity, so I’m trying to take advantage of the opportunity given to me.”
GC head coach Maurice Smith admits the decision for the homegrown star to play for the Lady Bobcats seemed right from the initial contact back in March.
“We spoke with Coach [Randall] Owens and got a chance to meet with her family when she make down for a visit, and she seemed to really like Georgia College, which she was somewhat familiar with just growing up here in Milledgeville,” the Lady Bobcat head coach said. “After we got a permission to contact at Lafayette, where she was, we developed some communication between us. She seemed really excited about the opportunity to come play for us, and we were equally as excited for her to come join our program.”
Averaging 15.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.6 steals per game as a Bravette senior, Waller has been on GC head coach Smith’s radar since her prep school days.
“We knew she was a really good player, a really good person with high character and great integrity,” he said. “She comes from a really good basketball program, comes from a great family, so we knew we were going to get a well-rounded student-athlete in Jayla.
“We knew she was going to be somebody that was academically ambitious,” Smith added. “We knew she was going to be somebody who competed hard, had a great attitude and high character, and that’s what we look for in our program—she embodied all of those things.”
Waller started in two games as a freshman at Lafayette and scored 14 points on the season.
Smith hopes to utilize her success from the Division I level and develop the homegrown star into a threat for the Lady Bobcats.
“It’s going to be a pleasure to coach her for three years,” Smith said. “Moving forward after this year, we’re looking to fill some holes, we’re looking for people to step up, we’re looking for players to take that next step, which I think will be great for Jayla with that Division I experience, and now in turn she’ll have experience playing with [Shanteona] Keys, Enisha [Donley], Belinda [Schaafsma] and Kayla [Upchurch]. I think that will be huge for her development.”
With Waller’s youth and versatility on the court, Smith believes she may be the future of the Lady Bobcats three years from now.
“We know Jayla is a great athlete—we know she has great slashing ability,” Smith said. “It’s hard to put a position on her; because, she can play multiple positions on the floor. I feel like she’s a versatile player, so there’s a spot on the floor for her. With her athleticism, she’ll allow us to get up and down the floor a little bit more, to press a little bit more and to extend our pressure. We’ll put her on other really good athletes who are good scorers on other teams—we feel like she’ll be a really good defender for us.
“She’ll be able to score in a variety of ways, and you know, that’s a really good problem to have that you don’t have to put a position on her; because, that’s what Enisha is, that’s what Key’s is and that’s what Belinda is on our team,” he added. “They’re not position-type players, we just put them on the floor and they’re players, and we feel like Jayla can eventually develop into that type of player when it’s all said and done.”
From a program standpoint, Smith admits having a high-profile player like Waller is sure to continue building the community support for Lady Bobcat basketball for years to come.
“I think it will help form a special bond between the athletic department and the community,” he said. “Baldwin County has a rich tradition of sports, and particularly basketball. They have a strong tradition of support, encouragement from families and fans. I think it will help us tremendously in that regard. Jayla’s going to bring a huge following—I’ve talked a lot of people who say they’re going to be at the games. It’s going to be fun and it’s going to get more fans in the stands. Having that local athlete in our program will be huge for the community and our athletic department as a whole.”