November 18, 2020

Stuart Hoops Celebrates Special Achievement As Seniors Fair, Jenkins Commit to D-I Programs

COLLEGE FAIR: Stuart Country Day School senior basketball star Laila Fair (seated) signs a letter of intent to attend Saint Joseph’s University and play for its Division I women’s hoops program. Pictured with Fair, from left, are Miles Fair, Lamar Fair, Rhetta Jack, and Zoe Fair. (Photo provided by Stuart Country Day School)

By Bill Alden

Laila Fair and Ariel Jenkins have beaten the odds when it comes to extending their basketball careers to the next level.

The two Stuart Country Day School senior hoops standouts have committed to attend Division I colleges and play for their women’s basketball programs with Fair heading to Saint Joseph’s and Jenkins on her way to Georgetown.

In a ceremony held in the Stuart gym last Wednesday to celebrate their achievements, Tartan basketball head coach Justin Leith noted how rare it is for a high school player to get that opportunity.

“It was just really nice, everyone was so happy for the girls,” said Leith reflecting on the ceremony.

“In the talk that I gave beforehand, I congratulated both families because it is a significant accomplishment. You go by the statistics, one percent of high school players get a college scholarship. So out of something like 500,000 players, 495,000 kids don’t get that opportunity and only 5,000 do.”

Fair, for her part, has been very diligent in pursuing that opportunity.

“Laila has put the time in; she has a tremendous work ethic,” said Leith of the 6’3 forward who piled up 265 points, 313 rebounds, and 66 blocked shots last winter as Stuart went 18-4, winning its third straight state Prep B title and advancing to the final of the Mercer County Tournament for the first time in program history.

“She puts in time before practice and after practice. With her size, her length, and her athleticism, the sky is the limit for her.”

In assessing Fair’s prospects at the next level, Leith sees her versatility as a major strength.

“She has the potential to guard a two (shooting guard) because of her length and athleticism, you can see that in practice” said Leith.

“We don’t necessarily need that for our team. In practice going against Nia [Melvin] and Aleah [James] when those switches happen, it is wow, she is right there. She keeps up with them because she has all of those things. I think that she has the ability to play the three (small forward), four (power forward), and five (center) at college.”

The towering Jenkins, also 6’3, proved to be a force last winter in her first campaign with the program after transferring from Piscataway, contributing 313 points and team-highs in rebounds (332) and blocked shots (98).

“She is bigger, she is a true five who can shoot the three, especially when another true five is guarding her,” said Leith.

“At the Rose Classic last year, I think she hit two or three 3-pointers when the girl guarding her was 6’6 and didn’t want to come out that far. Ariel can put it in the floor too, with one or two dribbles to the rim right away. She likes attacking that way. When you put a 6’0 high school center on her, they will find more success stopping her off the dribble if they are more athletic but they can’t guard her in the post.”

In Leith’s view, Jenkins should help Georgetown around the rim.

“Ariel has a natural rebounding ability that can’t be taught,” asserted Leith.

“You can refine it, you can get her to box out more and things like that but the ball somehow always ends up in her hands. That is why last year, she averaged 11 rebounds a game. There were plenty of games where she had 18. The reason it wasn’t higher was that there were plenty of lopsided games. When we were playing tough teams, she was getting around 18 rebounds.”

Having two players commit to D-I schools shows that Stuart hoops is reaching a higher level.

“It solidifies us as a program that we are able to not only bring in kids but to develop kids,” said Leith, noting that senior guards Melvin and James are also currently involved in the recruiting process. “We celebrate them when they have accomplishments.”

Looking ahead to the 2020-21 campaign, Leith is hoping that the players will get the chance to experience more development.

“Our theme since the first day of practice, which was last Monday, has been one day at a time,” said Leith.

“We are hopeful of a season. I know that we will get some more guidelines coming out. We have a pretty strong schedule for now that we are putting together.”