There were times Jalen Cherry had doubts basketball held any future for him. He wasn’t getting much playing time on the Cooper varsity his sophomore year, and he figured time was running out on his dream of playing college sports.
“I was thinking, ‘Should I consider playing another sport and seeing if I’m better at that,” Cherry said. “But I stuck with it, and I was patient. Then my junior and senior years, the opportunity came.”
Cherry, a 6-foot-4 forward/post, made the most of his opportunities. He was the Reporter-News’ Class 4A-6A co-MVP this past season and a first-team Super Team pick as well, after averaging 16.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists for the two-time District 4-5A champion Cougars. Cherry also was the District 4-5A co-MVP.
He also will play college ball.
Cherry will play basketball a LeTourneau, which plays in the Division III American Southwest Conference with Hardin-Simmons and McMurry.
Cherry joined four other Cooper athletes – Kamille Boyd (Lubbock Christian track), Brayden Flores, HSU football), Madi Gonzales (McMurry tennis) and Jake Abernathy (HSU golf) – as part of a college signing ceremony Tuesday at Cougar Gym.
It was a day when Cherry was grateful for sticking with basketball.
“Since I started playing basketball as a little kid, it’s always been a dream to play college basketball,” Cherry said.
Cherry said he started looking at colleges at the beginning of the year, and LeTourneau, which is in Longview, actually caught his eye through the school’s Twitter feed.
He watched them play at McMurry and Hardin-Simmons, and he liked what he saw from the Yellowjackets, who were 22-5 overall this past season and 15-4 in ASC play. They lost to No. 7 Mary Hardin-Baylor in the tournament championship.
“The way they play is just crazy,” said Cherry, who talked to the coach after the team played at HSU. “The coach said he would love for me to visit the school. When I got there, it was amazing – the brotherhood, the team. They have a good kinesiology program. I just instantly fell in love with it. I knew that was where I wanted to go.”
Cherry said he also considered Bethel College in Kansas and Howard Payne.
Following in brother’s footsteps
Boyd has been running track since she was in elementary school and competing for a youth program, but the dream of running collegiately didn’t come along until she got to high school.
“I think it developed as a I got older,” she said. “At first, it was like, ‘Oh, I have to run,’ but when I realized I was good at it, I was like, ‘This is fun. I can take it somewhere.’”
Boyd, a sprinter, is good at it, too. Good enough to run for a Division II program like Lubbock Christian. She was a region qualifier in the 100 meters this past season.
“I’m excited to start a new chapter,” Boyd said. “I feel like this school was a great fit for me.”
It didn’t make much to sell Boyd on LCU. Her brother Keitron is a standout sprinter and jumper for the Roadrunners. He qualified for indoor nationals in the 200 as a freshman. He just wrapped up his sophomore year at LCU.
“Everything he’s told me about the school and program, I enjoyed it,” Kamille Boyd said. “I’m going to try and follow in his footsteps. I’m grateful that I could sign to a DII.”
Late start, strong finish
Aberthany, too, is grateful for the chance to continue his golf career at HSU. He didn’t start playing the game until his freshman year at Cooper.
“I was definitely at a disadvantage with that, but I worked really hard to get where I am today,” Abernathy said.
It wasn’t until his junior year that he got to thinking he might be able to play collegiately.
“I thought maybe this could be a reality for me,” Abernathy said.
He considered McMurry but chose HSU.
“I got to meet some of the coaches and players, all excellent guys,” Abernathy said. “It seemed like they were very caring, a faith-centered school. Of course, it’s in Abilene, so I get to stay home and close to my family. Everything about it is a good deal for me.”
Sticking close to home
Gonzales has been playing tennis for seven years, but it wasn’t until her last two years of high school that she started thinking she could play at the next level.
“It took a long time to get to this point,” Gonzales said. “I thought about it a lot my junior and senior year. I was like, ‘You know what? I like this sport a lot. I love it to the point where I want to continue on and further my career.”
She said the decision to play at McMurry was an easy one. She lives close to the school.
“I figured it would be a lot easier for me to go there, and I’m staying in town, so it means I’m closer to my friends, closer to my family and closer to the person who helped me get there, who is my coach.”
Gonzales said Cooper coach Trance Rosenquist and assistant Lauren Renner-Cruz, a Cooper grad, played a big part in her development.
Living up expectations
Flores didn’t start dreaming about playing college football until his freshman year.
“That’s when I really started loving it,” he said.
Yet there were times when he wondered if he was good enough to play college ball.
“There were some doubts, especially when I was in practice and would mess up,” Flores said. “But I just had to work harder and have faith that things will fall in place.”
Flores, who will play at HSU, was a first-team all-district offensive lineman for the Cougars. The 6-2, 285-pounder also was a first-team All-Big Country Class 4A-6A selection by the Reporter-News.
Flores, who will major in music composition at HSU, said he chose the Cowboys because the believes it’s more than just about the game at HSU.
“It’s a great program,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing but great things about the program. Yes, they’re a winning program, but it’s the way they how do things and invest in their players and their character. It sets you up for life. So, it’s not just an investment in me as a player, but an investment in my life.”
Joey D. Richards covers Abilene high schools and colleges, Big Country schools and other local sports. Follow him at Twitter at ARN_Joey. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Five Abilene Cooper athletes sign with college programs