Embracing new target on her back
LJCD freshman put on list of top players yet to pick a college
By TERRY MONAHAN
Tajianna Avant-Roberts is on The List.
A freshman guard on the girls basketball team at La Jolla Country Day School, Avant-Roberts may still be trying to build her career but she got a big boost from an unexpected source.
Avant-Roberts is one of only two players from California — the other one is a junior — to make the list of the top 15 high school players from around the country who have yet to commit to a college.
The spotlight this summer is squarely on the players on the list, and Avant-Roberts understands that.
“Being on the list is totally overwhelming,” the 5-foot-9 Avant-Roberts said. “The journey is just beginning so I was surprised to see my name on this list.
“I didn’t know how to react.
“I know it means I’ve done some good things, but the journey is just the beginning, and this puts a target on my back, which I love anyway.”
Avant-Roberts’ first team experience came as an 8-year-old playing on a boys travel team called Hoop Shoot.
The boys were less welcoming than she hoped.
“At first, it was rough for me,” she said. “They wouldn’t pass me the ball.”
It took a few games for the boys to discover she could actually play the game.
The experience helped transform Avant-Roberts into a gym rat willing to spend countless solitary hours working on her game in her second home, the gym.
“My non-basketball friends don’t understand that mentality,” the El Cajon resident said. “They want to go to the beach during the summer, and I’m looking for a pickup game to play.”
Avant-Roberts has become a valuable player for the Torreys right off the bat.
She’s the third-leading scorer with an 11.1 average, trailing just sophomore center Breya Cunningham (16.4) and senior guard Jazzy Anousinh (11.4).
Avant-Roberts is averaging 4.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals a game as well, hitting 45 percent of her field goal attempts for a team that is 11-2 overall and 2-0 in Coastal League play.
“She just goes out and plays,” La Jolla Country Day coach Terri Bamford said. “She’s super competitive, which I like a lot.”
Bamford recalled coaching Avant-Roberts and Cunningham on a club team that won the West Regional title in the Junior NBA Global Championships.
That qualified Bamford’s team to advance to Orlando, Fla., to face other regional winners as well as teams from around the world.
Bamford’s team made it all the way to the USA Championship game.
“I’ve watched Taj since she was 10,” Bamford said. “When she was in eighth grade, she was playing against players who were on 15U teams.”
Just making the adjustment to playing for La Jolla Country Day, though, was fascinating for Avant-Roberts.
She immediately noticed how much faster the game was at the varsity level.
However, her adjustment was to accelerate her game quickly.
“I had a few bad days before I figured out what I had to do,” Avant-Roberts said. “I’m still kind of working on that.”
Her efforts seem to be working because not only is she a contributing member at La Jolla Country Day, but her game also has drawn recognition from around the country.
“The adrenaline, the crowd, I just love all of it,” she said. “My goal has always been to get a college scholarship so my mom doesn’t have to pay for college. I’d love to play beyond college. I would love a chance to play in the WNBA.”
For now, her focus is on helping the Torreys win another San Diego Section Open Division title to go with last year’s banner.
“I hate losing,” Avant-Roberts said. “It’s the worst feeling.
“The drive home after a loss is the worst. You have to find a way to move on after a loss just like you do after you miss 9-10 shots in a row. I have a shooter’s mentality and I know the next shot will go in.”
In college, she would like to major in criminal justice with an eye toward becoming a lawyer one day.
Monahan is a freelance writer.