Nia Martin with mom Monique after Sinclair’s game on Saturday. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF

Archdeacon: Buoyed by sophomores, Sinclair women ranked 10th in nation

On many Sundays during this basketball season, Nia Martin has sent photos of her great grandmother’s table to her coach.

“Every time it looks like Thanksgiving Dinner,” laughed Sinclair coach Victoria Jones.

“Here’s what we had last Sunday,” Nia grinned, “Mac ‘n cheese, sweet potatoes, fried chicken wings, baked chicken wings, ribs, cabbage, cornbread.”

A 5-foot-2 sophomore point guard, Nia said the family has a regular routine on Sundays. First is the 11 a.m. service at Christian Missionary Baptist Church on Liscum Drive where her grandfather, Andrew Peterson, is the pastor and her uncle, Michael Peterson, is the assistant.

Then it’s on to dinner at the home of Doris Evans, the maternal great grandmother she calls Grandma.

“She loves cookin’ and makin’ desserts, too,” Nia said. “Last Sunday she had sweet potato pie and strawberry short cake.

“Yeah, Grandma really throws down on Sunday.”

The rest of the week, Nia does the same.

Not on the kitchen table, on the basketball court.

Following Saturday’s come-from-behind 75-56 victory over Edison State at the Sinclair gym, she and her Tartan Pride teammates are now 25-3 and ranked No. 10 in the nation among junior college Division II schools.

Much of the leadership and production on this team is due to the four sophomores who played their last home game Saturday. The victory – the team’s 15th at home this season – is a school record. So are the Pride’s 48 victories over the past two seasons.

Sinclair needs a road victory in the regular season finale at Lakeland Community College next Saturday to win the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference title. If Owens wins too, the two teams will share the crown.

Saturday, Sinclair was led by freshman Amanda Schroeder, who had 25 points and leads the nation in scoring with a 26.1 average. Sophomore Aaryn Evans had 14 points, 13 rebounds and blocked three shots.

Sinclair came back from an 11-point deficit in the first half and then fell behind again by nine in the third quarter. In the game’s final 18 minutes, Sinclair outscored Edison 46-18. The Chargers have lost just five of 27 games this season, two to Sinclair.

“I never thought I’d say this, but I think we’re at a point where we are good,” Jones said. “They showed me that today.”

After the game, the sophomores (Evans, Madison Connally-Banks, Laquelle Jacobs and Nia) were honored on the court with their families

“We call ourselves the First Four,” Nia said. “We are Coach Jones’ first four recruits. We’ve become best friends. We kind of compare ourselves to (the movie) Girls Trip.”

All four are now getting looks from four-year schools and Connally-Banks – the “step daughter” of UD basketball great Roosevelt Chapman – has a few solid offers, including Grambling State, Urbana and Central State.

While none has decided where they’ll go for four-year degree, they all agreed with Evans:

“Sinclair has been a real home.”

A second mom

Nia, who’s from Trotwood Madison High School, was Jones’ first recruit.

“Everywhere I went Coach Jones was there,” Nia laughed. “School, the all-star game, everywhere. At my graduation it was like she picked up my diploma with me.”

Soon, though, Jones had to deal with a case of “be careful what you wish for.”

Although Nia was a three-year starter at Trotwood, she said her final season was bumpy at times:

“I had some big problems. My grades slipped. I was worried about passing the OGT (Ohio Graduation Test.) I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be in basketball.”

The problems carried over when she got to Sinclair last season.

“I was always in and out of trouble,” she admitted. “I did stupid, childish stuff like being late for study table. There were some classroom issues. I messed up one time and the teacher called Miss Jones. Coach was always on me, calling my parents, meeting with me.”

When the women accompanied the men’s team on a big basketball and culture trip to Philadelphia, Nia was not allowed to go.

She said one of the issues was “boy trouble.”

Jones laughed: “Once we got rid of that boyfriend everything cleaned up.”

Nia’s paternal grandmother, Pat Martin was a longtime guidance counselor at Dunbar High School and also spent two years at Grace A. Green. She appreciates what Jones does for her players:

“Coach Jones really cares. She stays on those kids’ rear ends and doesn’t take a lot of junk from them.”

Nia agreed: “Coach Jones is like a second mom to all of us. She never gave up on me. She pushed me and wanted the best. And this year has been great.”

Jones laughed: “I just told Nia today: ‘Girl, your momma is acting funny this year.’

“And Nia said, ‘What you mean?’

“I said, ‘Well I haven’t been talkin’ to her.’ Then I realized there’s been no need to call her. Nia hasn’t been acting up.”

‘Best-kept secret’

Pat Martin has seen what Sinclair has done for her granddaughter and many other students over the years:

“It’s been an absolutely wonderful nurturing ground. A lot of kids aren’t ready to go off to a four-year college. For them, it’s kind of like leaving a cocoon. They’re ready to go, but still scared.

“With Sinclair, you can come here and be away from home and yet still be at home. And you’re not so financially burdened. You don’t have the student debt you would elsewhere.

“It has good teachers, good coaches, everything most other colleges have. Sometimes it has even more. I don’t know all of it anymore, but they have things like robotics and culinary, just so much.

“It really develops you and gives you a real foundation if you are going on in your education.”

“It’s the best kept secret around here. It really changes kids’ lives.”

Sinclair’s four sophomores — from left: Aaryn Evans, Nia Martin, Laquelle Jacobs, Madison Connally-Banks) — were honored on the court after the last home game of their junior college careers Saturday. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF
Photo: columnist

Jones has seen that with her four sophomores: in the classroom, on the court or away from it where three of them – Evans, Connally-Banks and Jacobs – all work jobs during the season.

Evans, a Thurgood Marshall High School grad, is averaging 10.9 points and 11.2 rebounds this season A Fairmont High School product, Connally-Banks is averaging 9.3 points and 7.5 rebounds.

Jacobs, who’s from Toledo Scott, comes off the bench, as does Nia, who moved from shooting guard to point guard this season. Averaging 8.2 points a game Nia had 21 against Cuyahoga, 18 against Hocking College and 17 against St Clair and Lorain.

“I’ve been coaching a long time, but losing these four is gonna mess with me a little bit,” Jones admitted. “Through all the bumps and bruises of freshman year, I’ve watched them mature as young women.

“I gonna miss a lot about these four when they are gone.”

And that includes those Sunday photos from Nia of Grandma “throwin’ down.”