The news of Tamika Jeter’s homecoming beat her back to Ohio.
“People started to screenshot to me all the articles and all that, and one of the articles the Dayton Daily News posted was a picture of me my senior year getting like my very last player of the year award,” the former Chaminade Julienne star said Friday morning via phone about the reaction to her being hired as an assistant for the Ohio State women’s basketball team.
“You don’t really come to appreciate that stuff, the winning or the awards or how it affected people until you get my age,” said the 39-year-old Jeter, who received all that love while still in State College, Pa., where she was an assistant for Penn State the last three seasons.
She and her husband, Richie, are still there because she gave birth to their second son, Josiah Oliver (a.k.a. “JoJo”) last week. Along with 3-year-old RJ, the family plans to move west at the end of the month.
There they will be reunited not just with the Ohio State basketball program in which she worked from 2002-08 but also head coach Kevin McGuff, who recruited her when he was an assistant at Notre Dame.
“Things come full circle,” she said. “Now he’s got his career going so when he called me I was like, ‘Oh, I can come home!’”
She said watching last season play out made the opportunity even more appealing.
“I know they lost a lot and he had to bring in grad transfers and then he really had to out-coach people last year because they didn’t have the talent,” she said of a squad that went 14-15 overall but won 10 Big Ten games and finished fifth in the conference despite losing nearly every impact player from a two-time Big Ten title squad.
>>END OF AN ERA: Kelsey Mitchell finishes as NCAA’s all-time No. 2 scorer
“He had great young kids and very experienced, tough older kids who had joined the team as graduate transfers,” Jeter said. “They were smart. They played hard. They cared about what was across the chest, and they would come after you.
“I think if we can build on that, it will be great.”
Raw ability should not be a problem for the Buckeyes this fall or in the seasons to follow.
McGuff signed a top three recruiting class last fall and has since added multiple players with the potential to make a major impact, including former Alter star Braxtin Miller.
McGuff called Jeter “an outstanding role model for young women” in announcing her hire, and there is no doubt her life in basketball has provided her with a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw upon.
That began back in the Gem City, where the Jefferson Township native became a star at Chaminade Julienne from 1995-98.
She was the state player of the year as a junior and a senior, leading the Eagles to their first state championship game the latter year.
Then it was off to Connecticut, a program that was still on the rise in the late ‘90s but not much like it has become.
“Recruiting was crazy,” she recalled. "Back then of course there were no cellphones and no emails, so there was only one way to get in contact with me and that was to call.”
While the attention was flattering, she eventually got tired of the recruiting calls so she would intentionally stay out playing pickup basketball until 9 p.m., the nightly deadline she and her family established for coaches to call.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma found a way to get through to her anyway.
“The biggest thing with Geno with me was everyone else told me how great I was — They’d be like, ‘Oh my god you can do this, you can do that, your versatility,’ and all that — and then he would call and it would be like, ‘You let that slow kid from Indiana score 14 points on you’ in an AAU game.”
"In my mimd I would be like, ‘But I had 30,’ and he would be like, ‘But why did you let her have 14?’”
Needless to say, that was an unusual message, but it left an impression on the teenager.
“Yeah, you can score all these points and that’s been enough to help you win for your team, but why not shut other people down? You’re good enough to do that,” she said. “So he was always challenging me. That’s when I noticed I really liked a challenge.
“If I had a challenge ahead, I would run very hard at it. If not, I was just like, ‘Whatever.’ He would always call me and trigger that in me. So he kept me fresh and always looking to dominate the game. So that was the deciding factor.”
CJ coach Frank Goldsberry also found a way to tap into that competitive spirit to get the most out of her when she played for the Eagles.
“I wasn’t always the hardest worker in practice. I would get bored. And if I didn’t practice hard he wouldn’t play me,” she said. "Then he brought in one of his ex-players — who was a guy — to practice against me every day, which was a really great move by a coach to keep me busy and keep me competitive.
“He really changed my mentality to just play as hard as I can and go as hard as I can whenever I’m on the floor. I was happy he did that. It really helped launch something new in me and helped me when I went to Connecticut.”
When she got to Storrs in 1998, she found a program that had enjoyed a breakthrough national championship season behind the exploits of star Rebecca Lobo in 1995 but was not viewed as a peer to powerhouses like Tennessee or Louisiana Tech.
Jeter helped change that, playing an integral role in two national championship seasons. After winning it all in 2000, the Huskies went undefeated in her senior season then went on to win the next two titles behind the indomitable Diana Taurasi.
Next was something still relatively new for women’s basketball stars in the United States: The chance to play professionally.
The American Basketball League had been founded when she was in high school but eventually gave way to the WNBA, which had the backing of the NBA and began play in 1997.
She was the sixth overall pick in the sixth WNBA draft, landing with the Minnesota Lynx in 2002.
That was an eye-opening experience.
“You don’t understand the platform you have as a student-athlete or as someone who believes in their community until you do great things like that,” she said, remembering the flood of congratulations she and her parents received.
Then there was the reaction of younger CJ stars such as Brandie Hoskins, who played at Ohio State, and Megan Duffy, a Notre Dame standout.
“There were so many people involved who followed me that it really made an impact on the city,” Jeter said. “There were a lot of girls who came out as D-I prospects and (my getting drafted) really made an impact on the city of Dayton, giving girls the opportunity or just the thought they could get D-I scholarships or play at that high level. I was the first person to do that from the area.”
She began her coaching career that same year as a graduate assistant at Ohio State and was a member of Jim Foster’s staff through 2008.
After time at Kansas, Kentucky and Penn State, she is back at Ohio State looking forward to being closer to home and continuing to spread her influence in her hometown and beyond.
“My years at Ohio State were great,” she said. “You know everybody in the state. You walk in the gym and you’re one of the pioneers. You’re who those kids want to be.
“You’re a kid from Jefferson Township who made it, was a pro and worked for ESPN and traveled the world with the NBA and did some cool things with some great people so you can dream big. That was a huge factor in coming home.”