Taking the next step

Kent State head basketball coach Todd Starkey, left is pictured with former RCHS Lady Eagle and current Walters State guard Jessee Wallis. Wallis will spend her last two years of eligibility playing for the Kent State University Golden Flash in Kent, Ohio. (Photo Submitted)

The dream of playing for a division one college program is an opportunity that very few high school athletes get to experience. However, that dream is now a reality for former Rhea County Lady Eagle Jessee Wallis.

Earlier this month, she announced she would use her remaining two years of eligibility at Kent State in Kent, Ohio.

During her prep career in Evensville, Wallis surpassed the 1,000-point mark while also earning a spot in the annual Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Game her senior season in 2016.  She made the most of her invite leading team Tennessee with 23 points as they defeated Georgia 102-43 at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga, Tenn.

After spending the last two seasons at Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tenn., the  former Rhea County High School basketball player will now take her talents northward to join the Golden Flash.Wallis said the past two years were hands-down the toughest two years of basketball she’s ever endured.

“Walters State was probably the hardest two years of basketball I’ve ever played. It was very challenging because there is just so much competition with everyone trying to move on to the next level,” she said.

She added that even more so that AAU and Exposure, the past two years have been the most cutthroat basketball she’s ever been part of. “Everyone is trying so hard not only to win but also trying to grab the attention of coaches. These last two years have just been incredibly competitive the entire time,” Wallis said.

In addition to having to battle against impressive talent not only in both games and every day practice, she also had to overcome a knee injury in her first year. Due to playing in too many games before the injury she was unable to redshirt and lost nearly ¾ of her initial season in Morristown.

“It was very unfortunate and we wish we could have used that redshirt.  Jessee worked so hard and had to rally back this past season after missing so much time her freshman year,” Walters State head coach Dave Kragel said.

Despite missing most of her freshman campaign due to injury suffered early in the season, Kragel said Wallis continued to get better as time progressed and bounced back with a solid sophomore season.

“Since she arrived on campus she has continued to get better. Jess was always a great shooter but she’s worked hard to improve her ball handling and defense as well,” he said. “We were very pleased with her confidence and leadership especially during the NJCAA Region VII tournament and the NJCAA National Tournament.”

Walters State fell in the Elite Eight this past season to Trinity Valley. Trinity went on to the national championship before falling to Tallahassee, 78-68.

“We are just tickled to death for her and I know she’ll continue to improve her game while at Kent State. She’s such a good kid and student-athlete with great character. I know she’ll do great things, “ Kragel said.

The Golden Flash signee drew interests from several other programs including Wingate, Wagner and the University of New Orleans. However, she knew in her heart that Kent State was the perfect fit both athletically and academically.

“We first got into contact with each other right before the regional tournament and two weekends after the national tournament I took my official visit. When I went on campus, I just knew it was perfect for me. On the last day of my visit, they offered me and there was no doubt in my mind it was the best choice,” Wallis said.

Kent State head basketball coach Todd Starkey said he is ecstatic to bring Wallis on board and looks forward to working with her the next two seasons. He believes her athletic talents, experience, and her overall character as a student athlete will be a great addition to the Golden Flash program.

“She’s obviously a great shooter but can do a lot of other things for us as well, so we are very excited about what she will bring to the table,” he said. “We already have some great dynamic guards but we were looking for junior college players who could come in and provide some experience and great leadership. We know Jessee can do that and more for us,” Starkey said.

The former Lady Eagle said her two years in Morristown have definitely prepared her to make the jump to division one basketball.

“Coming from Walters State I definitely feel that I’m well prepared for everything.  I’m a tougher player now and I’m confident I’ll be able to handle everything that comes with playing division one basketball,” Wallis said. “From hard coaching, classes, workouts and the busy schedule, I’ll be ready.”

Wallis is set to officially join her new basketball family this summer and plans to pursue a degree in Journalism.

Christopher Hall can be reached at christopher.hall@rheaheraldnews.com