She’s not even gone yet, but is already being missed.
As Jaida Muhammad prepares to take the next step in what she hopes will some day result in a journey to Division I basketball, her Vela coaches are preparing for life without a 12-letter superstar who for four shining seasons has been the face of the Lady SaberCat girls’ athletic effort.
“You have kids come and go, and you always know that when they graduate, they will leave a hole,” said volleyball mentor Celi Ortega, who was on hand Wednesday when Muhammad inked a pact to attend Paris Junior College. “But with J, it’s going to be an awful big hole. It kind of reminds me of being at Economedes when Leigha Brown left: that was just one kid who you cannot replace, and Jaida is like that; she has meant so much to the program here.”
And truly, the fleet and skilled senior has been tremendous in high school, in all respects. A starter since her freshman year in volleyball and hoops, she has also been a prominent member of the track team. And now, all the awards and highlights have led to the chance to fulfill a dream.
At her signing, Muhammad explained that going to Paris was the best bet for her, as she attempts to improve her game and gain notice for the future.
Paris is a city of roughly 25,000 people located in northeast Texas. The two-year college has been a solid contributor of talent to Division I, with 17 exes having signed to move on since 2011. Last year the Lady Dragons went just 7-23 overall, meaning that Muhammad may have a chance to break into the rotation as a freshman.
The team is coached by Gonzalo Garza, who was a super scorer for St. Joseph Academy in Brownsville before becoming a squadman at UTPA for four seasons. For the Broncs, he played with Muhammad’s father, Raheem, who thinks that his daughter has what it takes to follow in his footsteps as a DI guard.
At the signing, Muhammad recounted his offspring’s hard work and the many accomplishments that resulted. He and his wife are both ex college athletes and they feel that given their daughter’s dedication and ability, she will use the experience at Paris to grow and progress, eventually getting a shot at the big time.
Basketball coach Lottie Zarate certainly agrees. As she watched Muhammad sign the agreement – flanked by six golden ball trophies she had a hand in winning with the program – Zarate noted Jaida’s skill and work ethic, her presence on the court. Ortega knows what Zarate was talking about.
“There was someone who was a leader, you could always count on Jaida to know what was happening out there,” Ortega said. “She would know we needed a timeout or a change even as the coaches were thinking it. That sort of awareness and knowledge set her apart, she just knew what to do and when to do it.”
For her part, Muhammad expressed wonder at how fast the time has passed, and excitement about the challenges that lie ahead. She noted that she is fired up about getting to the next level, both in sports and education. She ranked No. 13 in her class, which is amazing considering all the time and effort she expended in athletic pursuits.