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Kionna Jeter's First Year With Towson Women's Basketball Proves Inspirational

July 25, 2019
Towson women's basketball guard Kionna Jeter remembers everything about the day she was shot.

It was Feb. 3, 2018, and she had just returned to her hometown of Spartanburg, S.C., for a funeral. It was the first time she had talked to her father since he was incarcerated. She remembers going to her brother's basketball game. She even remembers exactly what she was wearing that day.

She wasn't planning on leaving the house that night, but her sister asked Jeter to come with her to pick up their brother. Jeter didn't want her sister to go by herself, so she went along for the ride.

Once Jeter and her sister arrived to Kensington Manor Apartments, it all happened in about five seconds. Jeter was shot twice in the back during a drive-by shooting.

One bullet narrowly missed her heart, while the other broke her right shoulder blade. In a matter of seconds, the promising college basketball career she had built at Gulf Coast State College was thrust into uncertainty. 

However, as Jeter missed the rest of the basketball season while recovering from her injuries, Towson women's basketball head coach Diane Richardson was watching video of the 5-foot-8 guard's play, and liked what she saw.

Jeter officially signed with Towson in June 2018, and after going through extensive rehab, she became a valued member of the Tigers' squad by averaging 17 points and shooting 42 percent from the field as a redshirt sophomore. Her strength and determination to overcome her injury earned her the Colonial Athletic Association's John Randolph Inspiration Award this month.

"I don't understand why [the shooting] happened, but I do understand the outcome of everything and what my story has done to other people to inspire them and keep pushing through adversity," Jeter said. 

Jeter isn't a stranger to struggles in her life. She was hit by a car when she was 2 years old, and doctors told her family that she would never walk again. That prognosis proved to be inaccurate, but Jeter did have to learn how to do everything, including walking, all over again at an early age.

This time, the doctors didn't tell her that she couldn't play basketball again, but they did say she would be out for 12 weeks. Doubts about her future did creep into her mind, but it wasn't because of the injury; it was because she thought coaches would not believe in her.

"I didn't know what was next because college coaches will see this and not want to recruit me because I couldn't play right away," Jeter said. "I have to get treatment and I have to get strong. So my mentality was that nobody wants me, so I don't know if I'm playing basketball again."

The rehab was tough for Jeter at first. She did not want to overdo it and aggravate anything, but she fought through the pain because she knew that was part of the process. 

While Jeter was worried coaches would not see a point in bringing her to their team, Towson's Richardson did not share the opinion that the young player could not still be effective. Instead, she saw someone who just needed an opportunity.

"When she came to us on her official visit, I just knew she was one of those resilient kids," Richardson said. "Just knowing where she came from, I knew she could get through it."

Richardson called Jeter around the third week of June, and Jeter also got a call from assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Kancher. They had heard about the shooting, but the first thing that Kancher asked Jeter was for her to tell the story from her perspective.

Jeter broke down during the call. It wasn't because of the incident itself; it was because, up to that point, other coaches took the story and began to assume things about her without talking to her first.

"Most coaches that called jumped into the story like, 'Oh, you've been on the streets,'" Jeter said. "I told Coach Zach everything that happened, and I was like, 'I respect you because you asked me what happened.' He didn't take it like other people without knowing who I am. I didn't get shot in the hood. I'm not from the hood. I never grew up in the streets."

"I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Jeter added. "Thank God there's someone out there who will look past the 'he said, she said.'"

From that point, Jeter was sold on Towson, and in about six weeks she was back to looking like a good basketball player, according to Richardson. That quick time span was not a surprise to her.

"Just knowing her drive and knowing she wanted to really be able to play, I knew she was just going to buckle [down]," Richardson said. "Just by showing that fortitude while she was rehabbing and while she was standing on the sidelines trying to shoot the ball, I knew she would push through and do well."

Physically, there are not any limitations on Jeter any longer. Her shoulder will get "a little tingly" sometimes, but it is not something that she thinks about. 

The emotions of being back at Kensington Manor that night still manifested during the season, though. Before Towson played West Virginia in December, the Mountaineers' pregame show included a mock gunshot.

It was the only such incident during the season, but it remains a prominent memory in her mind.

"I just went into the locker room and just cried," Jeter said. "Just hearing that shot was like someone is after me, it's too close."

Jeter was a pivotal player on a Towson team that won the CAA and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. She scored 13 points in the season opener against Wake Forest and finished in double figures in each of the first 18 games. She recorded 572 total points, which is second in program history for a single season, and she started all 33 games.

The recovery might not have been a surprise, but the production certainly was, even to Jeter herself.

"I'm not saying I didn't think it would be a great year, but I didn't know that with me being through that whole situation that I would come back this strong ... mentally and physically and just from a basketball standpoint," she said. "To accomplish everything that I accomplished and having everyone support me and being behind me, there was never a doubt in my mind that I couldn't do it."

"But I know who I am," Jeter added. "So I push myself to that height, then that's where I'm going to be."

Jeter has found her place at Towson. She has become a vital part of the Tigers' success and the team's family atmosphere. And both Richardson and Jeter believe her story will be an example for others that it is possible to overcome anything in life.

"I knew she was overcoming a lot," Richardson said. "And just watching her through the season and stepping up when we needed her and pushing through, even though she had gone through so much. She was an inspiration for others."

Photo Credit: Steve McLaughlin