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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/11/2013 11:09:34 PM

By Brian Jerzak
John’s Journal Correspondent

You have to be tall to play basketball. In a world of 7-foot NBA players and WNBA and college women occasionally playing above the rim, that is one of the things people assume. Don’t tell that to one of the state’s most prolific scorers.

Menahga’s Tarah Cleveland is small in stature only. She entered her senior season with 2,200 points and estimates she is around 2,500 points through the first half of this season. Those are big numbers for someone whose size is not typical for a basketball player. Cleveland stands 5-foot-1.

Cleveland scored her first point in her very first varsity game – opening night as a seventh-grader.

“I was getting ready for seventh- and eighth-grade basketball,” she said. “It was going to be the first day of practice and the varsity coach came up to me and told me ‘You can’t go to the practice because I am going to have you play varsity this year.’ My first game ever I scored on a free throw. That was really exciting. I was really happy. I was really lucky to be able to play and start in seventh grade.”

The future Menahga career scoring leader was not intimidated by the varsity stage. She had great role models to pattern her career after, including a senior on Cleveland’s first team.

“It was really helpful to have my older sister Meghan on the team when I was in seventh grade,” said Cleveland. “When eighth grade rolled around I was comfortable with all the girls.”

Not only did her sister help her in her first season on varsity, but also showed her how to prepare and gave her something to shoot for. The top three career scorers are Cleveland girls, topped by the family’s youngest sister -- Tarah.

“My sister Erica set the school scoring record and my sister Meghan was second so it was a goal for me to beat them – a little family competition.”

Practice has been something that the young Cleveland loved to do from an early age.

“My sisters would always go to the gym to shoot and I would just go with them,” said the 4.0 student. “We would work together and it has really improved me as a player and gave me a lot of motivation. I looked up to them.”

Because of her size, she has had to find creative ways to score. She also has to hone her game to make up for her lack of height.

“I think it is just practice; repetition after repetition. I am in the gym every day in the morning, I go before school and I shoot for about an hour. The more you shoot the quicker I think your shot develops and the easier it becomes to get off. I get fouled a lot on three-pointers. I think girls think because I am short they can swat me, but I try to draw contact. It works sometimes, I do get blocked sometimes, but I don’t get discouraged.”

She sticks to her practice routine in the offseason, as well. She is in two summer leagues as well as AAU ball.

Despite her size, Cleveland feels her rebounding is one of the underrated aspects of her game. The part of her game that she has worked hardest on to improve is her passing. Passing the ball, Cleveland feels, has opened up more scoring opportunities for her.

“I feel like I am having my best season,” she said. “That is not just for scoring. I feel like I have become a much better point guard than I was the last two years. I have cut down on the turnovers and have increased my assists. “

Menahga has not been in the mix for a conference championship in Cleveland’s time, but despite a sub-.500 start to the season, she feels the team has a chance to compete for that elusive conference championship.

“Offense is our strength,” said the senior, “but we struggle on defense, especially rebounding. Our tallest player is like 5-8 or 5-9.”

Wherever the Braves end up in the standings or wherever Cleveland ends up on the all-time scoring list, she is sure to do the same thing in the foreseeable future.

“Early on I just said I want to be the best basketball player Menahga has ever had or just be the best I can be. Making that decision every day gives me a goal to work for. Having that goal in my head makes me get out of bed and go.”

With college basketball on the horizon, Cleveland has talked with a wide range of schools – including some Division II schools. The undersized scoring machine is sure to continue to light up scoreboards no matter where she takes her game next season.



 


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