When Alaisha Mumford enrolled at Lincoln High School almost four years ago, she thought that she had it made as a future basketball star.
“I was a pretty good player in middle school,” Mumford said. “Coach [Tommy] Best saw me play and told me that I had a spot on the varsity team when I got to Lincoln. I knew I had to be the next in line of Lincoln point guards.”
But when Mumford was a freshman at Lincoln, she found that the going was just a little tougher than she imagined. She averaged just three points per game.
“It was a big adjustment for me to play varsity,” Mumford said. “I basically had to learn the position. The high school level was a totally different level for me. I got a little frustrated. I hate when things don’t go my way.”
“When she was a ninth grader, I never imagined that she could become a good player,” Best said. “I think a lot of other people would have agreed with me as well. I told her that she was going to need to improve. She had to work hard to get better.”
So that’s what Mumford did. She took Best’s advice and started to work on her overall game.
“I knew I could play defense,” Mumford said. “I was the enemy because of my defense. But I needed to start to work on my offense. I had to play every day.”
Mumford made it her calling to become a better player and a staple at point guard for the Lions. She went to all the parks in Jersey City, looking for games and competition.
“You name the park and I was there,” Mumford said. “I went to Bayonne Park, to Berry Lane Park, to Bayside Park. If there were open gyms at Lincoln, I was there. I went wherever the competition was. I played all day. I’d go to the park early and work on my shot, my ball handling and then when the other people came, I play in games. I even played against the boys, against men. I didn’t care. I was playing every single day.”
Slowly but surely, Mumford found that she was getting better as a player.
“I felt like I was improving every day,” Mumford said. “The more I worked hard, the better I got.”
Best noticed the improvement.
“I have to give her credit, because she proved that she was hungry to get better,” Best said. “She had a little bit of wildness to her personality and was a little bit of a headache. She was a little immature. We got her to mature a little and understand what it took to be a good player. She understood what was needed and ran with it. You could definitely see the difference.”
Best said that he had a little heart-to-heart conversation with Mumford.
“We had talks all the time,” Best said. “One time, I told her what we needed from her. I told her that she had to be more of a leader. She took those words to heart and got better. She was the point guard, the floor leader.”
Best was asked to describe Mumford’s top trait.
“She doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit,” Best said. “She’s fighting right until the end. When the other girls see one of the best players on the team fighting and pushing hard, well, that gets them going and then they tend to follow. There were games when we were down, she was the one who kept us going. There wasn’t any quit in her at all. She has that fortitude inside of her. When the odds were against us, Alaisha’s the one who just kept fighting.”
Mumford developed into a true leader with the Lions. This season, she averaged 11 points per game and an amazing 7.5 assists per game, among the state’s leaders in assists.
“I take pride in getting an assist,” Mumford said. “It’s good to score points, but if I get an assist, I feel like I’m helping my teammate shine. I’d rather have my whole team shining.”
Mumford recently had 14 points and eight assists in a huge win over Newark Tech, who was the top seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II bracket. After helping the Lions defeat Secaucus to win the state sectional title, giving Mumford a county championship as a junior and a state championship as a senior, she scored 25 points in the overall Group II semifinals, leading to the Lions’ appearance in the Group II title game against Manchester Township at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
For her efforts, Mumford was selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the last week, the final honoree of the winter scholastic sports season.
Best thinks that Mumford’s background forced her to be a tough player.
“Mumford was raised in the streets,” Best said. “So she’s already been through a lot. If she thinks you’re a friend, then she’s willing to go to war for you. There’s no question that the other girls respect her.”
And she’s well liked around the school, evidenced when earlier this year, she was selected to earn the title as “Miss Lincoln,” which is given to the girl who has all the tools like Miss America.
“She’s a sociable girl,” Best said. “Everybody loves her. She always wants to talk to everybody. That’s why she has the title of Miss Lincoln. She’s the most popular girl in the school. That says something about her personality.”
Best believes that Mumford is a scholarship player. She just has to find the right school.
“She’ll get a scholarship somewhere,” Best said. “She has to decide where she wants to go. The phone has been ringing a lot lately.”
It helps that Mumford, along with teammate Daniya Darby, were selected to play in the New Jersey Scholastic Basketball Coaches Association’s North-South All-Star Game. It marked the only time that two girls from the same Jersey City public school were selected to play in the All-Star Game.
“I want to take the next step and play in college,” Mumford said. “It feels good that someone else sees something in me. I feel like I’m getting noticed now. A lot of colleges have reached out to me.”
Although Mumford hasn’t decided on which school she would like to attend, she has an idea about what she would like to major in.
“I want to study sports medicine,” Mumford said. “I always wanted to be a doctor and I love sports, so I want to be able to combine the two.”
Best knows that Mumford will be hard to replace.
“We probably won’t know how much we miss her until next year,” Best said.
Someone else will have to step up and be the leader, much like Alaisha Mumford did, leaving a championship legacy in her place. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com