For a long time, things moved too fast for Kellindra Zackery.
Her life, she admits, needed to be turned down a notch before she could realize her immense potential.
"Where I'm from, in Newark (N.J.), everybody is always going, going, going," Zackery said. "It's in your face constantly. It's like you're always trying to get noticed or you feel like you're getting left behind. It's hectic. Once I was able to get out of that environment and slow things down I was able to really be successful."
Zackery, a 6-foot-1 senior forward at Newman, almost did get left behind.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
After an All-American career at Malcolm X Shabazz High School, where she led her team to three New Jersey state titles, Zackery played her freshman year at South Carolina in 2006-2007. A coaching change with the Gamecocks led to her transfer to Rutgers to join high school teammate and future WNBA player Matee Ajavon.
After sitting out one season at Rutgers and then not seeing the court their the next, Zackery made the decision to reboot her career at the junior-college level and headed to Labette Community College.
And that's where things started to click. Zackery helped lead the Cardinals to a 33-4 record last season, along with Labette's first Region VI title and a third-place finish at the NJCAA Division I Tournament. Zackery averaged 15.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and earned All-Region VI and third-team All-American honors under Labette coach Jaime Green.
Zackery credits Green, who left Labette to become the coach at Newman in April, for helping her turn things around.
"Last year was such a blessing," Zackery said. "Just to have that experience playing for Coach Green and the success we had really showed me that once I'm able to slow things down, to focus on what needed to be done, that I could be really successful."
And with that success came another tough decision. Zackery committed to play for Texas-El Paso, but would have only had one semester of eligibility left at the Division I level and wouldn't have been able to play until January.
In NCAA Division II, where the Jets play, she would be able to play the full year. And she'd be able to play for Green again.
"UTEP and Kellindra both contacted us," Green said. "And I know it was a very, very difficult decision for everyone involved. That being said, I love having Kellindra around. She is a young woman who, as a leader, reflects me and knows what I expect on and off the court.
"She's very talented, sure, but she also always goes as hard as she can in every practice, in every drill. When we ask her to do something, she just does it, no questions asked."
Zackery's height and ability to play multiple positions could translate to a high level of women's professional basketball, Green thinks.
"That's been my goal, to play professionally, since I was little," Zackery said. "Growing up where I did, that's all we talked about when we were kids. I feel like I'm in a good spot to go after that right now, here at Newman."
What's unknown right now is how Zackery — and Green — can translate their junior-college success to Newman and the Heartland Conference, where they were picked fourth in the preseason poll.
Green brought in 14 new players this season, including two other players with Division I experience in senior guard Rhea Codio (Kansas) and six-foot sophomore forward Alex Adekunle (Oral Roberts).
"We've got a very diverse group and we're all trying to find our niche, as a staff, as a team, as players," Green said. "We're just putting our feet on the ground and learning how to begin."
Newman men picked third _ The Newman men's team and coach Mark Potter were picked to finish third in the Heartland Conference preseason poll after finishing last season with an 18-10 record, good for second place in the final regular season standings.
The Jets return 6-3 senior guard Keaton Schultz, who averaged 13.8 points last season and led NCAA Division II in three-point shooting at 51.1 percent.
The Jets open their season tonight with an exhibition game at No. 3 Kansas State.
"I know it will take a little bit for our players to get over the 'awe factor,' playing against the No. 3 team in the nation,'' Potter said. "But I want them to compete. If we get beat by 30 and still compete, that's okay. Our aim is keeping them out of the paint.''
Potter will start three guards against the Wildcats: Bobby Wesley, a transfer from Garden City Community College; Chip Steven and Schultz, both of whom started last season. William Burdette and Justin Berry, both of whom started last season, round out the starting lineup.