MARTIN, Tenn. - The University of Tennessee at Martin women's basketball program picked up four commitments on National Signing Day, adding a pair of sophomores and two freshmen to a Skyhawk team that has earned three straight appearances to the NCAA Tournament.
The incoming sophomores include Chelsea Roberts and Jessy Ward, while the incoming freshmen are Tiffany Jones and Ashia Jones.
"This signing class does two things for us," UT Martin head coach Kevin McMillan said. "First off, it solidifies some areas we needed help with next year because we lost a lot in terms of rebounding and post play. It also helps gives us a solid mix to prepare when our senior class is gone after next year. The biggest thing it does is gives us four more great kids who have tremendous work ethic and want to be good teammates. They are willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to win and that bodes well for the future of our program."
Chelsea Roberts, F, 5-11, So., St. Peters, South Australia (Mineral Area College)
Roberts played her freshman season for head coach Gary Koch at Mineral Area College in Park Hills, Mo. Roberts was an All-Region 16 honorable mention honoree after the Lady Cardinals went 21-8, advanced to the Region XVI Tournament and ranked as high as No. 13 in the nation at one point last season.
Starting in 26 out of 29 games, Roberts led Mineral Area in scoring (13.7 points per game), rebounding (6.5 per game), field goal percentage (139-for-248, 56 percent) and steals (55, 1.9 per game) in just 22.6 minutes per game. She also added 2.3 assists per game and shot 81.2 percent from the free throw line (108-for-133). She cracked double-figures in 25 out of 29 games and poured in four 20-point games, including career-highs of 25 points twice (against John A. Logan College on Nov. 10 and against Iowa Western Community College on Dec. 29).
Before her time at Mineral Area, Roberts attended Loreto College in Marryatville, South Australia.
"Chelsea is very versatile," McMillan said. "She can handle the ball and she can shoot it. She plays tough defense and is a real hard-nosed kid. She is a great fit for us in the post with the style we play. She had a great year at junior college last year and she got a taste of what college basketball is like. We expect her to be an impact player right away for us."
Jessy Ward, G, 5-8, So., Clarksville, Tenn. (Mississippi State Univ.)
Ward will have three seasons of eligibility left but must sit out the 2013-14 season because of NCAA transfer rules. Ward spent last season at Mississippi State, who posted a 13-17 overall record under head coach Vic Schaefer.
As a freshman, Ward appeared in 25 games off the bench for the Bulldogs, averaging 1.8 points in 7.4 minutes per game. She made 15 shots (eight of which were three-pointers) and six free throws for 44 points while also tallying 12 rebounds, nine assists and five steals.
Prior to Mississippi State, Ward was a standout at Clarksville High School in Clarksville, Tenn., where she was named a three-star recruit and the 40th best guard in the nation by ESPN. In her four-year tenure at CHS, the Lady Wildcats posted a 127-13 record and notched four district 10-AAA championships, two region 5-AAA titles, three sub-state championships and three appearances in the state tournament.
Ward compiled 1,714 points in her prep career, the second-most in CHS program history. She also connected on 222 three-pointers during her illustrious high school career. As a senior, she helped lead CHS to a program-best 37-1 record, with the lone loss coming by four points in the state AAA semifinals. She also paced the Lady Wildcats to a 32-4 mark as a junior while earning first team all-midstate, all-region and all-area honors under head coach Brian Rush.
"We recruited Jessy out of high school but she decided to go to Mississippi State," McMillan said. "She is a tremendous shooter and that is definitely something we will need in the future. She played point guard in high school and has a high basketball IQ and she wants to learn and get better."
Tiffany Jones, F, 5-11, Fr., Memphis, Tenn. (Manassas HS)
Jones is coming off a spectacular prep career at Manassas High School, where she played for head coach Tommy Warren. The Tigers posted a 27-5 record and claimed a Region 8-AA championship before falling to Westview in the state sectionals.
Jones averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds during her senior campaign, where she was named as one of five finalists for the Commercial Appeal's Pepsi Best of the Preps award. Known to fill up the statsheet in a hurry, she cracked the 30-point plateau three times during her senior year, including season-highs of 35 points against Fairley on Dec. 14 and against Raleigh-Egypt on Jan. 11. She also erupted for big games against Cordova on Dec. 27 (30 points) and in the Region 8-AA title game against Trezevant on Feb. 27, where she scored 24 points to help MHS overcome a 41-13 halftime deficit.
No stranger to big games, Jones garnered MVP honors in three different city championship games. She also racked up all-district and all-region accolades for three consecutive years.
"Tiffany is rangy and is a tremendous athlete with huge upside," McMillan said. "She plays very hard and we don't have to run plays for her to get points - she gets points on her own because she is unbelievable on the glass. She comes from a solid Manassas program that is coming off a state tournament appearance and a city championship so she knows how to win."
Ashia Jones, F, 6-1, Fr., Covington, Tenn. (Covington HS)
Jones joins the Skyhawks out of Covington High School, where the Chargers tallied a 34-3 record and advanced to the state tournament quarterfinals in 2012-13. She led Covington to a 21-game winning streak and first state tournament appearance for the program since 2002.
Playing under head coach Dion Real, Jones emerged as one of the premier frontcourt players in the area - averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds on her way to leading CHS to district and regional championships. She produced huge scoring games against Dyersburg (35 points on Dec. 7) and against Crockett County (35 points on Jan. 4) and in the final game of her high school career, she tallied 23 points and 15 rebounds in a near-comeback against Macon County.
Jones captured Class A-AA accolades in the Commercial Appeal's Pepsi Best of the Preps listing and was named by the TSWA as a Class AA all-state selection. She is also set to play in the West Tennessee Ridgecrest National Guard All-Star basketball game on May 4 at Liberty Tech High School in Jackson.
"Ashia is a long, athletic, rangy player who is coming off a great year in west Tennessee," McMillan said. "She is a great rebounder and solid defender. She also played in the state tournament so she knows how to win. We expect big things out of her because of her great athleticism."
These four signees join Shai'Darrion Warfield-Cross (Bloomington, Ind.), Trischa Lacy (Urbana, Ohio), Tiara Caldwell (Millington, Tenn.) and Elizabeth Masengil (Englewood, Tenn.) as the newest wave of Skyhawks beginning in 2013-14.