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    Tuesday, February 27, 2024

    ‘Five-foot-zero’ Jada Cheung reaching new heights

    Montville — Jada Cheung calls herself “5-foot-zero,” the first clue that basketball, the game catering to the tall, may not be for her. Until she stands on her charisma. And then, well, there are no more vertical challenges. Merely among the reasons she recently eclipsed 1,000 points at Montville High.

    “She's honestly incredible,” her coach, Scott Chiasson, a man who knows something about big stages as a former Major League pitcher, was saying last week. “And it's funny because every time we play someone for the first time, they're like, ‘this girl is unbelievable.’ I'm thinking, yeah, if she was 5-foot-7, she'd probably be unstoppable.”

    Cheung, a junior with a notable basketball surname in this corner of the world, needed four points one night last week to reach 1,000. She got 37. But then, Jada Cheung has never been one to leave doubts. Take, for example, her steadfastness remaining at Montville High with her teammates.

    If you pay attention to sports now, high school included, you are aware that “the grass is greener” has become the primary tenet on which careers are founded. You are encouraged to transfer from the boring old town high school now, perhaps for prep school. It is necessarily bigger and better. You play on travel teams because the boring old town teams are so … yesterday.

    And so there was Cheung, once presented with the opportunity to leave little ol’ Montville. Who’d blame her? Not the most successful girls’ basketball program ever.

    “I would never leave the friends I have here and the family we've created,” Cheung said last week. “I played AAU in eighth grade. My coach is the current New London girls’ coach (Tammy Millsaps) and she begged me to go there. And I told her the same thing every time, that I love what I have here (at Montville). I'm glad that I stayed because this is really important to me here. I just feel at home. I didn't really want to try anything new and wasn't ready to change my life for basketball.”

    Now you can see that Cheung stands tall for reasons other than her “5-foot-zero.” This is the byproduct of a good family structure, led by parents Sam and Jen, both of whom have notable athletic backgrounds. Her brother Jace, a freshman, starts for the Montville boys’ team. Cheungs, Cheungs everywhere.

    “My dad (Sam played at Waterford High and at Coast Guard Academy) is a huge part of my basketball career,” she said. “He taught me how to play basketball. He took me to the gym on snow days. The foundation of my basketball career. And my mom, although she didn't play basketball, has much sports knowledge and fitness knowledge that she’s helped me become a more well rounded athlete.”

    Chiasson reflexively grins when talking about his point guard and her Energizer bunny motor. Cheung learned a long time ago that since running through them at 5-foot-zero isn’t recommended, running past them would be more important than a lung.

    “I've always been short. I've developed my game being short,” she said. “My dad's always taught me moves about how to get around them, even being short. Obviously, I'm not learning post moves. But you can get under them, under their arms for layups and stuff like that. I wouldn't mind being a few inches taller, though.”

    Wouldn’t we all. Cheung, however, has decided to do the old bloom where she’s planted thing, deftly using whatever God and nature provided her.

    “She's just relentless. She plays 32 minutes every game,” Chiasson said. “She does not stop running the whole game. Sometimes I yell at her about defense, not because she's being lazy, but because she's just so focused on getting the ball and going back the other way. No matter who we're playing, no matter what the score is, she doesn't want to come out of the game. She plays relentlessly hard.”

    Cheung’s 37 points last week against Putnam not only conquered the personal milestone, but gave the Wolves their ninth win. They won twice all of last season. And they all know where the ball needs to go.

    “Jada’s teammates help her out so well. They set so many good screens to get her to 37 points,” Chiasson said. “Our kids know their roles. We know who's going to be doing the scoring. We know who's taking the shots and we try to get her open looks.

    “Before the season started. I said, ‘raise your hand if basketball is your number one sport.’ I think one and a half people raised their hands. We have soccer players, we have volleyball players. We don't have basketball players. Jada’s a basketball player. These girls are here to have fun playing basketball, enjoy the game and have a good team experience. And they know where our points are coming from. Other teams know, too. We have to try to do a lot of things to get her open.”

    And they still have a little more than a year to do it. After that, Jada’s basketball career will consist of watching her brother.

    “I’ve never planned to play college basketball. It’s just not something that I want to do beyond high school,” she said. “So that kind of reinforces why I didn't want to change my high school life to play basketball for a better team.”

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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