Hardworking Weddington girls’ ball player is establishing herself early
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Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014

Hardworking Weddington girls’ ball player is establishing herself early

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/23/14/20/1uVlVe.Em.138.jpeg|358
    - COURTESY OF RYUN COOK
    Weddington sophomore guard Jada Craig has established herself as an invaluable player in her own right from her play on the court and her work ethic off of it.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/23/14/20/1w4n2L.Em.138.jpeg|386
    - COURTESY OF MICHELLE RICHARDSON
    Weddington sophomore Jada Craig averages 13 points, four assists, four rebounds and four steals for the Warriors this season.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/23/14/20/YKvAw.Em.138.jpeg|358
    - COURTESY OF MICHELLE RICHARDSON
    Weddington sophomore Jada Craig is one of the team’s best defenders, getting seven steals in a win over A.L. Brown and six in a victory over Enka.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/23/14/20/1bITv2.Em.138.jpeg|454
    - COURTESY OF MICHELLE RICHARDSON
    Weddington sophomore guard Jada Craig’s and junior Stephanie Watts’ stats combine to average 33 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and 10 steals per game this season.

Jada Craig’s motor never stops running on the basketball court.

For the past two seasons, the 5-foot-4 sophomore Weddington point guard has been constantly on the go, teaming with All-American guard and North Carolina commit Stephanie Watts to form one of the most dynamic backcourts in the state.

Watts averages 20 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, six steals and two blocks per game, and she gets a lot of headlines. But Craig has established herself as an invaluable player in her own right from her play on the court and her work ethic off of it.

“Jada (Craig) is a very committed player who has worked as hard as anyone to improve … every part of her game,” said Weddington girls’ basketball coach Ryun Cook. “She is always going full speed and never gets tired. She plays both the point and shooting guard well and is often our defensive stopper. There isn’t much she can’t do for us.”

Watts, her backcourt mate and friend, agrees.

“Jada has been huge for us,” said Watts after beating Anson Jan. 17. “She really sets a tone with her defense and scoring from the start of each game.”

Craig has nearly doubled her production from her freshman to sophomore season, averaging 13 points (7.8 as freshman), four assists (two as freshman), four rebounds and four steals per game this season.

Craig has also had several big games, including 25 points and five 3-pointers in a win over Central Cabarrus, 23 in a victory over Parkwood and 20 in the recent win against Anson, where the top spot in the Southern Carolina Conference was at stake.

She also has dominated on the defensive end, grabbing seven steals in a win over A.L. Brown and six in a victory over Enka.

The Warriors have done all of this while getting off to their best start (15-3, 4-0 through Jan. 23) since the 2002-03 season. The team is ranked No. 7 in the state (3A) by NCPreps.com and No. 12 in the Observer Sweet 16.

“I try to push my team as much as possible in practice or in games,” said Craig. “It’s fun to score points, get assists or steals – but first I want my team to win. I am a very competitive person. I’m all about winning games.”

Craig also has an infectious energy that spreads throughout the team.

While she is small in stature, her coach says she is easily the strongest player on the Weddington team.

“I’ve always been one of the smallest players on the court, and so I have to make up for it by being more physical and tougher than my opponents,” Craig said. “I might not always be best player on the court, but I feel I like can give the best effort. My game starts with defense, because that is usually what leads to good offense. That’s the way we play.”

While Craig and her team are off to a great start atop the SCC standings heading into the second half of the league slate, they aren’t satisfied.

After going 21-7 last year and getting to the second round of the playoffs before falling to North Iredell, the Warriors are looking for better results this season, starting with a conference title.

“Right now, we(’ve) just got to focus on working hard and playing hard in every practice, every game, every time we take the court,” Craig said. “We’ve got a lot more we want to accomplish this year from the conference (title) to the playoffs. We weren’t happy with a second round loss; we feel like we can go much, much further.”

Craig and her teammates also have an extra source of motivation after losing senior forward Bailee Carter, one of the team’s top players, for the season after she tore her anterior cruciate ligament against Parkwood Dec. 13.

While the initial sadness shook the team, they realized they had to refocus for Carter.

“It was tough for all of us when Bailee got hurt, and we knew she wouldn’t be back,” Cook said. “But everybody had to step up and play a bigger role. That’s exactly what we’ve done.”

“We’re playing for Bailee,” Craig said. “She motivates us to keep working harder.”

The Carter injury has put even more responsibility on the Craig-Watts duo that is thriving, averaging a combined 33 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and 10 steals per game. The Warriors’ one-two punch is hard to stop.

“The others teams’ constant focus on Stephanie (Watts) gives me a lot of opportunities to score,” said Craig. “Then, when they focus on me, Stephanie gets more room to make plays. But our whole team has stepped up.”

While Craig has had a fast start to her Weddington career, she believes what she does in the next two years will define her.

Craig wants to play college basketball and has interest from schools like UNC Asheville and Wingate, according to Cook. She also dreams of one day playing in the WNBA.

Craig says she is focused on achieving her goals one step at a time.

“I want to make a name for myself here first,” Craig said. “I want to be remembered as one of the great players to play at Weddington.”

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at jedwardsjr23@gmail.com.

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