Playing with the older kids has paid off for Jordan Strode.
Always taller than the rest of the children her age when she was growing up in Fort Collins, Colo., the Hickory Ridge junior started playing on high school-age AAU basketball teams when she was barely out of elementary school.
Strode, a junior, is enjoying a solid career for the Ragin' Bulls and is starting to draw the attention of college scouts.
After a couple of seasons apprenticing her leadership skills under Hickory Ridge upperclassmen, Strode will be counted on to lead a new Ragin' Bulls lineup.
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Strode's family moved to Harrisburg prior to her eighth-grade year, allowing her to play one season at C.C. Griffin Middle.
As a freshman, Strode joined a Hickory Ridge program that was playing only in its second season. The Bulls were talented, though, and were beginning to mesh.
Strode started every game as a freshman and averaged 10.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Hickory Ridge finished 16-7 and lost in the first round of the state playoffs for the second straight year.
Last season, Strode missed a significant portion of the South Piedmont Conference schedule with a calf strain and a sprained ankle. She said the time on the bench made her a better player because of the perspective it gave her.
"Sitting down, I got better because I saw weaknesses," said Strode. "When I got back in the game, I used what I saw. I saw what (my teammates) weren't doing. We weren't playing help defense."
Strode, who averaged 12 points per game last season, returned to the lineup in time to help Hickory Ridge advance in the state playoffs. She scored 16 points in a victory over Parkwood in the second round. The Bulls went on to lose in the sectional finals.
For two seasons, guard Akysia Resper and forward Candra Mathis, both seniors on last year's team, mentored the fledgling Strode.
"They taught me how to be a leader and to work hard in every practice and to just play as a team," said the 5-foot-10 guard. "We're going to miss them a lot."
The Bulls have five seniors on this year's team, but only returned two starters - guard Monique Robson, who averaged 4.7 points per game last season, and Strode.
Taking center stage shouldn't be a problem for Strode. Playing in the fish bowl of summer showcase basketball helped prepare her.
After playing one year with the Cabarrus Nuggets, Strode switched to the Queen City Dynasty prior to her freshman year. Because of the structure of showcase basketball, Strode started getting attention from college scouts almost immediately.
After two seasons of playing in the 16-under division, this summer she played in the elite division, which features high school upper classmen. Strode was a teammate of Jay M. Robinson's Kelsee Cheek on the team.
Hickory Ridge coach Jessica Kulp says the interest from continues to pour in from colleges. She adds that Western Carolina, North Florida, East Carolina, Radford, St. Johns and Princeton have shown the most interest.
The work Strode puts in to be a better basketball player might be what attracts that interest.
"After practice, I stay and shoot around with my dad (Jeff Shears)," she said. "We do layup and free-throw drills. We go to the weight room often."
Kulp describes Strode, who scored 27 points in the Bulls' season opener against Carson, as a gym rat.
"If she could be in the gym every hour we're not in school, I think she would be," said Kulp. "It's her passion. It's what she's good at and she knows she's good at it."