Ieshia Small, the No. 16 prospect in the 2013 class, is still unsigned. We tell her personal family story of why she put the recruiting process on hold.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It’s the first week of December and Ieshia Small and her younger brother Marvin hang ornaments on a perfectly shaped 10-foot Christmas tree that stretches to the ceiling. In the background, football is on the TV while Kim Davis-Powell bounces back and forth between the kitchen and the living room, preparing dinner and giving advice on the placement of ornaments.
Around them, boxes are piled high in the corners of the room and photos of Iesha from the state championship game are lined up against the wall, waiting to be hung. They just moved in eight weeks ago and the unpacking process is still in full swing, but that doesn’t dampen the cheerful holiday mood in the air as they gather around the tree -- for the first time as a family.
In February 2011, Iesha and Marvin were happily living with their mother, MIchele Robinson, and Iesha had just led Dr. Krops into the Florida state semifinals -- but on March 1, Michelle Robinson died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 39.
“It was a heartbreaking moment, I couldn’t believe it at first, it was so shocking, ” says Ieshia about the devastating news.
Michelle was a single parent who worked two jobs to support her family. Their means were humble, but the family was happy. Michelle was known as the team mom at Dr. Krops, where Ieshia was the star player. Michelle never missed a game and often took vacation days to watch her daughter play. In her youth, Michelle played college basketball for Northwestern Miami and now, Ieshia was her pride and joy.
“My mom was the mother, the father, the grandmother, she was everything in our lives,” recalls Ieshia of her mother’s dedication. “She loved everybody and she took every teammate as I had as her own. She was the team mom for everybody.”
As a sophomore, Small averaged 18 points a game and was named the Dade County Player of the Year, a highly coveted award given to the best player in Miami. Scholarship offers were pouring in when Michelle unexpected passed away.
The loss sent Ieshia’s world into a tailspin. Soon she and her brother had no place to live, and the two found themselves crashing with friends and extended family. They moved eight times in the first few months before social services suddenly came and placed them in a group foster home in Miami.
Ieshia, having few people to turn to, reached out to Kim Davis-Powell, her AAU coach. Kim and Essence rallied around the siblings, raising more than $500 to help buy them food and clothing. During the summer AAU season, basketball became Ieshia’s place of retreat.
“Basketball took me to a peaceful place, instead of having my mind on my mom,” said Ieshia about how the game helped her through the grieving process. “I think I was still in shock and there was times I was in the gym until one or two in the morning.”
Ieshia played as much as possible, but club basketball is complicated for a kid in foster care. To travel to out-of-state AAU tournaments, Ieshia had to get approval from the court, and it also meant she would be separated from her brother for weeks at a time. Once again, Davis-Powell was there. All summer, she worked with the foster home, helping Iesha get the proper paperwork filed and offered to let Marvin travel with the team so the siblings could be together.
“She made sure he went to summer school, she made sure he had clothes, she made sure he was able to go on all the basketball trips and that’s when I knew I could trust her,” says Ieshia.
As the 2011-12 high school year began, Ieshia and Marvin remained in foster care. Several times a month, Kim and Kelvin would make the seven-hour trip from their home in Tallahassee to Miami to visit Ieshia and Marvin. They visited on Thanksgiving and Christmas and went to many of Iesha’s games at Dr Krops.
That’s when the director of the Foster care program suggested the couple consider adopting the siblings. “The idea had never crossed my mind”, said Davis-Powell, “but when I talked to my husband about it, we were like, yes we can do that.”
Not long after, she prosed the idea to Iesha and her brother. “I told them, I’m not trying to replace your mom, but what I am trying to do is continue what she fought so hard for.”
Ultimately the decision was up to Ieshia, who was torn about the implications of her decision. If she accepted the adoption offer, it meant she’d have to leave her teammates at Dr. Krop and move to Tallahassee. If she stayed and played out her senior season, it meant remaining in foster care.
“It was a huge decision, and I didn’t want to let my team down,” said Ieshia. During her junior year, Small averaged 21 points a game and was again named the Dade County Player of the Year. This time, she led Dr. Krops to the state championship game where the Lightning lost to Dr. Phillips.
But when Ray Thompson, her high school coach, supported the adoption, Ieshia felt a huge sense of relief. “I have a lot of respect for coach Thompson, because he said he wanted to make sure my brother and I were fine and that we had someone to take care of us,” said Iesha. “I had to do what was best for my brother and me. It’s not like she just cared about me, she cared about my brother too. That’s what made me respect coach Kim.”
This past spring, Kim and Kelvin began the lengthy adoption process, which required background checks, home visits, and an eight-week parenting class. In August, the adoption was finalized; Iesha and Marvin were able to leave foster care and in September, moved into a new home with Kim and Kelvin.
In Ieshia's bedroom, there is new furniture and a brightly colored bedspread. A box of basketball trophies is waiting to be unpacked and the walls are bare accept for a few newspaper clippings from basketball games and several photos of her mother Michelle.
"It means a lot to me, the fact that my brother is here with me and we have parents, a mother and father figure in our lives. It’s a good feeling to know that we have a home.”
For the last year, the No. 16 prospect in the country had put the recruiting process on hold, but now that her home life is more stable, Ieshia has begun thinking about her future. “Schools I’m thinking about right now are South Carolina, Baylor, Rutgers, N.C. State and Mississippi State,” said Iesha, who’s taken officials to Rutgers and South Carolina this fall.
She hasn’t yet committed and plans to announce her final decision during the spring.
“I want to be the best I can be, so hopefully basketball can get me to my climax, I want to reach the top. I want to be the best.”
And after some adversity and struggle, she has her dream in sight -- and a family to come home to.