Girls' basketball: Spotlight on Inglewood's Janelle Ross
Janelle Ross, a self-proclaimed girly-girl, didn't start playing basketball until the eighth grade.
She didn't like the sport at first, but she immediately liked what it could offer her.
"My reason for pursuing basketball was to get to college," Ross said. "I just picked that as my tool."
The senior forward, who plays for Inglewood High, is going to Dartmouth next fall, and is said to be one of the first female athletes from the school to attend an Ivy League university.
Starting a sport so late was no easy task.
She ran a press break in eighth grade, but she didn't know it was called by that name. Her coach would just point to a spot on the court, scream "run there," and she’d blindly obey.
Things were different in high school. When Inglewood coach Anthony Scott yelled “press break,” she was expected to know where to run. Instead, she looked at him confused, while all of the other girls dispersed.
"I was always nervous," Ross said. The team "didn't expect that much from me."
When Ross felt like she wasn't keeping up, her father, Leonard, a contractor, offered her words of encouragement. He told her that she was going to be better than other girls who had been playing forever.
He attended all of her practices and games, and trained her two to three times a week during her junior year, and almost daily during the off-season.
"Janelle wouldn't be where she is right now, she wouldn't have the [Ivy League] offer, if it weren't for her dad," Scott said.
Leonard even made Ross play pick-up basketball games with boys, despite knowing she hated being around the opposite sex without having her hair and nails done.
"I didn't want to play," Ross said. "The guys would ask me, and I'd say, 'No.' My dad would then say, 'Yes.'"
She started improving, but she didn’t realize how good she had become until she played against a former middle school competitor, Tesha Stokes, who plays for Morningside.
When the two girls faced off in eighth grade, Stokes was unstoppable. Leonard even told his daughter to emulate her playing style. But when they met again in 11th grade, Ross was shocked that she could hold her own against her former idol.
Scott said Ross' inexperience was, in a way, an advantage. Most of the girls on his squad had played basketball "since they came out of the womb" and had acquired bad habits along the way. Ross, however, was a blank slate.
"She came to the program without any slang or woopty doop in her game," Scott said. “She learned the game the proper way with our coaching staff.”
In June, Ross was offered a full ride to UNLV, and then Princeton, Dartmouth and Columbia came knocking on her door.
Academic and athletic success have come easily to Ross. She never studies, yet she maintains a 4.2 GPA. She never practices on her own, yet she averages about seven points a game and has helped lead Inglewood (26-5) to a Southern Section Division 3AA championship game against Agoura on Saturday at 11:15 a.m. at Cal State Long Beach.
Scott is convinced that if Ross started earlier and practiced more, she would be among the top 60 players in her class.
"It's mind boggling that I have kids that have been in my program a lot longer than Janelle, but she has reaped all of the benefits," Scott said. "The other kids have to work a lot harder."
Ross doesn't have any regrets.
"I'm a bit envious of girls who have been playing for a while, but I feel more accomplished," Ross said.
"They've spent their whole lives doing this, and I've just thrown myself in there."
Photo: Inglewood's Janelle Ross. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times