Ashanti Myles’ driver’s education teacher could not be reached to confirm how well she handles U-turns behind the wheel. When it comes to life and basketball, however, Myles is proving to be a master of the turn-around.
It has made for one of the Colonial Valley Conference’s great feel-good stories of the winter.
“We had a struggle last year with off-court behavior, and it’s like a complete 180 this year,” second-year Northstars coach Matt Paglione said. “She’s showing total leadership, wanting to do certain drills, wanting to stay after to work with whoever wants to work. She’s with the players who don’t know things, offering to be on that team in practice.”
So just what the heck happened?
“Last year, she had an off-court incident, and we kicked her off the team,” Paglione said. “That might have been the real kick in the pants she needed to say, ‘I can’t act that way at all.’ Just over the summer she’s totally changed.”
The statistics will bear that out on the court, as Myles was averaging nearly 10 points and 7 rebounds per game through the Northstars first eight contests. Last year, she averaged just over 7 points and 4.5 rebounds before being dismissed after 14 games.
To her credit, Myles is up front about her issues and makes no excuses for them.
“I was depressed. I was moping. I wasn’t myself after that. I had to look back on what I did and bring myself back up.”
“The feedback I was getting from people was more negative than positive and I self-reflected off that and thought, ‘Yeah, I need to get myself together now; fast.’” Myles said. “I was depressed. I was moping. I wasn’t myself after that. I had to look back on what I did and bring myself back up.”
Despite being in a bad place, Myles did not creep into a hole and lose all hope. She got behind the wheel of life, cut it hard and made that necessary U-turn.
“I definitely didn’t think my career was done,” she said. “I told myself, ‘Next year I gotta come back stronger and harder.’ (Paglione) talked to me and said, ‘You need to get your stuff together. It’s your senior year, things have to get better.’ He’s a very big influence on me. I took that initiative, and I did what I had to do.”
Paglione has picked up where Tim Gibson left off. Known in Trenton as the legendary “Tim Dawg,” he helped tap Myles’ potential during her formative years.
“Tim Dawg definitely was a big influence on me,” she said. “When I was small and started playing basketball, he helped me and when I was 10, he coached our team.”
Myles started her career playing in Trenton’s West Ward before moving on to Hamilton PAL. She was always the team’s tallest player and has been a lifetime forward/center.
As a sophomore, she made the Nottingham varsity but played in just six games. Last year saw her become a starter until the mid-season issues hit.
The questions were, would she return and, if so, would it be for the better?
“I didn’t know which Ashanti was walking in this year,” Paglione said. “She’s really changed.”
It was all part of a self-reflection that helped motivate her. Myles rejoined her Northstar teammates on an AAU rec team over the summer.
It was an integral part of her comeback, as she regained confidence and worked to become a better shooter.
“I never really shot that much, but now I’m more of a shooter,” Myles said.
Evidently, that was not all she worked on.
“She knew she had to work on her ball handling because we were gonna be weak there,” Paglione said. “She can bring the ball up a little bit now, she worked on her outside game, she’s always been good with her back-to-the-basket and post moves. Defensively, she’s talking a lot more. It’s the same thing with this leadership, she’s being more vocal.”
Remarkably, that has become Myles’ biggest asset. On a team that had struggled to one win its first eight games, the girl who was an outcast just one year ago has become the unquestioned leader of the youthful Northstars. Her motor is always running, even when the outcome of games is long decided.
“I don’t know if she now feels it’s her team, but it definitely is,” Paglione said. “She’s the senior captain. She knows you lead by example 24-7; first period through ninth period, more off the court than even on the court.”
Myles’ spirited attitude was on full display during an early January loss to Steinert. The Northstars were out of the game after one quarter but with just minutes left to play, she was still diving on the floor for loose balls, striving to defend and looking to receive the ball in the post.
“How hard is it to be down 50 points, being the only senior on the court and trying to go on the ground and get jump ball after jump ball; maintaining your composure?” Paglione asked. “You can see her talking to the younger girls and pat them on the back and say, ‘Hey, next play.’ Emotions get the best of you every now and again, but we really haven’t seen it. She’s telling girls on the other team, ‘Hey, nice shot, good effort, good hustle.’ If she makes a hard foul she goes over to put a hand out to help them up.”
Much of that stems from coming to appreciate what was taken away. Now that Myles is back on the court, she wants to cherish every minute of it.
“Oh yeah 24-7, I gotta keep it up,” she said. “I’m happy to be out here, happy to still be here and show everybody what I’ve got. I’m loving it again. It’s coming back to me and I’m just loving it. You appreciate it way more. It makes you hungry for it again.”
That appreciation also transcends off the court as Myles has done an excellent job of bringing up her grades to A’s, B’s “and just one C,” she said proudly.
The grades have gotten so hopeful, in fact, that college has entered the conversation.
“I was talking to her about her future and her grades and her interest in continuing on at someplace like Mercer to continue to develop and maybe see if she can continue to play after that,” said Steinert coach Kristin Jacobs, who taught Myles at Reynolds and coached her in Hamilton PAL. “Her maturity level from when she started high school until now has grown so much; just as a leader on the court. And she’s a bruiser underneath, she can hit from the outside, she can post up and get rebounds.”
Myles hopes to play basketball in college and is looking at two entirely different directions for a career.
“I want to either do law enforcement or photography,” she said with a laugh. “They are two way too different things but they’re both something I love.”
Whatever the future holds, one thing is certain—just the fact that Myles and her coach are discussing college one year after she was in limbo, is an outstanding commentary on her resilience as a player and person.
“It’s a storybook tale,” Paglione said. “And I haven’t given her anything. She’s earned every second of it.”
And she is justifiably proud.
“It feels real good to show everybody that even when you’re at your lowest, you can always come back from it,” Myles said. “I’m just happy this year. Everything is going great for me.”
All she needed was the strength to turn that wheel in the opposite direction.