Finding a family and earning her stripes

By Kyle Hobstetter on November 4, 2019

Towson women’s basketball standout Kionna Jeter went from almost losing the sport she loved to being one of her league’s shining stars.

Kionna Jeter

Most women’s basketball players dream of either playing for Connecticut, or playing against Connecticut. Towson Women’s Basketball guard Kionna Jeter was no different. 

On March, 22, Jeter and the rest the TU women’s basketball team played UConn in the program’s first NCAA Tournament game.

And as she stepped onto the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion Court in Storrs, Connecticut, Jeter couldn’t help but take in the moment.

“It felt good, even the court felt good on my feet,” Jeter says laughing. “I was looking around in the arena and seeing who has played in that arena, and it’s all these people I looked up to. Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi…it was just amazing.

“Rebecca Lobo was there calling the game, and when I watched our game back on YouTube, hearing the commentators calling our game and talking about how good we looked, it was just amazing.”

Jeter, a redshirt junior who is starting her second year at Towson University, almost didn’t get this experience.

Before coming to Towson University, the Spartanburg, S.C. native was playing at Gulf Coast State College, a junior college located in Panama, City, Fla.

On Feb. 3, 2018, Jeter was returning home for a family funeral. During that day, she was helping her sister pick up her little brother. While waiting, she was shot in the back by two stray bullets from a drive-by. One bullet narrowly missed her heart and the other broke her right shoulder blade.

She would miss the last month of Gulf Coast’s season and the injury put a stigma around her. The former Gatorade South Carolina Girls Player of the Year had scholarship offers from power conference programs, but they were pulled after the injury. 

“When I got hurt, everything dropped from there,” Jeter says. “But when Towson called, it was my last opportunity to be where I wanted to be in life.”

In the summer of 2018, TU head women’s basketball coach Diane Richardson watched a tape of Jeter and saw her undeniable. And when she found out she was still available, she asked associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Kancher to get her on the phone.

Kionna Jeter
Kionna Jeter was named to the All-CAA First Team last season. 

“(His call) was a relief for me honestly, because a lot of schools called but the first thing they said was stuff they heard about me,” Jeter says. “And a lot of people don't know me from a personal standpoint. But when assistant coach Zach called and introduced himself to me, he was like ‘I don't know, I've heard things, but you tell me what happened.’

“I just broke down on the phone with him and I told him what happened.”

After several phone calls, Jeter arrived on campus for a visit two days later and committed almost instantly.

In those interactions and in getting to know Jeter, Richardson just summed up the injury as a good kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In fact, one of the things that stood out to Richardson, was Jeter’s manners.

Especially when asked a question, she would respond with a “yes ma’am” or “no ma’am.”

“She was raised by her grandmother, and I could hear those influences in the conversations,” Richardson says, remembering those initial conversations. “We talked about family, and we talked about gatherings, we talked about church, we talked about her neighborhood and stuff like that.

“She reminded me of me,” Richardson continues. “I remember having to persevere through things that other people hadn't. So, listening to her and hearing her story, I knew she was strong because she's had to persevere through some things. I knew that even with this injury, she'd be one of those fighters.”

Jeter isn’t a stranger to being a fighter. When she was two-years-old, she was hit by a car, and doctors told her family that she would never walk again. She proved them - and eventually the coaches who passed on her - wrong.

When she got to Towson in the summer of 2018, she wasn’t cleared to participate in basketball activities. So, she had to rehab extensively. And when she was at home, away from coaches and trainers, she just worked on her game — especially increasing her game from the left hand.

“It was hard, and it hurt, but I did it,” Jeter says. “And I kind of got back into it on my own. I didn’t do a lot of rehab at home. But I dribbled a ball around the house to see how well it’d go. I went to the gym and tried to do layups with my left side, just to see how it feels.

She also had to sit out the first few months of practice, so she had to sit on the sidelines and watch the team practice without her. As she patiently bided her time, Richardson would watch her on the sidelines cheering on her teammates.   

“I would look at our practices, and I could see her trying to shoot with her off hand, and trying to do as much as she could to keep up with everybody,” Richardson says. “I knew that with the resources we had and the fortitude she had, that she would make it. And as soon as she was cleared, she came up to me and said ‘Let’s get to that next level.’”

Coming off a short offseason recovering from a major injury, Jeter made it her goal to reach that next level. During her sophomore campaign, she averaged 17 points per game and shot 42 percent from the field. 

She earned All-Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) First Team honors, and was named to both the All-CAA Tournament Team and the CAA All-Defensive Team. She also won the CAA John Randolph Inspiration Award, which recognizes individuals who through strength of character and human spirit, serve as an inspiration to all to maximize their potential and ability for success.

Jeter also was the one who the game-winning jump shot to give the Tigers their first CAA Tournament Championship, and punched the team’s ticket to their first NCAA Tournament,

“We had a good team, and I feel like I was that final puzzle piece that would help spark the fire,” Jeter says. “(Playing in the NCAA Tournament) was a huge hump for me, with everything that I’ve been through.”

Kionna Jeter
Jeter, went from almost losing her basketball career, to leading the Towson women's basketball program to its first NCAA Tournament. 

The team has also been a final puzzle piece for Jeter. Being so far from home, she has truly found a second family in her teammates. She has called Richardson her grandma, and teammates Q. Murray and Shavonne “Scoop” Smith her sisters.

“We have such a strong bond,” Jeter says. “At the NCAA Tournament, we had a talk after the game and I just thanked everybody for bringing me in. And I thank them all for giving me another opportunity to do what I love.” 

Richardson says Jeter does a lot of extra things both on the court and as a teammate. She’s brings positive energy every day, puts in extra time at the gym and brings others with her.

After watching her success last year, Richardson admitted that she shed a couple of tears because she was so happy for her. In fact, she sees big things in Jeter’s future.

“We’ve gone from her maybe not being able to play basketball to maybe possibly being drafted in the WNBA,” Richardson says.  “And she's put up numbers and done so well that she's got the attention of some WNBA scouts. But she’s looking forward to this year, and working even harder that she’s ever had before.”

Jeter is excited for the new faces joining the team this coming season. In fact, she has pretty bold prediction. 

“I think we can go all the way again,” she says. “Come by here and see what we do. Last year, it was a historical season, and this year I think we’re going to get past last year’s point. I think we’re going to have a great season.”

The Tigers start the season on Tuesday, Nov. 5 against Penn State at SECU Arena. Tip-off is at 4 p.m. and the team will unveil their CAA Championship banner.  

Check out the complete Towson University women's basketball schedule.