With a state title on the line, this junior point guard comes up big in crunch time.
When you're playing in front of 7,000 screaming fans at the New Jersey State Tournament of Champions title game , the stakes are high. It's the sort of game that makes reputations, and not everybody can handle the pressure.
But not everyone is Matee Ajavon. Despite finding herself in foul trouble, the 5-8 junior point guard from Shabazz High School in Newark, N.J., totaled 26 points, four assists and three steals to lead Shabazz over Marlboro, 48-45. It was the first state title for any boys' or girls' basketball team from Newark.
"It was a new, refreshing feeling," she says of playing at the Meadowlands. "We've come a long way since the beginning of the season, striving to get to the big game."
For the season, Ajavon averaged 14.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and five assists per game while leading Shabazz to a 28-3 mark. "Defense was the main key to our success," she says. "Defense is what starts our offense. Once everyone is playing D, we know we'll get our offense rolling."
After winning the state title as a junior, Ajavon hopes for an encore next season to conclude her high school career. "We only had two seniors this year, so we'll try to do it again next season," she says. "We can only get better."
Earl Elliotte, her AAU coach, says the best is yet to come for Ajavon. "She's the ultimate competitor, and she's at a stage where she's thinking two steps ahead of the other players on the court," he says. "Her skill level is phenomenal. Now she's taken it to the next level where she's able to adapt to any situation in the game and bring her team up--which is why her team won the state title."
Ajavon cites her work ethic as reason for her rapid improvement over the past two years. "I've been working hard the whole year, believing that I could be better than I am now," she says. "This summer I'm going to work on everything, since I know I can improve every aspect of my game."
Elliotte has first-hand knowledge of Ajavon's desire to improve. "She always was talented, much better than the other kids in dribbling and shooting," he says. "But now she's studying the game of basketball, which very few kids her age do. That's what sets her apart right now. She's not content with where she's at, so she's constantly studying tapes, copying moves, and doing other things that will make her a better player."
Ajavon is playing AAU ball this summer with the Gauchos, based in the Bronx, and she's gearing up for the recruiting process as well. "I've been hearing from a lot of colleges, but everything is still open," she says.
"Just about every Division I program in the country is requesting information on her," Elliotte adds. "It can be overwhelming, but we'll be trying to help her through it."
Article written by Gball Associate Editor Jim Catalano.
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