Setbacks, injury prepped athlete for coaching gig

Photo by Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald Thad Sankey (l) and Janay Morton

Janay Morton’s pro basketball playing days are now on temporary hold and she loves it.

“I still love the game. It’s just on a different side,” the Brooklyn Park native told us last Saturday in St. Paul. Morton just finished her ninth game in her first year as an assistant women’s basketball coach at the University of Jamestown (N.D.).

The Jimmies (6-3), after an 11-point halftime deficit and leading by as many as five in the fourth quarter, eventually fell to host Concordia-St. Paul 86-73. Jamestown, since 2018-19, is a member of the Great Plains Athletic Conference, and is a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) school. 

Second-year Head Coach Thad Sankey said his Jimmies are picked to finish in the middle of the pack, and it would be a “huge measure of success for us” to knock off the league’s upper division clubs in the “toughest conference in the nation—14 of 19 past [national] champions comes from our conference,” he said.

Eight of the 15 Jimmies players hail from Minnesota, and the game served as a holiday reunion as family members and friends, including Morton’s family, were in attendance at the Gangelhoff Center.

Morton is a couple of seasons away from playing collegiate ball (Eastern Michigan, 2013-16; Nebraska, 2017-18) with hopes of playing pro ball somewhere overseas. It was while playing in a tournament in Italy late this summer that she got a game-changing phone call.

“We talked about the position,” she recalled of her conversation with Sankey. “They offered me the position and [I] accepted it all in about a week. It was a real fast process,” she assessed.

“Janay is a really promising young coach,” Sankey said of Morton, who added that her Division I playing experience “prepared her to be a coach.”

Morton cited her mandatory redshirt year after she transferred from Eastern to Nebraska and a brief injury stint as preparation for a possible coaching career. “When I was injured and sidelined, I think that prepared me,” she explained. “I became a player-coach on the sidelines.”

Yet, being a player was still foremost in her plans after graduating from Nebraska in 2018.   “It was hard to let go of my basketball career, but I know that God has something else for me,” Morton noted.

So she packed up and headed north to Jamestown.

“It’s pretty small; I don’t know what the population is,” the first-year assistant coach admitted—it’s actually 15,387. “It’s smaller than Duluth [86,066)],” she said smiling.

“The transition has [gone] really well,” Morton reported. “Our head coach and his wife have been really good for me. The transition has been a lot smarter from that aspect.”

Sankey said Morton has connected well with his players, but as with any new coach, “[There is] definitely a learning process,” he stressed.

Morton agrees: “I do think the transition from player to coach, it’s still fun on the other side of the ball.”

“I don’t regret it at all,” Morton concluded on her non-playing basketball job, the only woman of color on the Jamestown staff.  “I think I am much happier now, coaching these ladies, not only on the basketball side but being able to make an impact on them as a person.”

Globe-tracking the Lynx

Teammates Damiris Dantas (BNK Sum, South Korea) and Temi Fagbenie (Botas, Turkey)) both are in action for their respective clubs this week.

In last week’s action: Lexie Brown averaged 18 points and six rebounds in two games for Bnot Hertzeliya (Israel). Danielle Robinson had a 27-point effort for CCC Polkowice (Poland), and Dantas averaged 15 points and 7 boards in two contests.