Dee Buford made it clear that Roseville Senior High School student-athlete Tamia Ugass’ goal was to earn a Division I women’s basketball scholarship.
“It’s been her goal ever since she started playing,” said Buford, a volleyball and basketball standout at St. Paul Central and University of St. Thomas during the 2000s who has served as a mentor to the senior since she was in sixth grade. “It was her goal from the beginning.”
The 6’3” forward reached her goal last Wednesday when she signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at Louisiana State University (LSU) with her friends, family and coaches looking on at the school where she has played the last three seasons.
LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Fargas was complimentary of Ugass in announcing the Tiger’s 2020 signing class last Thursday. “Tamia will bring a strong presence in the paint with a solid mid-range game. She has great hands around the rim and can be a great finisher in our transition game.”
One might wonder how Ugass ended up signing with LSU.
“It has been quite the journey,” said Lori Prioleau, Buford’s mother, who has been a mentor since Ugass started playing basketball for the Summit University Girls Athletics Association (SUGAA) AAU team as a sixth grader. “I’m so proud of her.”
To date, Ugass has had a career anyone would be proud of. She started as a seventh grader at St. Paul Highland Park, where she averaged 7.3 points per game that season and 12 in eighth grade.
Highland Park Coach Deb Williams knew that Ugass could become a special player. “I saw her potential right away,” said Williams, who was in attendance last Wednesday. “I’m not surprised at where she is in her career right now,” she continued. “I’m very happy for her.”
After eighth grade, Ugass’ family moved, and she continued her career at Roseville Senior. She averaged nine points and 10.5 points respectively as a freshman and sophomore, during which she reached the 1,000-point mark, and had a breakout junior season last year with 15 points and 11 rebounds per game.
Ugass most recently played AAU ball on a Minnesota Stars team coached by Josh Hersch. Her career marks going into this season are 1,446 points and 1,235 rebounds. Even with those accomplishments, there were not many school showing interest.
“Minnesota and Wisconsin were showing interest and then just stopped,” Prioleau said. “Not sure why that happened.”
Then in March, a chance conversation at the girls’ state tournament with AAU Coach Tyler Coley—whose daughter Kendall Coley of St. Louis Park recently signed with the University of Nebraska—changed everything.
We just got to talking,” Prioleau said. “Ty used his connections to help put the word out. People started showing interest again, and here we are.”
Now Ugass is getting ready to play her final prep season at Roseville with new Coach Tanysha Scott, who leads an all-female African American staff that includes assistants Ashley Ellis-Milan (St. Paul Central, University of Minnesota) and Danielle Ellison (St. Paul Central, St. Cloud State University), Sadiqah Jihad (Minneapolis South, Valley City State University), and former Augsburg University standouts Azia Wilson (DeLaSalle) and Camryn Speese (DeLaSalle).
Scott graduated from DeLaSalle in 2001 and went on to star at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, leading her prep alma mater to the Class 3A title in 2019. She expressed excitement about the upcoming season with Ugass leading the way.
“Tamia has a tremendous skill set,” she said. “She has an opportunity to have a great season. I’m looking forward to coaching her.”
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.