Jayla Reliford of New Hope, Minn. is leading the nation’s college basketball players in assists at 7.0 per game. The 2021 Robbinsdale Cooper grad, now in her sophomore year at Park University Gilbert [Arizona], is helping her squad compete for one of the top four spots in the Division II Cal Pacific Conference tournament later this month.
According to Preston English, Park University Gilbert sports information officer, the 5’2” Reliford came into her own when she became a starter last season due to team injuries and has thrived ever since. She has reset the Park team record book for assists per-game, and reset or tied the school record for assists five times this season.
If she keeps up this pace, Reliford will be the first Minnesota former prep player in recent memory to lead the nation in assists as a collegian.
“I didn’t even know about it,” Reliford told the MSR last week in an exclusive phone interview. Both she and English said that the MSR was the only media outlet to reach out to speak with her. “Preston told me just the other day. I had no idea.”
Park University is an NAIA school located in Gilbert, Ariz., about 25-30 minutes outside of Phoenix. It is one of two campuses, the other located in Parkville, Missouri, and conducts both in-person and online courses in areas such as business administration, criminal justice, psychology, and information and computer science.
Reliford is studying to be a web designer. “I’m hoping to be able to travel for work and go outside of the country and work as a developer in IT,” she proudly told us.
The sophomore pointed out that she chose Park for college, mainly for its western location and “to get out of the Midwest experience,” not to mention the harsh Minnesota winters at this time of year.
Unfazed by the sudden attention, Reliford said, “I would say [I saw myself] being a point guard ever since I was young. It definitely taught me a lot of life skills that other positions I don’t feel teach the kind of life lessons as does being a point guard. [There is] a lot of accountability and you [are responsible for] a lot of direction for your other teammates.”
“I am a pass-first point guard,” she pointed out. “I like to get my teammates involved. My biggest goal on the court is to make sure my teammates are comfortable.”
Demondi Johnson said he isn’t surprised. He coached Reliford in AAU as Legacy Hoops Girls AAU director. “She has shown so much growth as a leader,” he said proudly. “Jayla was a point guard for our first graduating class. She set the tone for our play. A true, true point guard.”
Johnson added that it didn’t matter what college level she would wind up at. “Her mindset isn’t or wasn’t to go to Division I or II or III, but to find the right fit. I’m super proud of her, a true representation of our program.”
Reliford credits her father Jerome and Johnson and Legacy Hoops co-founder Rahmeen Underwood among others as her mentors: “I had some great mentors who gave me a lot of the leadership skills I have.”
Besides her passing, Reliford is a scoring threat as well. She has scored in double digits in six Park University Bucs games this season.
Reliford said she and her teammates are squarely focused on finishing the season and making a second consecutive trip to her league’s post-season tournament on Feb. 25. “We’re shooting for fourth place,” she said. “We’re hoping that we get the fourth seed.”
Bloomington Kennedy grad honored
Jenna Smith, a Bloomington Kennedy grad who starred at Illinois from 1983-87, will have her jersey hanging from the school arena’s rafters Feb. 5. She finished as Illinois’ all-time leading scorer, rebounder and three-time All-Big Ten first team, and only the fourth Illini to receive this honor.
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