It was easy to see just how much Jana Morning meant to the Cass basketball program as she signed to continue her athletic career at Berry College Wednesday.
There was the raft of teammates who gathered around to celebrate after her official photo op, and the banner high on the wall that will soon have another state tournament appearance on it after Morning led the Lady Colonels to that showcase this year, breaking a decade-long drought.
Then there was the way that her head coach Burt Jackson talked about her.
“Getting that chance to coach her for three years in high school as her head coach was a privilege. I feel blessed,” Jackson said. “I can’t really say enough, there’s not enough words to say about how valuable and how good Jana was, and how excited I am for her at Berry.”
From a Colonel to a Viking, Wednesday’s ceremony marked the end of a senior year that saw Morning check off every conceivable thing that could have been asked of her.
Best player in the county, as evidenced by her 15 points, five assists and five rebounds per game and second-straight DTN Player of the Year award? Check.
Scoring her 1,000th point, which she did on Jan. 21 against Armuchee? Check.
Taking the Lady Colonels to the state tournament for the first time since 2006, and doing it in style after scoring 29 points on top-10 Villa Rica in the region semifinals? Check.
“I feel like I tried as hard as I could, put in the work before my senior season to be the best that I could and then I scored my 1,000th point and I really wanted to do that,” Morning said. “We had a good record, I loved my coaches. I just tried my hardest. I don’t think I’ll have any regrets.”
Her signing was the final result of a conscious decision that Morning, previously a three-sport star in cross country, basketball and soccer, made before her senior season.
“I didn’t decide that I wanted to play college basketball until this year, preseason, but since then I was determined to,” Morning said.
A preseason shooting regimen that came out of that determination led to a stellar season, with highlights and memorable games galore.
Morning scored 30 points against Southeast Whitfield in the semifinals of Chattooga’s Christmas tournament despite breaking her nose late in the contest.
She went on to score 21 points against LFO in the final and be named the tournament’s MVP.
It was more of the same in the region tournament, as Morning scored 18 against Hiram in the first round to lead the Lady Colonels to a win that snapped their 10-year streak of not making the state tournament.
Even that paled in comparison to her next game against Villa Rica, as she scored 29 to avenge a near 40-point loss from earlier in the season and clinch a home state tournament game.
“That game was way more significant to me than the Hiram game, it was really exciting,” Morning said. “Since freshman year I wanted to go to state, because I went to state in cross country, then I went in soccer. Basketball was my main sport and I hadn’t been to state in basketball, so it was really cool to go, especially with the group of girls that I had this year.”
She also accomplished her preseason goal of making it to college to play, although not without overcoming some obstacles.
Morning, listed at 5-foot-1 on MaxPreps, had to overcome the preconceptions of coaches who would dismiss her out of hand purely because of her size.
“I figured I didn’t get as many looks as I could have because I was smaller,” Morning admitted.
Her coach saw that as well.
“The truth of the matter is I was frustrated, because this summer we went to Villa Rica and played in a team camp and West Georgia’s coach was there and he was telling me, ‘Yeah, she’s good, but I’m just worried about her size,’” Jackson said. “I understand that, but they didn’t get a chance to see her play the game like I did.”
But, as high school teams across the state learned this year, size doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to Jana Morning.
Throughout her career, she’s made up for it with quickness, playmaking and deadly shooting, and Berry will be hoping she does the same as the Vikings’ point guard.
“I think Berry College is getting a steal. I feel like Jana is good enough to play at any D-II school in the state,” Jackson said. “She hates to lose, she will take on any challenge and I know that if someone says someone is ahead of you right now, she’ll work hard to beat that person in practice. She never wants to come out of the game ever and I look forward to, by the time she graduates from Berry, I look for her to be maybe the best point guard they’ve ever had.”