Jaleesa Avery is living a dream of playing professional basketball.
Avery, who played for the Cougars from 2016-18, signed a professional deal to play for BC Bashkimi in Kosovo. Avery said she can’t wait to get started.
“I’m very excited and can’t wait to get over there,” Avery said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I started playing basketball my freshman year of high school and I can’t believe it is finally happening.”
The country of Kosovo became independent in 2008 and is situated next to Serbia and Montenegro. Avery said she is looking forward to playing in the small European country.
“It’s a very small country that came about 12 years ago,” she said. “It’s beautiful and somewhere I can learn more about different cultures and lifestyles. The people seem very nice and welcoming.”
Avery had a nice career at WNCC from 2016-18 and then Morehead State (2018-20). At WNCC, Avery finished her career with 777 points and 317 rebounds. She shot 45 percent from the field and made 28 treys. She averaged a consistent 11.8 points in her career – 12.5 her freshman year and 11.1 her sophomore year.
“My career at WNCC will forever be unforgettable,” she said. “I won a championship and made it to the tournament my freshman year. My sophomore year we were lucky enough to get bided into the tournament for our hard work all year. When I transferred my junior year, we went 24-10 and advanced to the second round of the WNIT beating Ohio State! Wow). My senior year wasn’t what I expected but I was still able to make the best of it with people who forever hold a special place in my heart.”
At Morehead State, Avery averaged 16.5 minutes per game while averaging 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds. She also added 41 blocks, 35 assists, and 23 steals in her two seasons at Morehead State.
The team that Avery signed with is the oldest professional basketball organizations in Kosovo while also being one of the oldest basketball organizations in the Balkans. Last season, Bashkimi Prizren finished 14-1 and atop the Kosovo-Superleague standings prior to the suspension of the 2019-20 season due to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic.
Avery is one of many former Cougars playing professionally. Giovanna Silva, who played with Avery at WNCC, is working on playing overseas. Gritt Ryder, who played for WNCC in 2012-13, is still playing professionally in Denmark for the Horsholm 76ers. Ozge Yarga and Yeliz Dogan are also playing professionally in Turkey.
Avery’s advice to the younger players to achieve the same dream she just realized.
“My advice to younger players would be to always work hard and to never give up on yourself,” she said. “Learn to take criticism and you’ll always win. Be patient with yourself and embrace every obstacle thrown at you on your journey (good or bad). It’s okay to be uncomfortable. There were so many times when I wanted to quit, and thought basketball wasn’t for me, but as I sit here typing this there’s nothing else that makes me as happy as playing basketball.”
Avery has many people to thank along her journey as she went from her days at Cherokee Trail High School in Denver to WNCC to Morehead State.
“I’m grateful and blessed,” Avery said. “I’m thankful for every coach, teammate, family member, friend, and the communities that I played in the past two years! Thank you WNCC and Morehead State for your patience with a young girl who was just trying to find her way.”