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Road leads to San Diego

WINDSOR – By her own accord, Jessica Breland didn’t have a clue where the road would lead when she entered the world of high school athletics in 2002.

Four years later she discovered that road heads west.

Breland, perhaps one of the most gifted athletes to wear the &uot;Blue-and-White&uot; of Bertie High School, left last weekend to head to San Diego, California where she will join 23 other seniors to participate in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American girls basketball game.

The 6′-3&uot; forward, who has signed a full athletic scholarship to continue her education and play basketball at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was given a grand send-off on Thursday by the students and staff of Bertie High School.

&uot;This is great,&uot; Breland said as she looked at a room full of family and friends gathered in the Bertie High School Media Center.

Humbled by the experience, Breland said a lot of the credit goes to those who have nurtured her athletic talent over the years, including Bertie girls coach Alice Lyons-Bennett and legendary AAU basketball coach Boo Williams.

However, one of her biggest allies has been fellow Bertie High athlete Kent Bazemore, a junior standout on the boys team who already has college basketball programs knocking at his door.

&uot;Playing against the guys definitely helps out because they are so much stronger and quicker,&uot; Breland noted. &uot;You have to bring your ‘A’ game when going against the guys.&uot;

She continued, &uot;As for Kent, he really pushed me to become a better player and I thank him for that. He taught me how to use my left hand better and helped to add other things to my game.&uot;

Mark Woodson, owner and operator of the McDonald’s in Williamston, conducted Thursday’s send-off. He presented Breland with her official McDonald’s All-American jersey as well as a plaque signifying her selection to this prestigious squad.

&uot;We are here today to salute an outstanding student-athlete,&uot; Woodson said. &uot;As the parent of a basketball player at J.H. Rose (high school in Greenville), I remember the first time I saw Jessica play. She was a freshman here at Bertie and she helped her team that night beat us by five points.&uot;

Woodson went on to add that Bertie beat Rose twice this year. In one of those games, Breland torched Rose to the tune of 41 points.

&uot;This is a tremendous honor for Jessica and for Bertie High School,&uot; Woodson added.

Coach Lyons-Bennett said she had watched Breland come a long way in a short period of time.

&uot;I remember the first time I saw her when she was playing at Southwestern (Middle School),&uot; the coach recalled. &uot;She couldn’t chew chewing gum and dribble a basketball at the same time. But look at her now – a McDonald’s All-America. I’m so proud of what she has been able to accomplish.&uot;

Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, Superintendent of Bertie Public Schools, Bertie High School Principal Wayne Mayo and Bertie High Athletic Director Marvin Rankins added their thoughts on the outstanding prep career Breland has enjoyed as a student-athlete.

Windsor Mayor Bob Spivey presented Breland with the key to the city.

The 2006 McDonald’s Girls All-American game is set for a 4:30 p.m. (PST) start on Wednesday, March 29 at Cox Arena on the campus of San Diego State University. There, the East All-Stars meet the West All-Stars in this fifth annual clash.

Of the 2,400 nominations from across the country, Breland stands among the best 24 players in the nation. Her East All-Star squad includes a fellow North Carolinian – Joy Cheek, a 6′-1&uot; forward from South Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte. Cheek and Breland will see each other again in the ACC as Cheek has signed with Duke.

Another future ACC opponent, 5′-7&uot; guard Amber White (Coatesville, Pa. High School) who has inked a scholarship with NC State, will join Breland and Cheek on the East All-Stars.

That star-studded squad also includes 5′-9&uot; guard Epiphanny Prince (Murry Bergtraum High School of Brooklyn, N.Y.) who scored 113 points in a single game earlier this year.

The game will not be televised live. However, ESPN2 is scheduled to air the contest at 7 a.m. (EST) on April 6.