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Fourth and Long

While there are a lot of topics I would like to cover this week regarding sports I would be remiss if I didn’t start with Jessica Breland.

I have made no secrets or apologies regarding my incredibly biased desire to see Jessica succeed.  Jessica played her high school basketball at Bertie High School and, while working with the sports department at the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, I had numerous opportunities to watch her develop her basketball talents throughout high school.

When she chose to take her talents to Chapel Hill and play collegiate basketball for the Tar Heels, I was more than pleased. Not only was a local athlete being recognized as one of the best high school basketball players in the country, she was a fellow Falcon choosing to play for my favorite college.

To say I was ecstatic would be a tremendous understatement.

Jessica’s collegiate career started off with a bang as she recorded two double-doubles in her first two games. She spent most of the year coming off the bench, averaging 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Breland shot over 50 percent from the field and led all Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) freshmen in field goal percentage.

Breland continued to shine during her sophomore year, averaging 10.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. Even more impressive than her scoring and rebounding was the defensive force she was proving to be in the paint.

Jessica’s length and athletic ability created havoc for opposing offenses. Breland had 74 blocks during her sophomore career and, by the end of the season, she was already sixth in school history in career blocked shots. Her impact did not go unnoticed as Breland was named ACC Sixth Player of the Year.

Jessica broke into the starting rotation during her junior year and more than stepped up to the challenge averaging 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds to go along with her 3.1 blocks per game.

Breland showed signs of potential stardom at times during her junior season. Jessica scored 31 points in a win over Oklahoma in the title game of the WNIT and torched Ohio State for 29 points in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

By mid season, Breland was considered by many to be one of the best players in the country and it looked as if the future held nothing but sunshine for the junior from Kelford.

The bliss ended in the spring of 2009 when Jessica was diagnosed and began treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The 6’-3” forward missed the entire basketball season and her fight with cancer served as an inspiration to countless people throughout the country. Regardless of her health, Jessica could be seen on the sidelines cheering on and encouraging her teammates.

Jessica’s return to the basketball court this year was successful whether she had an impact on the stat sheet or not. To simply return at all would have been considered a success by most of us.

In case you have not figured it out by now however, Jessica Breland is not most of us.

Breland worked hard to return to previous form and came closer than anyone expected, averaging over 12 points and seven rebounds per game to go along with 64 blocks and 39 steals over the course of the season.

More importantly, Breland ended her collegiate career as a good student, respected teammate and inspiration to women, men, girls and boys everywhere, myself included.  What she has accomplished is tremendous and if history has proven anything I am willing to bet that it is just the beginning. Good luck Jessica, you have made us all very proud.

David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publications. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at dave@gate811.net.