Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)
Sana’a Garrett’s lofty basketball goals started when she first picked up the leather orange ball in second grade.
“My dreams were always extremely high,” Garrett said. “My very first goal actually was to be the first girl to play in the NBA. I was the first girl to really play basketball in my family and I always wanted to go D-I.”
The NBA goal might be hard to reach, but the Friends’ Central senior has accomplished the second goal of reaching the Division I basketball level after committing to Jacksonville last week, signing her NLI as well.
Did what they said I wouldn’t do , 1000% committed @SpecialJennings pic.twitter.com/s7nqygFzsl— Sanaa Garrett (@GarrettSanaa3) May 5, 2023
“Jacksonville’s getting a point guard that's gonna control the team and the game,” Garrett said. “Someone that's gonna work hard every day inside and outside of practice. And do that in the classroom as well.”
The 5-foot-9 pure point guard was a key defender and floor general for the Phoenix since her freshman season; she was named All-League honorable mention as a freshman and All-League first-team as a junior in the Friends Schools League. Selections weren’t made and the Phoenix only played five games in her sophomore season due to COVID-19.
Sana'a Garrett (above) is headed to Jacksonville this summer. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The main development in crafting herself into a Division I talent was realizing she didn’t need to be a primary scorer to positively impact the game. That came to fruition during her senior season when she embraced the roles of leader and distributor with a key group of talented scoring sophomores.
“I always had talent, but there were a lot of things that I needed to develop to become a Division I point guard,” Garrett said. “I built my game over the years, especially this past year in high school. That was really a key part of me being who I am.”
Garrett — under Friends’ Central head coach Vinny Simpson for the first full season — orchestrated an offense that propelled the Phoenix to its first league championship game appearance since 2016 and the PAISAA semifinals. Friends’ Central improved from 15-10 in 2022 to 24-7 this year.
“The point guard has the ball in their hands so you have to be responsible in getting everyone else going,” Simpson said. “Then when you get your opportunities you take advantage of them. She did that this season.
“The mental and thinking part of the game is what I think was holding her back from being recruited earlier. She was going into the games with a scoring mentality at a younger age.”
At the conclusion of her senior season, Garrett was selected All-League first-team for the second consecutive season while also helping sophomore Logyn Greer join her on that list. Sophomores Nal’La Bennett and Kaiya Rain Tucker made honorable mention; the senior’s unselfishness played a huge factor in the sophomores’ success.
While recognizing scoring wasn’t the end-all, be-all in becoming a Division I point guard took some time, there was a part of Garrett’s game that has always been present: defense. Simpson said she was “one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve seen in the area in a while,” noting her anticipation of opponent’s dribbling and proficiency in jumping into passing lanes to get steals.
“Everyone loves to score,” Garrett said. “But I like to play defense. I feel like that’s what took me D-I because I’m a good defender. A lot of people don’t take pride in defense. I was okay with everyone scoring 20-25 as long as I got my assists and steals and made sure I did what I had to do at the right time.”
Still, the Division I offers weren’t coming as the season shifted to spring. Garrett had picked up a plethora of Division II offers and felt the dream of playing at the highest college level might be out of reach.
Garrett earned first team All-FSL honors for the second consecutive year as a senior. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“I was getting kind of frustrated because the D-I schools were calling, but they were like, ‘Oh, I'm gonna wait. I'm gonna see if I can get someone out of the transfer portal.’ So I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ I'm sitting here. I'm waiting. I'm trying to be patient.”
Simpson, who played at Hampton and 10 years professionally overseas before taking over the Friends’ Central girls position midway through the 2021-22 season, told her the offers would come once the portal died down and coaching changes were made.
“Literally a week after he sent me a really long text, all the offers started to come in,” Garrett said. “Thankfully I was patient and allowed everything to work.”
The list of Division I suitors included Cal State Bakersfield, Delaware State, Hampton, Jacksonville, Maryland Eastern Shore, New Orleans, Saint Bonaventure (before it didn’t bring back its interim coach), and UNC Wilmington.
That list narrowed down to Hampton and Jacksonville. Garrett was supposed to visit Hampton first, but head coach David Six unfortunately got sick and was hospitalized. The visit to Jacksonville happened May 2 and 3; the Hampton trip — rescheduled for May 4 and 5 — never occurred.
“I chose Jacksonville because when I went on my visit, like immediately, I felt like I was already on the team,” Garrett said. “They didn't treat me like I was a stranger. They were really welcoming and open.”
Garrett also connected with new Jacksonville head coach Special Jennings, who was hired on April 10 after Darnell Haney was fired after five seasons and a cumulative 64-75 record.
Jennings led Montverde Academy to back-to-back high school national championships and helped develop 14 Division I players before accepting the position with Jacksonville. The former Xavier point guard played professionally overseas and had assistant coaching stints at UIC, Flagler College, and Augusta College.
“I liked the accolades that [Special Jennings] has from her previous team,” Garrett said. “I feel like she wants to build something and she chose me to help her build and continue that legacy at a different school. I just thought that it was dope that she picked me out of all the people.”
Garrett already knows what her next goal is after basketball; she wants to acquire a degree in sports business and become an agent representing players. Who says the goal of reaching the NBA is unattainable?
“Everything about Jacksonville just felt right to me,” Garrett said. “They wanted to know me outside of basketball and that's another thing that drew me to them. They cared about the other parts of Sana’a, not just the basketball player.”
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