Dana Caldwell Naples Daily News
Published 2:07 PM EST Dec 11, 2018
Dunbar High grad Keri Jewett-Giles knew she was going to transfer from Southern Miss after her sophomore season and her destination became clear during a team gathering.
“We were actually in film at Southern Miss, and I knew I was going to leave, and we were watching FGCU vs. a team we were going to play, and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to go there,'” Jewett-Giles said.
The former two-time The News-Press Player of the Year had been a partial starter both of her seasons at Southern Miss and was third on the team with nine-point average as a sophomore. She also stacked up 100 assists that season. But she was a bit homesick, the Golden Eagles toiled in relative obscurity and coach Joye Lee-McNelis was taking leave due to lung cancer.
More: College basketball: Former Dunbar star Jewett-Giles transferring home to FGCU
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“I knew I could come here and have a better future,” said the 5-foot-6 (in high heels) junior point guard who easily leads 6-2 FGCU, which next plays at home Friday vs. Johnson and Wales, with a 16 point per game average and already has won two ASUN Newcomer of the Week awards.
Jewett-Giles asked Dunbar coach Dwayne Donnell to contact the Eagles to see if she had a place to land with them. Sure enough, program-founding FGCU coach Karl Smesko and company were shopping for a point guard, but they were looking for a lower-division transfer, graduate student or super-talented high school senior who could play right away.
“But we thought she was talented enough and would be good enough in our system that it was worth having her sit a year for two years to play,” Smesko said. “It definitely worked out for both of us because we were looking for a point guard, and she wanted to head back to home and became available. It was good timing.”
Smesko and company came close when Jewett-Giles, a three-time All-Class 4A performer, made her first college call.
“Real close,” she said. “My high school coach really pressed me to come here.”
Jewett-Giles, who began realizing she could be college scholarship material while playing for Shannon Graham’s DasHuh non-profit organization in the seventh and eighth grades, made only one visit during her second recruiting process.
“The people here, they love you,” Jewett-Giles said. “The atmosphere is totally different. This is what I love. People come to watch. The coaching staff is amazing. And the school is great and it’s close to home. I loved the atmosphere and their style of play.
“I knew I was going to have to learn a lot, so the sitting out part to me … I told my mom that it would be hard but I can just learn and be ready for the next year.”
It’s not easy picking up Smesko’s unique high-motion offense that’s predicated solely on drives and 3-pointers. At Southern Miss, mid-rangers and paint-pounding had been all the rage.
“I knew I had to change into what they wanted me to be to be able to play,” Jewett-Giles said. “But I knew Coach Smesko doesn’t tell us anything that doesn’t make us better. So with the transitioning to the 3, I had to get my shot better. (FGCU assistant and former Eagles All-ASUN forward Chelsea) Lyles worked with me from the first day.”
Giles has made 34.7 percent (17 of 49) of her 3-point tries.
“That sit-out year, I really focused in and said, ‘If I’m going to be a key player, I have to know what I’m doing, especially being a point guard, a coach on the floor. I’ve got it down-pat. If I don’t do it, I’m being lazy or tired.’
“The little things they teach has really gotten me to be a better player.”
Smesko has been thrilled with her progress.
“She’s really quick and she’s able to attack the rim,” he said. “She finds a way to find seams and finish aggressively despite not being very tall. And she can shoot the 3, which makes her very versatile on the offensive end. She’s capable of changing a game defensively when she’s really locked in and wants to make things difficult for people.
“She’s definitely having a great start to this season and is definitely capable of being a first-team, all-conference-level player. If she can build upon what she’s started, I think she will be one. Sometimes you get surprised or even disappointed, thinking kids would be more productive than maybe what they have been, but she’s pretty much been what we expected her to be, and I think it can even go up from here.”
Asked what Jewett-Giles brings to this team, All-ASUN junior forward Tytionia Adderly didn’t hesitate.
“She gives us everything,” she said. “I love playing with her. She makes everybody else better. The pace is very different. Keri’s a big plus for us this year.”
Jewett-Giles’ parents — Demesha Giles-Smith and Wilkie Jewett — and her 10 siblings seldom got a chance to see her at Southern Miss. Now she has an army of family and friends at every FGCU home game.
“I know my family is very supportive,” Jewett-Giles said. “At my high school games they packed the gym, so I knew here they would do the same thing.”
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