PEMBROKE — Purnell Swett girls basketball head coach Danyel Jolicoeur didn’t think she had come across a high school athlete when she first met Nakyra Mitchell.
“She came up to me and said she was here for basketball, and I thought she was here for middle school basketball camp,” Jolicoeur said. “I was like, ‘camp doesn’t start until tomorrow,’ and she said she was a freshman.”
Four years later, Mitchell sat next to Jolicoeur and softball head coach William Deese on Friday as she signed her letter of intent to play basketball at Fayetteville Technical Community College next season.
Both coaches said Mitchell’s strong work ethic and friendly demeanor helped her succeed at Purnell Swett.
“She’s worked hard since she was a young player, and she’s developed into an awesome athlete,” Jolicoeur said. “She has an enormous heart. She may not be the tallest one on the court, but her heart is definitely the biggest.”
Deese said Mitchell has always been coachable and easy to get along with.
“She has a great personality,” Deese said. “She smiles all the time. She’s well-liked by her peers and she’s a good student. Those qualities will make her successful as she goes off to college.”
Mitchell bats at the top of the lineup for the softball team. The Lady Rams qualified for the playoffs this season and will begin postseason play on Wednesday.
Softball was her first love, but Mitchell said her passion for basketball grew throughout her career at Purnell Swett.
“It’s amazing. I never thought I’d be signing to play basketball in college, even though I started my freshman year,” Mitchell said. “I was once a diehard softball player, but I switched over to basketball.”
Jolicoeur, who played college basketball at Catawba before playing professionally in Belgium, was a mentor for Mitchell as she pursued her own collegiate career.
“I’ve always looked up to my coach, and she played college basketball and made the hall of fame (at Catawba),” Mitchell said. “I knew I wanted to play college ball.”
“Win or lose, she’s going to play to the best of her ability,” Jolicoeur said. “She’s going to do great. I’m sad that she’s leaving, but I’m glad she’s getting this experience.”
Mitchell said she hopes her work ethic will leave an impression on younger players at Purnell Swett after she graduates.
“I want to leave behind motivation to never give up and work hard in the offseason so you can show out in the regular season.
Most of all, she’s looking forward to making a name for herself at Fayetteville Tech. Mitchell said she had offers from three four-year colleges, but she felt at home with the Trojans.
“I went to work out at Fayetteville Tech and I just fell in love with the school, the coach and the players,” Mitchell said.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.