After nearly a year not knowing what her immediate future would hold, Jazmine Massengill now is a crucial piece of the Kentucky team that hopes to contend nationally once March rolls around.
“I just came in here thinking I was sitting out for a year and just had to bite the bullet, it was kind of already made up in my mind,” Massengill said.
While now comfortably in Kentucky’s starting lineup and slashing herself a significant role into this program, the path hasn’t always been so clear or simple.
A former McDonald’s All-American, Massengill has been no stranger to adversity and pressure packed conditions for some time now. Massengill was a key component of two straight NACA national championships for Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in her last two years of high school ball. She played with Treasure Hunt on both of these national championship teams, which she did admit have some influence in her decision to come to Lexington this time around.
Massengill was set to be a Division 1 player before ever stepping foot into high school, receiving an offer to play at Western Kentucky University when she was in eighth grade. By the time she was a junior every SEC school had offered her at that point. Well, all but one.
“Tennessee was my dream school,” Massengill said. She eventually got the offer to go become a Volunteer, which she hopped on almost immediately.
Things were looking optimistic when she went up to Knoxville for the first time. As a freshman, Massengill broke through to become a regular rotation player for the Lady Vols. She averaged nearly 18 minutes a game, even earning a start for one game that year. But even after carving out a permanent rotation spot in Tennessee, Massengill planned to transfer after her freshman season. The firing of then head coach Holly Warlick convinced Massengill to hold out of the transfer portal for at least one more year.
“The team just really kind of agreed to try Kellie Harper here and give her a chance,” Massengill said. “And if you don’t like it or you just need a new environment or you see yourself somewhere else, they’d be open to me leaving.”
During that one trial year, Massengill still found a way to have an impressive campaign. Sixth in the SEC in assists per game as a sophomore, she ended up starting all but one of Tennessee’s contests in the 2019-20 season.
In a game against a then top-15 ranked Notre Dame team, Massengill went for 13 rebounds and nine assists, while blocking four shots in the process.
Despite finding clear individual success while in Knoxville, Massengill knew she wasn’t happy. Her previous connections with Treasure and Rhyne Howard, who she played AUU with in the past, had some influence on her decision. Massengill is clear to say the transfer was about her personal interests and what environment suited her best.
“Yeah, at the end of the day they’re like family to me so I wanted to be with Rhyne and Treasure but also it’s bigger than them as well. I have to be happy, maybe it would be a fit for them but not a fit for me. It just happened to be a fit for me also,” she said.
Other than the bond she had already with players on the team, Massengill mentioned her almost immediate “fit” with Kentucky’s coaches.
“I gained early relationships with the coaching staff, even from the first time I got recruited. We kind of just picked up where we left off when I entered the transfer portal,” she said.
Even with Matthew Mitchell stepping down as head coach, Massengill had no regrets in her decision to come to the Bluegrass.
“Me and the other coaches gained such a strong bond and such a strong connection that I had no problem playing under Coach Elzy. We were excited when we found out she was the head coach. At the end of the day, he did what was best for him and we supported him 110% and now we’re 110% behind Coach Elzy.”
With a significant coaching change right before the start of the season and a transfer waiver up in the air, Massengill had no idea whether she’d be able to even step on the court this year.
“[Not playing] was already kind of made up in my mind. My focus coming in here was just being the best player I could be in the offseason; I was actually working on making my teammates better,” she said. She was aware of the possibility of the transfer waiver being cleared, but still didn’t want to get her hopes up.
“Me and Coach Butts worked really hard on that [getting the transfer waiver] but Tennessee didn’t want to sign it for whatever reason.” Massengill said. “Coach Butts just kind of kept me in the loop and she was like ‘There’s still voters so be patient, don’t get your hopes up but I don’t want you to be hopeless either.’”
That hope came to fruition in a busy December month for the NCAA. On Dec. 16, the DI Council granted a waiver that allowed all student-athletes to become immediately eligible to play. The decision came out of nowhere and what was once a lost season for Massengill turned into an opportunity to showcase her immense value on the court.
Now, Massengill can have her sole focus be on basketball and trying to exhibit the qualities needed to help bring this team to an SEC championship and beyond.
“I feel like I bring leadership, I feel like I bring energy. Basically, just togetherness, I’m a floor general,” Massengill said.. “I’m definitely a pass-first point guard, it’s my number one priority. Honestly, I’d rather see my teammates make big shots and get them open shots. I definitely really do take pride in getting assists and running the team.”
It took Massengill and the coaching staff a few games to really figure out her best position within the team, but once she entered the starting line-up everything seemed to click. After a double-digit loss to Tennessee a couple weeks prior, Massengill earned her first start as a Wildcat against her old school and showed out, scoring a season high 11 points in the Feb. 11 victory at home.
In the three games following that she’s gotten the starting nod, Massengill has had at least five assists in each game, dishing out 10 of them against Florida.
“[Coach Elzy] needed me to push the pace, she needed me to run the offense. Just get us in the sets really, and just control the floor.” Massengill said about what advice from her coach. “She believed in me and she trusted me.”
With the SEC and NCAA tournaments looming right around the corner now, Massengill feels confident in the damage that this team can potentially do despite the daunting competition.
“We’re comfortable, we know what kind of team we have and our game. We just have to be able to put all four quarters together and stay locked in and focus mentally.”