Meet the first deaf player to sign a Division 1 basketball scholarship in Mississippi
[May 31, 2021: Joe Cook]
Take one look at Alexis Roberts and you can see the potential she has as a basketball player.
This month, the 6-foot forward with more than 1,000 career points and 500 rebounds signed to pay for the Jackson State Tigers. Her signing is historic.
Roberts is the first deaf player to sign a Division 1 basketball scholarship in Mississippi.
"I feel very excited because I am the first deaf person to do that, and it's great to make history," Roberts said through interpreter Cheryl Keller.
Roberts was born with a percentage of hearing in both ears, but her hearing faded as she grew older. Communicating was a challenge for Roberts growing up, but at the age of 12, she was introduced to basketball and it changed everything.
"She was very to herself. She didn't do a whole lot of communicating, not even really with me," said Velma Patrick, Alexis' mother. "But picking up that basketball, it was everything to her. Basketball, you can say, gave her life."
Roberts and her family moved from Newton to Jackson to attend the Mississippi School for the Def and she continued to grow as a basketball player. JSU noticed her on the AAU circuit in middle school and invited her to camp when she was a sophomore.
"At camp, she was phenomenal," JSU Head Coach Tomekia Reed said. "I mean, she was a workhorse. We put her in competitive drills against Dandy Dozens and top players in the state and she was just outworking everybody. And I said, 'You know what? I want you part of my program,' and that's what we offered her."
The coaches and players at JSU will take sign language courses to learn how to communicate with their new teammate, but they may have an advantage with Roberts on the team.
"I'm very excited because I'm ready. I would love to be able to teach them. I think it's going to be easy for us to communicate. It's actually easier to sign than speak, so it will be a nice way to have that language," Roberts said. "We can just sign to each other on the court and people won't know what we're talking about."
Sekoe White, the head coach of the MSD Bulldogs has coached Alexis for the past two years. He was a deaf athlete himself, having played in college and semi-pro ball. White believes Roberts' biggest impact will be off the court.
"When she gets to JSU, at that level it's a chance to let the world know any deaf person can do it," White said. "You just need the hard work, but sometimes the deaf people need to work a little bit extra hard, but you can make it happen and here is our proof. I think her biggest impact is really on the world."
"I'm very proud," Patrick said. "I mean, I can't even put it in words. I'm super proud."
JSU recruiting Roberts says a lot about the university, and her desire to play at the highest level. She has dealt with barriers all of her light, and now she's breaking them down.
"I actually knew deaf people can do anything, just like any hearing people can, so it wasn't anything really different for me. The only difference is I sign with my hands and hearing people speak with their voice," Roberts said.
"She deserves the opportunity to play for a Division 1 program -- not because of her situation, she shouldn't be limited to that. She should be able to receive everything else that everybody else receives, and she doesn't let her situation hold her back from being great," Reed said.
Alexis plans to major in Physical Education at Jackson State.
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