Ieshia Small Profile Part I: Dealing With Loss

This is Part I of a two-part profile on new Maryland women's hoops transfer Ieshia Small.

Ieshia Small can recall the moment frame by frame, a silver-screen action scene unfolding in slow motion. It was February 19, 2011, her sophomore season at Dr. Michael Krop High (Miami, Fla.), and the 6-foot future McDonald’s All-American, the hottest hoops sensation in Miami save LeBron and D-Wade, had the Lightning on the brink of their first class 6A state finals appearance.

In a back-and-forth regional finals affair against Lourdes Academy, where neither squad led by more than a bucket or two, Small, adrenaline pulsating through ice-water strewn veins, sought the hero role.

There were 11 seconds remaining, score tied at 47 . . .

“So we had the ball and my coach looked right at me,” Small recalled. “He told me to hold the ball until I felt comfortable, and then go for it [the game-winning shot].”

For whatever reason, the Lourdes’ defense elected not to pressure Small -- the high school equivalent of leaving Kobe Bryant one-on-one in crunch time.

With six seconds remaining, Small dribbled down; gave her defender a nifty crossover; and cleared enough space to hoist up a clean 15-footer right before the buzzer.

The shot wasn’t exactly “pure.” The ball caromed high off the left side of the rim … then struck the right side … and finally hit the backboard …

And then it fell through the net.

“I’ll tell you, we had a huge crowd that night,” said Small, a rising junior who transferred from Baylor to Maryland June 28, 2015. “And everyone went crazy. Everyone stormed the floor. And then my mom came down and jumped on my back. That was my favorite moment on the basketball court.”

A week later, Krop played in its first state semifinals.

Two days after that, Small probably would’ve given it all back -- in a heartbeat.

Michelle Robinson, according to Small, was one of those moms. The stereotypical orange-bearing, Gatorade-serving, sign-waving, bleacher-yelling team mom. She attended every one of Ieshia’s AAU and high school games, and each of her son Marvin’s -- a year younger than Ieshia -- football games. A true staple in the stands at Krop High.

She dolled out advice, offered constructive criticism, always gave plenty of praise. Any athletic, academic or extracurricular activity her children pursued, Michelle Robinson was behind them 100 percent. And when the recruiters and reporters came calling as Ieshia’s hoops profile reached national status, Robinson served as the buffer, allowing her daughter to concentrate on basketball.

It reached the point where the trio had formed a thick-as-thieves bond.

“She was my right-hand woman,” Small said. “And it was the same with my brother. She was always there for us.”

Then she was gone.

Heart attack.

48 years old.

Collapsed at work.

Just like that.

Ieshia and Marvin Small didn’t have a clue.

The two teens were called to Krop’s principal’s office March 1, 2011, forced to wait six hours until their uncle and older brother arrived to pick them up.

“I kept calling my mom’s phone, but it kept going straight to voicemail every time,” Ieshia Small said. “I was waiting and waiting, and just … nothing.”

Small’s uncle and older brother, Torrey Washington, finally arrived later that afternoon. Then after an eerily quiet car ride home, they explained to Ieshia and Marvin what had happened to their mother.

“I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe it. She wasn’t sick. It was just a heart attack, out of the blue,” said Ieshia Small, whose father died when she was 13, although he wasn’t overly involved in her life. “And we had just got back from states a couple days before. Literally, just got back from states. It was very hard on all of us; she was a very special person.”

Coping with Robinson’s death was difficult enough, but Ieshia and Marvin had to wad through even murkier waters ahead. Washington attempted to take the pair in, but was deemed “unsuitable to take care of us,” according to Small. So during a random after-school basketball practice, the police unexpectedly showed up, escorting the Smalls to a facility. Small said the police confiscated their cell phones, rendering them unable to contact anyone save for Facebook message exchanges on a universal computer.

Not that there was anyone who could’ve helped anyway. After all, only family could claim them, and besides Washington and their uncle, the Small children had no blood relatives in Miami. Thus, they ended up in an area foster home, Marvin residing on one side of the street and Ieshia the other.

“It’s not like it is in movies. It’s not that bad,” Small said of the foster home experience. “But it is like a jail in a way. It is true you can’t do anything and really are stuck in the house and in the area. It’s not a great place for kids to [grow up]. It can get a little miserable. Everywhere I went I had to have a court order.”

The two remained in foster care for a full year until Kimberly Davis-Powell, Small’s Essence AAU coach, along with her husband, Kelvin Powell, adopted them.

Of course, when Davis-Powell initially offered to take Ieshia and Marvin in, following Michelle Robinson’s death, the Smalls were skeptical. After all, Ieshia had just joined the Essence program and didn’t have much of a relationship with her new coach yet. Sure, Davis-Powell had intently scouted Small as a seventh grader, but the coach’s main point of contact was the mother. She didn’t meet Small face-to-face until the latter’s sophomore year at Krop.

“I think Ieshia saw we were genuine, but it was hard, because everyone in Miami deemed her as a star. Everyone deemed her as the next coming, and was trying to get their hands on her,” Davis-Powell said. “And I was like, ‘No body cares about that right now; her mama’s gone.’ And because of all that mess, [Ieshia and Marvin] ended up in foster care. So that’s when I really stepped in and adopted them.

“But we had to work to show them we really cared about them as children and not as basketball players. That was difficult at times, to get them to understand that.”

To read the rest of Small's story, see Part II, which will be released tomorrow.

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