Memphis game marks homecoming for Earley

Junior forward Ashley Earley is playing a key role for the Commodores this year, averaging 13.7 points and 9.2 rebounds through six games. The team travels to the University of Memphis Thursday for a game that marks a homecoming for Earley. Earlier in the week VandyMania talked with Ashley about the formative years of her basketball career.

VM: Ashley, the game against Memphis is a "homecoming" game for you. What are homecoming games all about?

Ashley: It gives the player a chance to go home and play in front of their friends and families. Everybody else is trying to go and play and have a good showing.

VM: Anything special planned while you're there?

Ashley: We'll go to my house Wednesday night for dinner. That'll be really nice. It's Memphis, so of course there will be barbecue, pasta and a bunch of other stuff.

VM: Do you have lots of family here?

Ashley: Yes, my entire family is there. My mom grew up in Memphis. She had five brothers and sisters. And then my dad has several. He was born in Arkansas but grew up in Memphis, so all my relatives are in Memphis.

VM: How many cousins do you have there?

Ashley: A lot. I think I have about 30 people on the ticket list so far, and that's just family and some of my close friends. I think some people I played against in high school are coming that are still in Memphis.

VM: Could you tell me about playing basketball as you were growing up?

Ashley: I think I first started playing when I was about seven. I just started playing out in the backyard. Actually my dad inititally was trying to get my older sister to start playing basketball. She's ten and a half years older, and she didn't really take to it too well. I was just watching them and picked up the ball one day. I was outside all the time playing. I remember in P.E., all the other little girls were playing house or something, and I was playing with the little boys. They were playing basketball and all different kinds of sports.

I think the first team I played on was in the second grade. That was my school team. Then I started playing AAU. Actually I think my PE teacher knew one of the AAU coaches, and she had him come to one of our games to see me play. Then I went to try out for the AAU team. I had just turned 10 on my first AAU team. So I played on that. That was when I first started playing, and I played up till I was 17.

That first year I didn't play a whole lot. It was the first time that I had ever been in a competitive league. I was used to being one of the better kids, playing in a small Catholic school league. Then I got better the next year. My parents were really hard on me because they knew that I could play, and I was just nervous every time I went in because the girls were bigger and stronger.

Believe it or not, I would always go up to the little rec center, when I was 11 years old, and I would play around there. Then the next year I came back, and I played with my age group, and our team got like second in the AAU nationals. So we actually did better.

VM: At that point, was your team primarily girls from the Memphis area?

Ashley: At that point, yes. I didn't start playing with girls from the rest of Tennessee until I was about 15 or 16.

VM: You went to high school at Briarcrest. Was their athletic program part of the reason you went there?

Ashley: Yes, actually one of the guys that was associated with my very first AAU team, his daughter went to Briarcrest, so that was a big part of why I went there, and their athletic program. I met with the coach, and I liked him. At that point I knew I wanted to play in college, so it seemed like a good choice.

VM: And all the time you were still playing AAU? Didn't you start playing for the Tennessee Stars at some point?

Ashley: Yes. I first started playing with them 15-and-under. Brittany Jackson (now at Tennessee) was on that team. We had played against each other since we were 11-and-under, and it was always like the East Tennessee-West Tennessee little rivalry going on. For several years they beat us out for state every year. Finally when we were 14-and-under, we beat them, so that kind of broke the ice a little bit. It's like, "I hate you until I beat you, and then we can be friends now."

I remember right before that summer they called my parents, and me and a couple of girls from my team traveled up to Knoxville or Chattanooga to try out, and we made the team, and we all ended up being on the same AAU. That was 15-and-under. I think that year we might have finished in the Sweet 16. I don't think we did too well. But the following year, we got a few more girls from all different areas of the state, and we actually won nationals. That was 16-and-under.

VM: That was the year nationals were in Chattanooga, wasn't it?

Ashley: Yes, that was in Chattanooga. That was really fun. Katie Sipe was on that team, too. She's at Alabama. Brittany Jackson, Tennessee. Two girls from Tennessee Tech, Casey Bradford and Tynisha Alexader. Courtney Boynton, she plays for Lipscomb.

VM: At what point did you start looking seriously at Vanderbilt for college?

Ashley: Initially, I knew I wanted to go to the SEC. I put a great deal of emphasis on academics, and I knew I wanted to go to a great school. I hadn't really looked too much -- I don't know if you know, but I committed in June before my senior year. That was before I got MVP at nationals.

After that summer people started heavily recruiting me. That was a really big summer for me. Before that I hadn't had too much exposure. Getting MVP at nationals and your team winning is a huge deal, so I think that really kind of sparked interest, and that's when I started getting ranked in the national polls and All-American lists.

VM: All that attention came about pretty rapidly, didn't it?

Ashley: Yes, it did. It did. It was all after that summer.

VM: But you had already committed to Vanderbilt?

Ashley: Yes, I had already committed. I actually had been seriously considering Georgia, but I cancelled my visit at Georgia and came here for a weekend and loved it.

VM: What was it about Vanderbilt that led you to come here?

Ashley: I think it was just a perfect fit. They were highly recognized nationally basketball program, and academics-- well, if you want to play in the SEC and go to a great school, this is where you go. And the team was just awesome, the team chemistry.I just loved Coach Foster. I don't know what it is about him, but I just loved him. My parents loved him, and I just loved the school.

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Ashley and her teammates prepare to board the bus for Memphis. From left to right: Freshman guard Caroline Williams, sophomore guard Erica Grimaldi, Ashley, and freshman guard Katie Antony. Top Stories