Central's Jimecheia Banks, Blake Johnson, Jamal Howard sign Wednesday

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 13, 2013 

Three Central High athletes signed letters of intent to continue their athletic careers at the college level on Wednesday.

Girls basketball player Jimecheia Banks signed with Winthrop, and baseball players Blake Johnson and Jamal Howard signed with Alabama-Birmingham and Alabama, respectively.

Their signings Wednesday were the culmination of long recruiting processes for all three.

"The recruiting process was a pain, but I got through it with prayer," Banks said with a smile, adding that there were good parts as well. "Seeing different coaches, meeting new people. Everyone coaches differently."

Howard and Johnson, best friends off the field according to Johnson, earned their scholarships as top players for the Red Devils baseball team. Before those two, Central had only one Division-I signee in the past eight years, according to coach Roy Dixon.

"It means a lot," Johnson said. "It takes off a lot of pressure. It's always been my dream to play D-I baseball and get a four-year degree at the same time. Not many people get that opportunity."

Johnson, a shortstop, hit .323 with two home runs, 21 RBIs and 14 stolen bases as a junior last spring, while Howard hit .355 with six home runs, 27 RBIs and 18 stolen bases.

Howard said his hope is that he can bring those numbers with him when he joins the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.

"They recruited me because of my talents," he said. "When I get down there, I want to show it off where in my freshman year I'm starting."

Alabama and UAB play each other every season, and talk of future matchups between the two already draw laughter and a smile.

"It'll be fun," Johnson said. "Maybe a little weird, but it'll be exciting."

Banks said she choose Winthrop due to a comfort level she found with the players and coaches, as well as a good education and beautiful campus.

"The coaches were great," she said. "The gym was beautiful. It looks brand new. The trainers were great. Everything about it just caught me."

The senior guard averaged 9.1 points and 3.5 steals per game as a junior for the Lady Red Devils last season.

Expectations are never clear until a player begins play at the next level, but Banks said coaches want her to be herself and score.

"Be one of the leading scorers in the division and guide the team as a point guard," she said of the coaches' expectations.

A handful of other signings are coming up around the area during the early signing period. Columbus volleyball's Brianna Gogins will sign with Florida International at a ceremony in the school auditorium at 2 p.m. Thursday. Glenwood golfer Boo O'Pry will sign with West Alabama at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Also from Glenwood, Alex Hicks will sign with Western Carolina basketball and Cailah Niles with Anderson softball at 9:45 a.m. in the gym on Friday.

Brookstone golfer James Clark will sign with Georgia Tech at 10:15 a.m. Friday in the Turner Center Gallery at the school.

David Mitchell, Follow David on Twitter@leprepsports or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports.

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