Troup players getting their chance

Published 3:21 pm Wednesday, May 24, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – It was a brutal blow.

After suffering a major knee injury, Troup High’s Shawnkeya Sands recovered, went through rehab, and returned to the basketball court, hoping to continue playing the sport she loved.

And then it happened again.

Sands endured another massive injury, this one to the other knee, and she was forced to the sidelines yet again and underwent a second surgery, and she wondered if she’d ever play again.

Sands, who missed, most of two seasons, did return, and as a senior she was a driving force on a Troup team that had a winning record and reached the state tournament for the second straight year.

Now, Sands is getting a chance to continue to play the sport that means so much to her, and she’ll be doing it on the collegiate level.

Sands, along with teammate Kwyneshia Spence, will have an opportunity to play college basketball.

Sands is staying in her home state to play for Andrew College in Cuthbert, while Spence is going to Labette Community College in Kansas.

Both players were celebrated during a signing-day ceremony last week in the school’s media center.

Those who have meant so much to Spence and Sands were there, including family members, friends, teammates, and coaches.

Also in attendance were the other two seniors on the team, Cortney Alexander and Akhya Mitchell, and they will be going to college as well.

For Sands, the road to college clearly wasn’t a smooth one, but she persevered, and she was able to go out on a strong note with a terrific senior season.

“Keya came in, and she’s been a hard worker, and it’s fortunate that things worked out for her,” Troup head coach Carla Thornton said. “Good things do happen to good people. She missed two seasons coming off back-to-back knee injuries. To still be able to get a scholarship, that’s extremely hard.”

Following her second injury, Sands predictably had some doubts about her chances of playing in college, and she said she’s “very excited” to get this opportunity.

“After my second knee injury, I really thought that no school would want me,” Sands said. “So I was down about that. But I kept working, and I feel like I’m stronger than I was when I first started because of the work I put in. I’m ready.”

As for being able to share her signing ceremony with so many people close to her, Sands said “it really means everything to me, especially to have this on my mom’s birthday. I know she’s proud of me.”

Spence was a four-year starter at Troup, and Thornton was proud of the way she grew as a player, a person, and a student.

Reflecting on a disciplinary issue early in her high-school career, Thornton said “I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Even that ordeal she went through, I feel she had to go through that to become a better person. And she grew a lot because of that, not only as a person, but as a player as well.”

Spence had an opportunity to play at Tennessee State, but she ended up backing out of that following a coaching change.

Spence chose the junior-college route, so she’ll have an opportunity to transfer to a four-year school after one or two years at Labette.

“She’s had a chance to talk to Division I coaches, Division II coaches,” Thornton said. “But like I always say, God has a path for us. Sometimes the vision we have for ourselves isn’t the vision that he has had for. Sometimes you have to trust and believe that things will work out for the better.”

Spence said the chance to play in college “means so much to me” and that she’s also looking forward to going to a different part of the country.

“I’m ready to go,” Spence said. “It’s far, but I’ll be able to focus on what I need to focus on, just get away from everybody, and just be myself.”

Spence said she appreciates all the help Thornton provided over the past four years.

“She encouraged me, and she pushed me from my ninth-grade year to become a better player and a better person,” Spence said. “And my mom and dad pushed me as well. And my friends, they always knew I had it in me. I’m really going to miss them.”

Thornton believes Spence and Sands are both heading into situations where they can thrive.

“I tried to make sure both my girls were in a situation similar to my team, a family-oriented team, because that’s what they’ve grown accustomed to,” Thornton said.

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