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March 19, 2013

March Madness: Former Lady ’Canes’ star battling illness head-on



She returned to the hospital four weeks after the initial diagnosis. “They said I’m making a miraculous recovery,” Jaleesa said. “I’m gaining strength on my left side and walking in heels again.”

Jaleesa said her mother prepared her for such trials.

“She’s handling it so well,” said Donna, who has given her daughter a foundation of spiritual and physical strength to build upon.

“Jaleesa, who turned 24 this month, believes she may have missed earlier symptoms during the past few years. “When I worked out, my legs would be numb or go tingly for an hour and I would feel faint,” she said. “I thought I was just overworking myself and didn’t pay any attention to it.”

She enjoys her role as grad assistant on the staff of Tarrell Robinson, who recruited her out of New Castle High School six years ago. She got into coaching last year, serving as an assistant at Southern Guilford High School. She prefers coaching on the collegiate level.

Considered one of the best high school basketball players from western Pennsylvania, Jaleesa averaged 19 points per game and led New Castle to the WPIAL Class AAAA championship in her senior year. She had five triple-doubles, including a game in which she scored 27 points, 15 rebounds and 10 steals to go with five assists. In a WPIAL playoff game, she scored 23 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and had eight steals.

A four-year varsity starter, Sams scored 1,909 points for the Red Hurricane and was a two-time Associated Press PIAA first-team performer.

Sams was the highest rated high school recruit to sign with the women’s basketball program at A&T, ranked as high as No. 31 in the nation among high school prospects by She had one of the most successful careers in A&T history, reaching postseason play all four years, winning three regular-season titles and making three NCAA tournament appearances.

“Jaleesa faces challenges head-on and that’s always been her way,” said Luann Grybowski, her high school coach. “She was the hardest worker in practice.”

“She can set an example for others,” said Grybowski, who stays in contact with her former player. “She did that in athletics and I know she will continue to that.”

(Email: d_burcham

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