Dec. 28, 2013
By Steve Irvine, UABsports.com
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - One of the first things that UAB point guard Chelsee Black does before nearly every game is glance into the stands and find the homemade sign she knows will always be there.
The sign, which is brought to games by her mother, Rosalind Black, features a bible verse, Philippians 4:13, which proclaims ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ The sign has been present since Chelsee first picked up a basketball and started throwing it through a hoop. It was there when Black was playing the sport as a youngster in leagues near her Bessemer home and remained a constant presence during throughout her games in middle school, high school and the AAU circuit.
“She’s never missed a game without it,” Chelsee said. “I know exactly where she’s going to be when I see that sign. That sign has really meant a lot to me. Coming from a very religious background, she’s always instilled in me that I can do anything in Christ and that’s pretty much what I’ve kind of based my life on. It’s actually my favorite scripture, so it’s been stuck in my heart. Before every game, I always repeat that over and over to myself and that’s what motivates me to come out here and play.”
The 5-foot-6 guard has excelled on the basketball court since she was a youngster. She was high school starter for five seasons – joining the team as an 8th grader – and one of the top players in Alabama by the time she was finished at Bessemer City High. She averaged 22.2 points as a senior, garnering All-State honors and winning the Girls West Player of the Year as chosen by the Birmingham News.
Black, who graduated sixth in her senior class, wanted to leave the state to attend college and she had options to make this happen.
Black became more comfortable at UAB each time she took an unofficial visit to the school. Eventually, she decided that UAB was the place for her and she informed former UAB head coach Audra Smith of her decision with a phone call while shopping. When she got home, Chelsee informed her parents of the decision.
“My mom, she was so excited,” Black said. “She was begging me to stay home. My dad, he was like ‘I already knew. I knew from day 1 this is where you’d be.’ They were proud of me and really happy for me.”
Black played a significant role as a freshman, averaging 17 minutes per game in 28 appearances. She was the team’s top free throw shooter, hitting 81 percent from the line on 58 attempts, and had perhaps her best outing of the year with a 15-point performance in the season-ending loss at Auburn in the first round of the WNIT.
Soon after the season ended, however, Black and the other returning players had to adjust to a new head coach Randy Norton and a new coaching staff. Black said the adjustment was not as difficult as some assume.
“I’ve had coaching changes all through my life,” Black said. “I’ve been through every sort of change there is but as far as the new staff coming in, I think it was pretty easy to adjust to. Coach Norton and our whole staff was great, as far as being great people, great leaders, people you can talk to outside of basketball. Of course, it’s a different style of play and different types of practices but we’ve adjusted.”
Norton figured out quickly that he has a special player in Black and not just because she’s averaging 12.9 points and a team-best 2.5 turnovers per game while helping the Blazers to an 8-4 record.
“She’s just an outstanding young lady, on and off the court,” said Norton, whose team has a big non-conference game against SEC power Vanderbilt on Monday at 7 p.m. at Bartow Arena. “She’s the kind of player we want to represent our program. She’s high character off the court and on the court she’s just turned into an unbelievable leader for us. We call her ‘The General’ and she’s just a pleasure to coach every single day.”
One adjustment for Black, though, in her featured role as the team’s starting point guard was to join seniors Karisma Chapman and Ashley Grimes as the leaders. Black said she’s naturally quiet on the basketball court. Leading by example has always been her style and she’s done it well. However, as the team’s point guard, Norton needed her to be a vocal leader.
“Our first day of practice here, I kind of didn’t even say a word,” Black said. “I was kind of like ‘I’ll just come out here and play my game and get my teammates involved.’”
Norton not only wanted more from Black, he felt like his team needed more so he called for a post-practice meeting and challenged Black to become more vocal. Black has certainly met – and probably exceeded – expectations from the challenge.
“She has great leadership characteristics but she was just not comfortable being vocal about it,” Norton said. “I just told her how important that is as a point guard. I just feel like every single day she comes in with the mindset to get better.”