Volleyball is Esha Atkins’ passion, but the Killeen senior also has priorities.
And the Division I schools offering Atkins volleyball scholarships didn’t cater to what mattered most to her.
“I had little, small D-1 offers — I always wanted to go D-1. I went and it was either too far or they didn’t have my major,” Atkins said.
“Volleyball is my ultimate passion,” she added. “And knowing that I couldn’t go because of my major or how far away it was ... it was really tough on me.”
The University of Texas-Tyler basketball team, though, appealed to Atkins’ other love.
After a lengthy recruiting process that ultimately made her choose between basketball and volleyball, Atkins announced Monday she was sticking to her early-season commitment to play basketball for the Division III Patriots in a mock signing ceremony at the Killeen gym.
“Ever since I was little, I had nothing but love for basketball. And then at some turning point, I just fell away from it,” Atkins said. “Coming here, (Killeen volleyball) coach (Shelly) Harris made me fall in love with volleyball. It’s like I’m good at basketball, I’m really good at volleyball, but where do I go? Which sport can I really succeed in and who can help me get better?”
After making her commitment during an official visit in November, Atkins was approached by a number of small Division I programs, such as Savannah State in Savannah, Ga., as well as Morgan State and Coppin State in Baltimore, Md., which offered the versatile Killeen athlete scholarship offers in volleyball.
But they were either too far from home or didn’t offer criminal justice as a major. So Atkins stuck with the basketball commitment she made after watching the Patriots practice in November.
“When I watched them play, they played because they loved basketball, not because they were just going through the motions. I think the difference between D-3 and other schools is you’re there with absolutely no type of scholarship and you’re playing because you want to,” Atkins said.
“I know I have that love to play. I just think it comes with being around people who also love the game, not just playing by yourself. It was such a team sport, there — and I’m a team player all the way — and they do the little things and I think that’s what I do.”
Atkins averaged 8.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.6 steals per game and was the “glue” on the Lady Roos’ basketball team this season, head coach Latisha Williams said.
“It’s the intangibles. We were just more cohesive when she was on the court,” Williams said. “It wasn’t because she was scoring a lot of points, wasn’t because she was getting a lot of steals or anything like that, but you just had to have her out there. She just really brought everybody together.”
Atkins has been an all-district first-team selection in both volleyball and basketball the last two years and was a four-year letterman for the Lady Roos in both sports.
Under first-year head coach Kevin Baker, the Patriots won a program-best 18 games in 2013 and reached the American Southwest Conference tournament semifinals for the first time in school history. Baker, who was 103-35 at Copperas Cove as the Lady Bulldawgs’ head coach from 2003-07, was the ASC East Division co-Coach of the Year last season.
“It is truly a blessing,” Atkins said of playing college basketball. “It shows that all my hard work really did work out, whether it was going in the gym at 5 o’clock in the morning or trying to lift weights or just anything. Knowing that I achieved one of my goals of playing on the collegiate level is really great to me.”