Athlete Spotlight: Sayawni Lassiter ‘17 - Newton North Girls Basketball
by Nate Weitzer for Mass Prep Stars
NEWTON, Mass. – When an outstanding young guard suffers a devastating knee injury early in their high school career, it can serve as a significant hurdle. But Newton North star Sayawni Lassister ‘17 has been rising to challenges throughout her life.
The Dorchester native tore her anterior cruciate ligament towards the end of her freshman season. She stayed off the court for the better part of a calendar year while rehabbing and working her way back into elite shape, but those who know her best say that Lassister is better than ever, and collegiate scouts seemed to agree.
The 2017 McDonald's ALl-American game nominee received approximately 40 offers to play for different colleges. Eventually, the 5-foot-10 combo guard decided that Florida State was the best fit for her, but before she moves on to the next level, “Say” wants to bring a state title to Newton North.
Working with the star senior is first-year head coach Mo Hamel, an experienced collegiate player who spent several seasons on the sidelines as an assistant for Newton North and a storied Watertown program.
Hamel worked with Sayawni’s older sister Ednaija Lassister when she was with the Tigers a few years ago and was well aware of Say’s reputation when she took over as head coach this fall.
“[Lassister] is a very mature basketball player,” began Hamel. “She understands what I’m looking for and we’re building trust in each other.”
Hamel continued, “[Lassister] raises the level of confidence on the floor just with her presence and ability level. Our team is talented overall, but there’s a whole different level with Say. She’s been on the big stage before and they look to her when we get into big moments.”
Lassister began playing basketball in third grade as a member of her uncle Clinton’s AAU program. With Say and Ednaija serving as their foundation, The Boston Showstoppers soon became one of the most successful AAU programs in all of New England.
The Showstoppers faced top-notch competition throughout the country and with her uncle’s guidance, Lassister established a reputation as a guard that would not back down from anyone.
“[Clinton] is basically responsible for my whole development,” said Lassister. “I was always the youngest on most of the teams I played on and he always made sure that I showed the right type of leadership. He made sure I wasn’t a crybaby and that I worked hard all the time to set a good example.”
Being the youngest member of her AAU program, her MetroWest teams and the younger sibling of an athletic family seemed to sharpen Lassister’s toughness.
College scouts covet her ability to drive to the basket and finish through contact, or ward off shot blockers with her strong lower body. Lassister credits early competition against her sister for helping to develop that skill.
“[Ednaija] introduced me to basketball and she’s always been pushing me throughout my life,” Lassister said. “I have a naturally strong lower body and my uncle has always taught me to use it as much as I can. Plus [Ednaija] was always a lot stronger than me so she was pushing me down when were little and that made me get stronger.”
Lassister played alongside her older sister from the time she was in third grade. It made it easier for their parents to attend the games, she explained, while it also made it easier for Say to make the transition to the high school game.
She had been in the Newton school system since kindergarten as a member of the METCO program and immediately began to play a key role for the varsity team as a freshman at Newton North.
“There’s a huge difference between the talent,” Lassister said when talking about competing at the AAU level compared to high school. “In AAU there are scorers everywhere, but there’s not someone who can control the team and make sure that all those scorers in a position to help win games, so I tried to bring that mentality [to Newton North].”
Her career seemed full of promise, but Lassister suffered a torn ACL in April of her freshman year, underwent surgery in May, and didn’t play basketball again until March of 2015.
It took some time, but her inherent toughness and ability to meet the challenges of playing sports against older girls gave Lassister the strength to rehab and return at a high level.
By the fall of her junior year, Lassister said she felt like she was back to full speed. With her injury behind her, she helped lead the Tigers into the Division 1 State Tournament by averaging 20.7 points per game.
Now Newton North is looking to take another step forward, and the Tigers already held their own during a 66-56 defeat at perennial powerhouse Braintree earlier this season. That marks the sole loss for Lassister’s 4-1 Tigers, as she’s averaging 21 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 assists per game so far this year.
When asked if she believed her team could beat Braintree in their second meeting scheduled for this February and potentially win a state title, Lassiter said, “Without a doubt.”
“[Lassister]’s always played with the best and she’s never shied away,” said her uncle Clinton, who is also the varsity coach at Boston Cathedral.
“Whether it was travel basketball or AAU she’s always performed at a high level against some of the top-ranked players in the country. Whatever she’s doing she just wants to succeed. Whether it’s in school, where she has a 3.7 GPA, or in basketball, she wants to do her very best.”
On the court and in the classroom, her best has been enough to earn a scholarship from a premier Division I College in Florida State, and the tough young guard should rise to any challenges she encounters as she transitions to the next level.
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