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Pinole Valley Alums Created a Winning Culture for Fresno State Women's Basketball

Jaleesa Ross is eight 3-points away from breaking the NCAA all-time record.

When Marnique Arnold and Jaleesa Ross met as classmates at , they were two kids with a shared interest in basketball. 

They made their way to together, where they led the Spartans to four-straight league championships and a North Coast Section Division II title in their senior seasons in 2007.

“(High school basketball) was always fun,” Ross remembers. “We always had a lot of talented girls, but we were never the Berkeley. We were a team of legit people who lived in Pinole. There wasn’t any recruiting.”

Not until college coaches started to watch them play, at least.

Ross was on the radar of several Pac-10 schools including Washington, Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State, while Arnold piqued the interest of several Division-I schools in California. 

They went about their recruiting process separately, but Fresno State, and head coach Adrian Wiggins, ended up being the fit they were both looking for. Arnold committed first, then Ross.

“We decided separately, but we came on our visit on the same time,” Ross said. “It’s been like having a piece of home with you … like having a sister.”

Arnold agreed.

“On the court, we know where each other is going to go. I know what pass she’s going to make before (Ross) does,” she said. “Off the court, we’ve always been really close friends. We lived 5 minutes away from each (in Pinole) and our families are really close." 

Until Arnold and Ross arrived on campus, the Bulldogs had never won a Western Athletic Conference title or advanced to the NCAA Tournament .

That changed in a hurry.

Last week, the Bulldogs won their fourth-straight WAC title and today, at 1:15 p.m., on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com, Arnold and Ross will suit up for what could be their final game as teammates. 

The No. 12-seeded Bulldogs will meet No. 5 North Carolina in Albuquerque, N.M., at the University of New Mexico’s famed arena “The Pit.” Despite going 0-for-3 in the NCAA’s over their first three seasons, Ross and Arnold are both confident their college careers will include at least one NCAA tournament win.

“They’re a pretty good team, but we’re excited we’re playing a team we can beat,” Arnold said. The Bulldogs ran into Baylor, Cal and Baylor and the past three seasons.

For Ross, who is eight 3-pointers shy of breaking the all-time NCAA career record, a win would give her an excellent shot at history.

 “To be honest, we had one less game this year because the WAC gave us a double bye in the tournament,” Wiggins said. “If she gets two more games, then yeah … I don’t know if she can hit eight in one game.”

It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but it’d certainly be easier for Ross if the Bulldogs were to get out of the first round.

When she was told earlier in the season that she had a shot at the record, she brushed it off, but she’s starting to look at it differently now that her college career is coming to a close.

“I think it would mean a lot,” she said. “Now that my senior year is closing down I think it’s kind of cool.”

Regardless of what happens against the Tar Heels, Arnold and Ross have not only helped change the culture of Fresno State basketball, but they’ve improved themselves off the court as well.

Ross graduated in three years with a degree in kinesiology and is now enrolled in graduate-level class, pursing sports psychology with the hope of one day becoming a Division-I coach.

“(Graduating early) wasn’t easy, but I didn’t think it was extremely hard either,” Ross said. “I don’t miss class. You got to do school to play basketball.”

When Fresno’s season does come to an end, whether its today, Monday or next week, Ross’ basketball career likely will continue on. She’s gotten interest from professional scouts and is planning on participating in what she called a "NFL combine-like camp" to showcase her talents for both domestic and international scouts.

“I want to keep playing for as long as my body allows it,” Ross said.

And if Wiggins is right, Ross will stick somewhere in the professional ranks, whether it’s in the WNBA or overseas.

“That level is tough, but I think she does everything teams need to get a shot,” Wiggins said. She’s far from just a 3-point specialist, Ross was also the WAC Defensive Player of the Year as a junior. 

Arnold and Ross will leave Fresno as a part of the winningest class in school history.

And it all began at Pinole Middle School.

Kyle Bonagura March 19, 2011 at 11:25 PM
Update from today: Fresno State lost 82-68 to North Carolina. Ross was 4-for-20 from 3-point land, so she fell three shy of tying the all-time record. http://scores.espn.go.com/ncw/boxscore?gameId=310780153
Rob Shea (Editor) March 19, 2011 at 11:36 PM
Thanks for the update, Kyle. Congrats to Marnique and Jaleesa for great high school and college careers.

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