Kaelyn Irby and Morgan and Maya Jones signed with the two-year college at a Wednesday ceremony at Cartersville High.
Irby is one of the most talented point guards to ever play for the Cartersville Lady Purple Hurricanes and has made virtually every all-star team — from all-county to all-region and all-state — during her four-year starting career at the school.
Twins Morgan and Maya Jones were starters their senior year, when both were named to all-county and all-region teams. They both were significant contributors to the team as underclassmen.
Head coach Cindy Moore said she is pleased all three will be attending college together.
“They are a great group of girls,” Moore said. “I’m excited that they got a chance to move on to college ball from Cartersville.”
The three said they expect to improve their basketball skills at Gadsden State and hope to transfer to a four-year school to continue their athletic careers then.
All three said they liked the atmosphere at Gadsden State.
“I just knew it would be a great place for me to go to start off my years in college,” Irby said. “They are like a family. They are welcoming. I like the team.”
She said she expects to improve as a basketball player and then hopes to move to a four-year college.
“I am planning to transfer after two years at Gadsden State,” Irby said. “If it works out where I can, I will. If it doesn’t, I’ll probably go into physical therapy or athletic training.”
Maya Jones said she had been “iffy” about playing collegiate basketball until she spoke with John Butts, head coach of Gadsden State.
“Coach Butts talked about how we should come and visit and I liked it,” she said.
She said she is also glad to be attending school with Morgan and Kaelyn.
“It’s awesome,” Maya Jones said. “Most of the girls are coming into the schools with people they don’t know. I get to come in with two established sisters. It’ll make it a little better to get used to it.”
Maya Jones said she expects to develop other parts of her game with the Cardinals.
“I’m not the tallest player and I don’t see myself as a true post,” she said. “I see myself as extending my shooting range and working as hard as I can so I can be a guard/post player. I think I can make my shot and my game more versatile.”
She said she also will see where the opportunity takes her.
“I’ll play to see where it goes,” Maya Jones said, “and see if I can go on to a D-I or D-II team.”
She said she also is interested in broadcast journalism and would like to pursue that as a career.
Morgan Jones also is curious where her opportunity will take her.
“I’m very excited because I honestly didn’t think I was going to play basketball [at the next level],” she said. “To be given the opportunity to strengthen my basketball skills, I am very excited. The fact I am able to play not only with my sister but with a teammate I’ve played with since I was about 5, I am very happy and very excited.”
Butts, whose Cardinals were Alabama state champion runners-up last year, said he is fortunate to sign all three to his program and believes their closeness will help.
He said he is familiar with the trio from having watched them play in the Rome Christmas tournament.
“I saw them their ninth grade year,” he said. “I recalled thinking, ‘Boy, it’d be nice to get all three.’ We didn’t know if we had a chance to get them because they were all such great players, but when we find people who we think will fit our system we try to go get them.”
He said having three players from the same team should help Gadsden State. “They already have that continuity,” he said. “They’re going to be able to help breed success because they’ve had success, and they come from a good school and a good program.”
He said he heard during the year about Irby through a coach.
“We had an All-American point guard graduate this year,” he said. “I got a call from a D-I coach who said, ‘Hey, do you want a replacement for your point guard that’s leaving? I said, ‘Of course.’”
He said he quickly realized he already knew Irby and moved just as quickly to talk to coach Moore in Cartersville.
“It was kind of shooting for the stars. But where I think they benefit from us is that we run the triangle [offense]. We always have a post player. We have a post player from Rome [Carla Clemmons] right now. We run a lot of pick and roll stuff so they fit perfectly in that.”
He expects different contributions from the trio.
“Where we want them to fit is doing some pick-and-roll stuff and Kae going to the basket,” Butts said. “We shot 150 more free throws more than anybody else in our conference this year and it’s because we take the ball inside. I like to use them in the pick-and-roll and in post-up stuff.”
He projected Morgan Jones splitting time with Clemmons.
“She split time with another post last year,” he said. “The way we use our post players, it’s almost like a running back in football. It would be really tough for them to play just a ton of minutes because every trip they’re touching it.”
“Maya is more a 4, which we use as our passer, mid-range stuff and elbow stuff,” he said. “We went 28-6 doing that simple triangle offense, dribble into it or pass into it. It’s gotta go into the post before it’s shot. It’s gotta get into the lane.”
Moore said she also is pleased with their decision. “I think Gadsden State is a great fit.”
She said playing at the next level has long been Irby’s goal.
“The opportunity to play against high level competition is something she’s been waiting for and wanting,” Moore said.
She said Gadsden State will provide her two years of high level competition that possibly will lead to even bigger challenges.
The coach said having all three at the same school opens up the possibility of her getting to watch them play at the next level, too. “I can go over and see all three play,” she said. “That’s a good feeling.”
Moore said Morgan and Maya Jones have been strong academic performers who also are gifted musically and this is a good step for them to take in their careers, too.
“As a coach, you’re pleased when your players get a chance to move on and play at the next level,” Moore said. “It’s a great feeling to be a part of that. It says a lot for your program when you have players who can produce at the next level. I feel all three will do that. They’ve worked hard ever since they began playing basketball together at a young age.”
Irby scored an average of 17 points per game her senior year.
Irby also made her teammates better, dishing out seven assists, and pointing the way defensively with four steals per outing. She also scooped up five rebounds per performance.
The point guard also was recognized by the people she played against most often, the coaches of her region opponents, as she was named the Region 5-AAA Player of the Year and also the Northwest Georgia Tip Off Club Player of the Year.
Irby also was The Daily Tribune News’ All-County Girls Basketball Team Player of the Year all four of her years at Cartersville.
She scored 1,597 points for Cartersville.
Morgan Jones was a clutch scorer and rebounder for the Lady Canes. She averaged 12 points and grabbed an average seven rebounds per game. She was an integral part of the offense, especially in the paint area.
Maya Jones scored an average of eight points while snatching an average of five rebounds per game. She was a deadly shooter in the paint area.