A 6-foot-4 girl with a bright future NB basketball player signs with college in Virginia

It’s safe to say that Lauren Jimenez has always stood out in a crowd. After all, the North Bergen High School senior is a statuesque 6-foot-4, so it’s very easy to point her out and spot her.

But with a basketball in her hands, Jimenez is even more imposing and impressive. She has been a dominant force for the Bruins since she arrived as a freshman three years ago and has led her team to two HCIAA championships in her career.

Now, Jimenez holds another place of prominence and distinction.

Wednesday, Jimenez became the first girls’ basketball player in North Bergen history to sign a national letter of intent to an NCAA Division I program on a full scholarship.

Jimenez signed her letter to attend James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. for next fall. She officially signed the scholarship document on the first day of the NCAA’s early signing period Wednesday.

She was one of only two New Jersey high school players to sign her scholarship letter on that date.

Jimenez, who has twice earned the Hudson Reporter Player of the Year honors and has been twice named to the New Jersey All-State basketball team, signed the letter in the presence of her parents, Antonio and Julie, as well as other school officials.

“I’m very excited,” said Jimenez, who averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots a game for the Bruins last year. “It’s something I’ve always wanted. The whole recruiting process was a little nerve wracking for me, because I really don’t want to leave here yet. I love it here in North Bergen.”

She added, “I love high school. I’m already dreading graduation. But I have to move on and I want to start the next part of my life at James Madison.”

Twenty offers

Jimenez had about 20 different scholarship offers from schools all over the country. She considered offers from West Virginia, Cincinnati, the University of Massachusetts, Pittsburgh and San Diego State, before coming to the conclusion that she wanted to be at James Madison.

“It was just perfect there when I visited a few weeks ago,” said Jimenez, who also took official visits to West Virginia and UMass before deciding on James Madison. “Going there, I just felt so comfortable. It’s a small school and I’m not going to get lost there. It’s a close, tight-knit team and I liked that. I went there for a weekend and just felt I belonged there right away. The coaches were great.”

The fact that James Madison was relatively close to home (about five hours via car from North Bergen) also played into the decision.

“I wanted to be able to have my Dad come see me play,” Jimenez said. “I mean, going to San Diego would have been nice, but my Dad has been at practically every one of my games. For him to not have been there would have been weird and not comfortable.”

Jimenez said that once she visited James Madison, she decided to make her decision official as soon as possible.

“I think it’s the right time,” Jimenez said. “I didn’t want all the distractions. I can concentrate on my grades and the season.”

Jimenez said that there was only one regret about making the decision official.

“I didn’t want to tell the other coaches who were recruiting me that I couldn’t go to their schools,” Jimenez said. “I felt so bad about that. I formed a relationship with them.”

Not Big East

Jimenez said that the staff at Pittsburgh actually sent her a letter of congratulations and good luck after she called them to tell them she was going to James Madison.

“I know there are a lot of people who will wonder why I didn’t go to a Big East school,” Jimenez said. “I don’t feel like I have to explain myself to other people. I am happy with my decision. I look forward to the challenge. I think I can do it.”

Jimenez, who has shed about 30 pounds during a dedicated off-season workout regimen, said that she had no idea that she was the first girls’ basketball player from North Bergen to go Division I. A few years ago, former Bruin standout Betty Mendieta signed with Adelphi, which is a Division II school.

Although Jimenez was quick to point out that former Bruin great Rick Apodaca went to Hofstra, she had to be reminded that she’s the first female.

“I never thought of that,” Jimenez said. “I’m really impressed with that.”

Hard to get full scholarship

North Bergen girls’ coach Dan Reardon realizes how difficult it is for a girls’ basketball player to earn a full scholarship to a Division I school.

“There aren’t that many opportunities to become a Division I player,” Reardon said. “This kid is one-in-a-million. Lucky for me, she’s extremely coachable. She’s improved as a player every year. She makes everyone else around her better. She’s doing the right thing by going to James Madison. I’m very proud of her. I can count the problems I’ve had with her over the years on one hand.”

Jimenez said that she’s eager to begin her final season with the Bruins and the hope of bringing the school one last championship before she departs.

“I really feel like I’m going to cry,” Jimenez said. “I can’t believe the four years have gone by so fast. I think I’ve improved from playing AAU ball [with the New Jersey Crusaders out of West Orange] all summer. I’m ready for the season.”


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