BAKER — In Gulf Coast State College, Ayajah Coleman and Kaitlyn Watts saw many parallels.
Proven coaches were one selling point — a four-time national champion in Roonie Scovel for the women’s basketball program and a state champion coach in Scott Allen for the volleyball program.
The proximity to Baker also loomed large – “My mom and dad can always come to my games and then head back the same night,” Coleman said.
Yet their goals – like their sports – are disparate after signing their National Letters of Intent with the Commodores on Tuesday.
For Watts, an all-state selection who averaged a double-double this past season for the Gators, Scovel’s nationally renowned program is the perfect atmosphere to win titles and grow into a Division I or II shooting guard.
“It’s a huge honor to join this program,” Watts said. “I’ve worked really hard to get here and I’ll continue to work hard. The main thing is that I know they’ll work me hard and they believe in me.”
As a senior, the 5-foot-8 star played above her height in averaging 12 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and a block for a Gators team that finished 17-5 and advanced to the Elite Eight before a 47-43 season-ending loss to Port St. Joe. Now she joins a stacked Gulf Coast State recruiting class that includes Fort Walton Beach guard P-Nut Payton.
But the transition from Baker to Gulf Coast State won’t be seamless. Especially as she rehabs a torn ACL to her right knee.
“I had surgery a few months ago, so I should be ready for next season,” Watts said. “I know it’s going to be for sure hard work, but coach (Kathy) Combest has helped me prepare for the transition. I already lift and run, so it will just be building on that.”
Coleman, Watts’ teammate on the hardwood, always thought she’d be going to college for basketball. But things clicked her senior year on the volleyball court in helping lead the Gators to a 21-4 record and Elite Eight appearance.
“My feelings on basketball changed and they shifted more to volleyball,” Coleman said.
Coleman played for Allen her freshman year at Choctaw before transferring. Allen, who led Choctaw to a state title this past season, influenced her decision to continue her playing career at Gulf Coast State.
“Yes, because I knew him and really like his coaching style,” she said. “I also went to some basketball camps there and loved the campus.”
As for her role, Coleman said “whatever position coach Allen needs me, I’ll play.”
As for her focus off the court, Coleman's future is planned out.
“My goal is to do two years at Gulf Coast State, get my degree and then go to the NWF State Police Academy,” she said. “I want to be a detective.”