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Sidney goes all out as Syracuse awaits

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It could be the New York State Federation championship, the Rose Classic or a pick-up game near her home in Queens. No matter the scenario, you can bank on one thing when it comes to Jelleah Sidney: She’ll be playing as hard as humanly possible.

Apache Paschall, her former coach at St. Michael Academy and with the Exodus AAU program, said as much as Sidney was crashing the boards, diving on the floor and playing aggressive defense in her Golden Girls’ 59-37 win against the Exodus Lady Falcons on the opening day of the Nike Rose Classic at JHS 113 in Brooklyn. She finished with 13 points, but it was everything else Sidney did that helped lead the team to victory.

“You hate playing against her,” Falcons and Bishop Ford Coach Mike Toro said. “She gets every rebound, she’s so aggressive. I’m scared of her.”

For someone who makes her presence felt so much on the court, the Syracuse-bound 6-foot-1 forward was off the radar this season. Sidney, who missed her first two seasons with separate ACL tears, could have played as a fifth-year senior at St. Mike’s, but she wouldn’t let Paschall apply for a waiver. Paschall said she didn’t want the drama of critics saying she was playing illegally. Sidney had a simpler explanation.

“I had my time,” she said. “It was their time.”

After helping lead the team to its first state Federation title last year, Sidney had to watch in agony last month as St. Mike’s lost in the CHSAA Class AA final to Christ the King. The Royals won the battle of the boards, which might not have occurred if she was in the lineup. Paschall thinks the Eagles would have been upstate again if Sidney were in uniform.

“She would have willed us,” he said.

Sidney said she has no regrets, though. She’s been taking college courses online in preparation for Syracuse, where she will go in either May or July to get a head start on classes, and training with basketball guru Jerry Powell on Long Island. But seeing St. Mike’s fall against CK broke her heart and it only got worse when someone approached her after the game and had the nerve to say it was her fault.

“How can somebody say that to me?” she said.

She’s focused on another type of championship now. With Exodus NYC, Sidney won the last five Rose Classic titles. Now with the Golden Girls, coached by St. Mike’s assistant Lauren Best, she is trying to win another. Paschall said that team, with Sidney and McDonald’s All-Americans Jennifer O’Neill and Bria Hartley, is the one he fears the most.

Shayra Brown of Bishop Ford led the way with 18 points for the Golden Girls and Baltimore’s Lashay Taft, Sidney’s future Syracuse teammate, had 13. Rose President Anton Marchand said most Golden Girls teams, which feature the city’s best outgoing seniors, tend to underachieve due to complacency — but this year’s squad won’t because of the presence of Sidney.

“We have no choice but to win,” Sidney said. “If we lose, it’s going to be embarrassi­ng.”

She plays every second of every game with that mentality.

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