Posters of the North Carolina sophomore guard line the walls of the Craven County elementary schools. Kids in recreational centers call "Jamie Cherry for three!" before firing a long-range shot. Boys and girls alike want to be like Jamie.
She wants them to be. The second-leading scorer in state history still returns to every school she ever attended, reconnecting with teachers and counseling children on her success story.
"She's never forgotten where she's from,” Fernandez said. “And people around here, they don't forget that."
But why here?
A future five-star recruit, the Cove City native has her pick of private schools and elite academies in the Triangle area — all desperately trying to pry her away from the perennially losing Eagles.
"To me, it wasn't about that,” she said. “It was about staying where I wanted to stay and making them better.”
But where are the postseason goals? Four years wasting away with West Craven does little for her stock at the next level, no?
Fernandez certainly thought so, even feared so.
But not Jamie.
"I'm loyal to you, Coach. I'm loyal to West Craven. I'm not going. Don't believe everything you hear from everybody else."
The chatter would only get louder.
'Back on the map'
Jamie stands alone in the frigid New Bern air.
She’s only a fourth-grader, but no matter — she’s in love. There she goes, shot after shot, every miss a fuel to her fire. Her father James joins, too, though not for long. Wind-nipped fingers and frozen toes serve as a compelling deterrent. In a game of one-on-one, winter wins out.
But not against Jamie. This is only a warmup.
"I came in and told my wife, 'I think she's going to be a basketball player,’” James said.
It isn’t long before Jamie set her sights higher — a Division-I scholarship.
But hours in the gym shooting several hundred free throws can only do so much. And by the sixth grade, her father’s training falls on deaf ears. So James plugs his daughter into the Amateur Athletic Union circuit and purges his beloved drag racing collection to pay for personal training with former Harlem Globetrotter Dexter Williams.
Soon, Jamie is putting on a clinic of her own.
The seventh-grade sensation displays an arsenal of precision passing and expert ball-handling never before seen at West Craven Middle School. Fans leave work early to behold the spectacle, while coaches from across the region come to assess the local product. It’s standing room only — enjoy the show.
“She was like a highlight reel …” said Coach Denise Wells, who won 28 straight games with Jamie on the roster. “She is the most phenomenal player to come through here."
But Jamie’s best years lie ahead — and now she has a decision to make. West Craven High School boasts a new head coach and only one win from the season before, and North Carolina’s finest programs are calling Jamie’s name.
Surely, the gifted guard has aspirations beyond the great expanse of nowhere between New Bern and Greenville, right?
Not Jamie. She’s determined to revive her father’s alma mater.
"We wanted to put West Craven girls’ basketball back on the map,” James said.
After three years, the Eagles have 69 wins — and Jamie is the leading scorer in nearly every one.
Word spreads fast about the local prodigy. Jamie and co. drop 100 points at East Carteret High School, but the students are still begging for autographs and selfies. Grown adults storm the locker room entrance, desperate for a glimpse of the senior superstar. Even fast food employees in neighboring cities inquire about the county star.
"That was the celebrity status she held,” Fernandez said.
But she isn’t finished. The career and single-game record for 3-pointers are hers, but undefeated Chapel Hill High School stands between her and hardware.
The Eagles held an early lead, but it doesn’t matter now. She trails by two points, and she wants the ball. Down the court, like only she does. A runner from the 3-point line, like only she can.
It looks good — too good. But the back iron proves unforgiving.
"I shot those shots every day in practice,” Jamie said. “I practiced shots like that all the time.”
She won’t miss it again.
Jamie is alone in the gym, practicing her half-court shot.
She’s in Carmichael Arena now, where she’d always dreamed of playing. No amount of scholarship letters in the sixth, eighth or ninth grade could dissuade her from coming to Chapel Hill. This is where she wants to be.
She hasn’t forgotten about the loss — maybe she never will. But until she makes this shot, she isn’t leaving.
A banner hangs above her, bluer than the rest. It’s a retired No. 12 jersey, honoring UNC’s all-time leading scorer, Ivory Latta. But Jamie needs no introduction. She mimics her every move.
Posters of the former North Carolina scoring guard line the walls of her room. She’s called "Ivory Latta for three!" since she fired her first long-range shot. She wants to be like Ivory.
The former three-time All-American wasn’t coaching when Jamie committed to UNC just before her sophomore year. But here she is, sitting next to Jamie on the bench as an assistant coach, the mentor she’d always dreamed of.
Jamie finally hits a half-court shot — not in practice, but against East Tennessee State. The birth of the Cherry Bomb. Her time on the court is limited, but she makes it count. Quality over quantity, just as Ivory always said. One day, her time would come.
It’s the ACC Tournament quarterfinals, and the Tar Heels trail Louisville by three points. Teachers, students and referees from Craven County have flooded in by the vanload to see the Vanceboro hero in action. It’s her time to shine.
The ball is in her hands — but does she want it? Look left, look right. Somebody must be open. Three, two … She hoists it from 40 feet away.
Swish. Cherry Bomb. But this isn’t the end.
Two weeks later, UNC hosts Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels held an early lead, but it doesn’t matter now. It’s tied, and Jamie is taking the shot.
But does she want it?
“When she called me to go in, I was like, ‘No, Coach, no, no.’”
It’s too late now. Jamie takes the inbounds pass. Down the court, like only she does. A runner from the 3-point line, like only she can.
Everything feels wrong. The landing, the angle — please don’t airball this shot.
Swish. Cherry Bomb.
"I was amazed. I couldn't believe it. I was shocked,” she said. “I was shocked that I hit it."
One game later, it’s all over. Jamie watches from the bench as South Carolina celebrates a two-point victory in the Greensboro Coliseum. This is the end.
“We’re gonna get them next year,” her teammates promised.
And then, they were gone.
'Jamie, I'm leaving'
Jamie walks out of her room and calls out for her closest companions. But she knows she is alone.
She isn’t used to it, not yet. She still feels heartbroken. It doesn’t make sense.
“I think it shocked everybody,” she said.
Her three roommates — Allisha Gray, Stephanie Mavunga and Jessica Washington — have all transferred from the program amid an ongoing NCAA investigation. They had never talked about it; it never came up. Not until the offseason, when Jamie’s two best friends each dropped a bomb on their unsuspecting roommate.
“Jamie, I’m leaving.”
They had spent every waking moment together, and now she watches as they leave her behind.
She still remembers Allisha panicking about laundry in her endearing Georgia accent. She remembers Stephanie harassing the others about dirty dishes in a way only she could. She remembers the last conversations they had, and the final moments they spent together — as friends and teammates.
And she remembers the last time they shared the court at Carmichael Arena: a two-point win over Ohio State.
"I think about it all the time,” Jamie said. “I always think about what happened last year, the memories we had last year and everything, always.
“And I'll never forget it."
Ivory is gone, too — turning her attention to playing professionally. No more one-on-ones after practice, no more sideline guidance.
The program had seemingly abandoned Jamie Cherry. Would she return the favor?
"There was no need for me to leave,” she said. “Leave for what?"
She had heard it all before. What if the postseason became a pipe dream? Why waste three years on a roster in peril?
But Jamie had dreamed of this moment. Ivory had prepared her for it. Coach Sylvia Hatchell was ready to anoint her North Carolina's next great point guard.
Her time had come.
"This is going to be your team,” Hatchell told her. “You've got to lead this team."
She had done this before. She had instructed her inexperienced teammates and put them in positions to succeed. She had taken a program in disarray and turned it into a powerhouse.
This is where she wants to be.
"You've got to admire loyalty in a kid," Hatchell said. "Her dream had always been to come to North Carolina, and there was no reason for her not to be here …
"She's got a chance to resurrect this team."
Today at 1 p.m., Cherry will lead North Carolina’s unlikely crew of first-years and walk-ons into Greensboro Coliseum against 12th-seeded Pittsburgh. As the No. 13 seed, UNC appears to be a longshot to make any noise in the ACC Tournament, let alone the NCAA Tournament.
But Cherry is no stranger to long shots.
And this time, it’s a shot she is willing to take.