By Gene Phelps
Special to the Gazette
Gara Beth Self had no idea a 2017 game in the Robertson’s tournament would lead to fulfilling her dream of playing NCAA D-1 women’s college basketball.
An Alabama assistant coach, Brooks Donald Williams, was in the stands that day. She witnessed the 5-foot-8 junior guard’s high-level basketball skills in Ingomar’s 55-37 win against Spain Park, Ala.
Williams, now in her first season as head coach at Louisiana-Monroe, made Self her first signee when she became the Warhawks’ coach.
Self hadn’t received a D-1 offer and had signed with Itawamba Community College.
“She obviously caught my eye,” Williams said. “She’s a really dynamic scorer, a nice player and such a competitor. When I first got the job at ULM, she was certainly one of the first players who crossed my mind.”
Self, a two-time all-state selection, helped lead Ingomar to a 191-34 record and three state championships in six seasons. She averaged 19.4 points a game her senior year.
Williams admitted colleges can overlook a talented player.
“I was surprised Gara Beth hadn’t signed (D-1), but also very, very thankful,” she said. “You never know the reasons why. I learned that a long time ago in recruiting.”
Self played 78 minutes in ULM’s first two games this season as a freshman. She scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds, had two assists and zero turnovers playing point guard in a Nov. 4 exhibition game against Millsaps.
She played the point because senior starter Lauren Fitch was injured.
In the Warhawks’ Nov. 10 season opener at Ole Miss, Fitch returned to the lineup and Self was moved to shooting guard. She responded with 11 points, three assists and two steals in their 66-42 loss.
A vocal crowd of Ingomar fans were inside The Pavillion at Ole Miss for Self’s first regular-season college game.
“You know how the Ingomar fans are. I’m thankful they all came out and supported me,” she said.
One of those from Ingomar in attendance was her high school coach, Trent Adair.
“I thought she looked good. It definitely looks like she belongs,” he said postgame. “We always thought that.
“(Williams) told me when she got this job that Gara Beth was the first player she thought about. She called and offered her on the spot. Her dream was to play D-1. It worked out. The Lord took care of her.”
Self says the speed of the college game will take some getting used to.
“Everything’s a lot faster, I’ve got to get my shot off quicker,” she said, then smiled. “I’ve got to run faster. It’s been hard for me. It was a big transition.”
Self prefers playing the shooting guard position, but is willing to contribute at point guard, too.
“I think she’s capable of playing either one and having success,” Williams said. “She certainly can score. In our minds, moving her to the wing would allow her to score more. She also knows the game and does a great job with the ball in her hands.”