Sharnecce Currie-Jelks knew her team needed her to make a play.
UT Martin was locked in a tight battle with SIU Edwardsville in mid-February, with the Skyhawks on a three-game losing streak in Ohio Valley Conference games. Their margin for error, if they wanted to make the conference tournament, was slim.
SIUE took a one-point lead with just over 30 seconds remaining in overtime, and UTM coach Kevin McMillan opted to not call a timeout. The Skyhawks took the ball up the court, and got the ball to Currie-Jelks at the top of the key with less than 10 seconds left.
The 6-foot-2 freshman took a few dribbles to her right, went up with a defender in her face at the low block, and banked in the go-ahead shot with four seconds to go. UT Martin won.
“We ran a play, and all I remember was (thinking), ‘I have to make this. I have to score this,'” Currie-Jelks said. “When the ball released off my hand, I knew it was money.”
That was, perhaps, the biggest individual moment of a huge season for Currie-Jelks. She won Ohio Valley Conference freshman of the year after averaging 15.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game. A few months later, she transferred to Indiana women’s basketball.
IU had a need for forward depth, with just three — Mackenzie Holmes, Lilly Meister, and Arielle Wisne – on the roster for next year. But it was not a simple spot to fill. The Hoosiers are already selective with who they add to their roster, as they highly value locker room chemistry and don’t want to throw that off. That already eliminated some candidates.
But additionally, anyone coming in at forward for the coming season would have to be OK with a limited role. First team All-American Holmes will handle the bulk of the minutes inside for the Hoosiers, and if Meister makes the strides this offseason that IU’s staff is expecting, she’ll be in line for added minutes as well.
So for upperclassman forwards looking to start or have a large, guaranteed chunk of minutes right away, Indiana wouldn’t work.
The Hoosiers weren’t going to force the issue. They pursued one forward in the transfer portal in April, but that player committed to another program that had more minutes available for her. After that, it seemed a real possibility the team could roll with the 11 players it had in place.
But Currie-Jelks entered the portal late in the window, with only a few hours before the deadline to do so. She was initially unsure about transferring, as she valued her relationships with her coaches and teammates. But she ultimately wanted to play at a higher level and compete for championships.
IU reached out to her a few days later, and after a conversation, it became clear to the staff that she’d fit what they sought.
“I didn’t really have the mindset going in to start at UTM. When I was presented that opportunity, I took it and ran with it,” Currie-Jelks said. “That’s kind of how I am now. If I get presented an opportunity, I’m going to take it. But as of right now, I’m just going to work hard, play my role, and encourage and cheer my teammates on, the ones that are in front of me.”
IU was the type of team Currie-Jelks was hoping to join when she entered the portal — a successful power-conference program where she could develop her game. And she liked what she heard from head coach Teri Moren about the team’s family-oriented culture.
Currie-Jelks had one other connection that made IU feel right. She and Hoosiers guard Chloe Moore-McNeil played against each other in high school, and they played one AAU season together, going into Moore-McNeil’s senior year.
A relationship can only blossom so much during one summer AAU season, but Currie-Jelks felt close with Moore-McNeil. They talked basketball and life often, and Currie-Jelks said Moore-McNeil was one of her go-to people that season. It made a difference for Currie-Jelks to have someone she already knew at IU.
Moore-McNeil hadn’t kept up with Currie-Jelks after she got to Indiana. But when she walked inside her home in Greenfield, Tenn. for a weekend in May, Currie-Jelks was sitting on the couch with both of their fathers. The rising sophomore had entered the transfer portal by then, but Moore-McNeil didn’t know. So they talked more about basketball, as they normally would, than about IU.
Moore-McNeil didn’t make much of it at the time. And then, around 10 days later, Currie-Jelks texted her, “Hey teammate,” before she announced the news on social media. Moore-McNeil welcomed her.
“Sharnecce was one of those people that has a great personality, always making people laugh,” Moore-McNeil said. “She’s always trying to make people’s day better.”
Currie-Jelks gives IU some more size for the coming season and beyond. She said she relies heavily on her athleticism and mid-range game, which shows through her 53.9 shooting percentage. She wants to improve her ball-handling and 3-point shooting — she went 5 for 21 from beyond the arc last year.
Moore-McNeil said she sees some of herself in Currie-Jelks. They share the lanky, long, athletic build, even though they play different positions.
Currie-Jelks is likely a depth piece for Indiana this year. She’ll likely come off the bench at the four or five and play a smaller role than she had at UT Martin. But she’ll learn from one of the best post players in the country in Holmes this season, and she’ll have a chance to develop a dangerous future frontcourt tandem with Meister.
“I think we’re getting a person that’s going to put in the work. She’s going to fit right in with that,” Moore-McNeil said. “And I think we’re going to get somebody that’s just going to be a great teammate and a great encourager to everybody else, and help build our team chemistry.”