Ieshia Small finally has parents again.
It’s not the same, of course, for the No. 19 girls’ basketball prospect in the 2013 class.
No one can ever take the place of her mother, Michelle Robinson, who died of a heart attack on March 1, 2011, at the age of 48.
“My mother was the mom, the dad, grandmom, auntie, uncle … everything,” said the 17-year-old Small, a 6-foot senior wing for Florida High (Tallahassee, Fla.). “She was a very spiritual and loving person.
“She was the team mom on every team I've ever played on, and she never missed a game. Whenever we needed water, Gatorade, a headband, she was there. She treated every kid like she was her own.
“I wish I could see her one more time so I could tell her, ‘I love you.’”
Robinson played high school basketball, and Small heard stories about how her mom could dunk a basketball before she suffered a serious knee injury that prevented her from playing in college.
Small, the only top-20 prospect who has yet to announce her college plans, can grab the rim, so she inherited some of her mom’s hops. Small played for Dr. Krop High (Miami) the past three years, leading the Lightning to the Class 8A state final in 2012 and the 6A state semifinals in 2011.
She averaged 24 points as a junior, 18 as a sophomore and 15 as a freshman, becoming a starter as soon as she stepped onto Krop’s campus.
But just one day after Small got back from Lakeland, Fla., where she had led Krop to the 2011 state semifinals, she and her younger brother, Marvin, now 16, were called to the principal’s office.
They were told their mother had been hospitalized, but that’s all they knew. For six hours, Small and Marvin waited at school, hoping for good news.
Finally, their older brother, Torrey Washington, now 29, came to take the kids home, where he, an uncle and an aunt told them their mother had passed away.
“I think I cried for a week,” Small said.
Small said her father died when she was 13, and wasn't around much before then.
Other than to pick up clothes, Small never went back home after that day. She and Marvin went to live at a foster care facility.
Small said foster care “isn’t a bad place like people make it seem,” but she also said that it left her with a very cold feeling.
“It was like a jail,” she said. “You couldn’t do anything. It was not the place where you want kids to grow up.”
Small coped by retreating to the basketball gym, often staying there as late as 1 a.m. because she didn’t want to go to the foster facility.
“The thing that was missing at the foster home was a hug,” said Kimberly Davis Powell, who is Small’s coach with Essence, a Tallahassee-based club team.
Davis Powell, who lives with her husband and their 17-year-old son in Tallahassee, had offered Small and her brother the chance to come live with them as a family anytime they wanted.
Small wanted to stay with her teammates at Krop, so she resisted at first. But the foster care facility was 45 minutes from school, and she had to wake up at 5 a.m. to get to Krop each day.
Finally, on Thanksgiving weekend in 2011, Small decided to accept Davis Powell’s offer. She and Marvin moved in with Davis Powell’s family this past June.
Small said she faced a lot of resentment when she made it known she would be leaving Krop.
But she had formed a bond with Davis Powell, a coach she first met in seventh grade and who had visited her twice a month after her mother died.
“Coach Kim and I clicked,” Small said. “She cared. Everybody said she was trying to get her hands on me [for basketball reasons], but she really cared about me and my brother.”
Small said Marvin plays junior varsity basketball but is not a standout, and Davis Powell treated them both equally, something she appreciated.
Small also thinks a lot of people who wanted her to stay at Krop were being selfish and not sympathetic to the fact that she had lost her mother and needed a family life.
She says the only person who didn't question her decision was Krop coach Ray Thompson.
“He was the only one who totally supported my decision,” Small said.
Thompson said Small's decision to live with Davis Powell was a “better fit” than having her in foster care.
“It’s once in a lifetime that you get a chance to coach a player as talented as Ieshia,” Thompson said. “I wish every coach could get that opportunity.
“But it wasn’t about basketball to me. It was about [her] being able to go home to a family.”
Small has that now.
She said she and her new family have dinner together and go to one another’s games.
“We love each other,” Small said.
Davis Powell filled out a large amount of paperwork in order to adopt Small and Marvin. The adoption officially went through this past Saturday.
“I’m happy and satisfied,” Small said. “I kind of figured it would happen, but it’s still a relief knowing we will never be taken away.”
Small will be leaving soon, though. College beckons, and she is considering offers from Baylor, Rutgers, Mississippi State, South Carolina and NC State.
She said she won’t sign until April, but no matter where she goes, she knows she has a family that loves her.
“She said she’s not trying to replace our mom,” Small said of Davis Powell. “She’s just trying to be here for us to support us with whatever we need.”