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Nov. 8, 2006

Columbia, S.C. – South Carolina Head Women’s Basketball Coach Susan Walvius announced the signing of five players to national letters of intent today. Jasmine Payne (Stringer, Miss./Stringer HS), Ashlie Billingslea (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson HS), Samone Kennedy (Birmingham, Ala./Ramsay), Courtney Newton (Flowery Branch, Ga./Flowery Branch) and Jewel May (Conyers, Ga./Heritage) are all set to join the Gamecock program for the 2007-08 season.

“We’re losing our perimeter players in Lea Fabbri, Lauren Simms, Shannel Harris and Stacy Booker, so we needed some players who could come in and fill those needs,” Walvius said. “We were looking for kids who could come in and shoot the three. We really have not had a true three-point shooter since Kelly Morrone, Cristina Ciocan and Tatyana Troina left. We also wanted to find a true point guard, so we have two coming in who can both really handle the ball. If you add Cocoa Falohun to that when she gets healthy, we should be better at the point guard position and have a little depth at that spot. We also addressed athleticism with Jasmine Payne and Jewel May.”

Payne is the preseason favorite to garner Miss Basketball honors in the state of Mississippi this coming season, while Billingslea established herself as one of the top point guards in the state of Georgia this year with a very impressive showing on the AAU circuit. Kennedy would bring speed and quickness to the Carolina lineup, so much so that Walvius said she has never had a player like her during her 10 years at South Carolina. Newton is an accomplished outside shooting threat that would fill an immediate need on the perimeter and May is an athletic player that the coaches say will fit nicely into the Gamecocks’ swarming defensive system.

Jasmine Payne
6-2 Guard
Bay Springs, Miss./Stringer

Prep: Attends Stringer HS in Stringer, Miss., where she is coached by Mary Smith … Regarded as the top player in the state of Mississippi and is the favorite to win Miss Basketball honors in the state of Mississippi heading into her senior campaign … 2006 State Offensive Player of the Year and first team all-state honoree by the Clarion-Ledger … Most Valuable Player of the State Tournament after leading the Red Devils to a 34-2 overall record and the 2006 1A Mississippi State Championship … Voted as a top player in the Dandy Dozen by the Clarion-Ledger going into her senior season … Averaged 24 points, 14 rebounds, four blocked shots and three steals per game as a junior … 2006 Sun Belt Player of the Year … Three-time all-district honoree was selected to the and all-south state squad … Ranked as the No. 2 player in the junior class at the adidas All-America Camp … Originally enrolled at Bay Springs HS to start her high school career, leading the Bulldogs to the 2003 State Title before transferring to Stringer … Tabbed as the Gatorade High School Rookie of the Year during her freshman year … Chose South Carolina over scholarship offers from Louisiana Tech, Alabama and Mississippi State.

Personal: Jasmine Payne was born June 19, 1989 … Parents are Annie and Herthur Jordan … Is the youngest of five children … Has two sisters and two brothers … Plans to major in journalism at South Carolina … Member of the Stringer HS Student Council, the Drama Club and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes … Sings in her church choir and enjoys all forms of writing … Two of her poems, “All I Ever Wanted” and “A Lot Like Love” were published by the American Poets Society.

Jasmine Payne Regarding Why She Chose South Carolina: “After visiting the campus and seeing the basketball facilities, I knew I wanted to come here. This is where I need to be. I can’t wait to get to USC and run through the tunnel at the Colonial Center for games. I really like Coach Marciniak. She and I have been in touch for a long time now and I just get a different feeling from her than what I got from coaches at other schools. I look forward to being coached by her.”

Susan Walvius Regarding Jasmine Payne: “Jasmine Payne is an athlete very similar to Shaun Gortman. She’s thin, wiry, fast, plays with high energy and is a tremendous athlete. We’re excited about her impact on the team. She can score and defend and will fit very nicely into our system.”

Ashlie Billingslea
5-6 Point Guard
Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson

Prep: Attends Stephenson HS in Stone Mountain, Ga., where she is coached by Dennis Watkins … Helped lead the Lady Jaguars to the State Championship her freshman year … Led the team to the 2006 Final Four and the 2005 Elite Eight after lifting the team to Region Championships in 2004, 2005 and 2006 … McDonald’s All-America nominee as well as a Street and Smith’s honorable mention All-American … Played her AAU ball with the Georgia Metros, who were ranked as the No. 1 team in the country and won both the 2006 USA Junior Nationals in Washington, D.C., and the Nike Nationals in Augusta, Ga. … AAU teammate of fellow Carolina signee Courtney Newton … Member of the Stephenson Academic Honor Roll as a sophomore and as a junior … Also competes for the school’s softball team, playing both shortstop and second base … Chose South Carolina over scholarship offers from Vanderbilt and Auburn, among others.

Personal: Ashlie Billingslea was born Jan. 16, 1989 … Parents are Pamela Thomas and Dexter Billingslea … Has an older sister and a younger brother … Plans on majoring in elementary education at South Carolina.

Ashlie Billingslea Regarding Why She Chose South Carolina: “Coming to South Carolina is a great opportunity for me because USC is close to home and it gives me the chance to play in the SEC. I really like the coaching staff, especially Ken Griffin who used to coach me in AAU. I like how all the coaches treat me like I’m a part of the team and I have a great connection with them.”

Susan Walvius Regarding Ashlie Billingslea: “Ashlie is a very strong, three-point shooting, run-the-team kind of point guard. She’s very good defensively with good feet. We’re graduating two players who are playing the point guard for us, so point guard is a position of need for us. She is a very intelligent young woman who can run our team.”

Samone Kennedy
5-4 Point Guard
Birmingham, Ala./Ramsay

Prep: Attends Ramsay HS in Birmingham, Ala., where she is coached by Robert Mosely … Helped lead a very successful Ramsay team to three State Championships … Recognized as the regional Most Valuable Player of the State Tournament and was on the State All-Tournament Team in 2006 … Starting point guard for the North/South All-Star Game in addition to being an all-metro selection her junior year … Averaged 12 points, five assists and four steals per game as a junior.

Personal: Jamelia Kennedy was born Oct. 27, 1988 in Dora, Ala. … Prefers to go by the name Samone … Parents are Cheryl and Wayne Copeland … Has an older sister, an older brother and a younger brother … Plans on majoring in communications at South Carolina … Her uncle, Joseph Bankhead played baseball for the Birmingham Barons … Enjoys watching movies and football games and working on her game in her spare time.

Samone Kennedy Regarding Why She Chose South Carolina: “I felt very comfortable with the coaches and the team and I want to play in the SEC. Coach Marciniak made me feel very comfortable and I look forward to learning from her after all the success that she had as a player.”

Susan Walvius Regarding Samone Kennedy: “Maybe the quickest player that I’ve seen that stays in control. She has a lot of speed and can stop on a dime. She is a true run-the-team point guard and we have not had anybody like Samone since I’ve been at South Carolina, with her quickness and her ability to direct traffic and demand a lot out of her team and get after it defensively. She’s got a nice pull-up jump shot. Her teams have had a lot of success because of her ability to run her team. She will really complement our team.”

Courtney Newton
5-10 Guard
Flowery Branch, Ga./Flowery Branch

Prep: Attends Flowery Branch HS in Flowery Branch, Ga., where she is coached by Angela Middleton … Street and Smith’s Honorable Mention All-America selection … First-team all-area selection her freshman and sophomore year … Honorable mention all-state as a sophomore … Averaged 15 points per game as a freshman, 19.5 points per game as a sophomore and 24 points per game as a junior before sustaining a season-ending knee injury … Has scored more than 1,000 points heading into her senior year … Played her AAU ball with the Georgia Metros, who were ranked as the No. 1 team in the country and won both the 2006 USA Junior Nationals in Washington, D.C., and the Nike Nationals in Augusta, Ga. … AAU teammate of fellow Carolina signee Ashlie Billingslea … Helped her high school team to the Elite Eight at the state tournament her freshman year … Recognized as a scholar-athlete (3.5 grade point average or higher) every year of high school.

Personal: Courtney Newton was born July 29, 1988 in Kissimmee, Fla. … Daughter of Karen and Michael Newton … Mother is an assistant girls basketball coach at Flowery Branch HS and her father is a former football player at Austin Peay who is now the defensive coordinator at West Hall HS … Has one older brother and one younger brother … Plans to major in elementary education … Enjoys hanging out with friends.

Courtney Newton Regarding Why She Chose South Carolina: “I felt the university had a lot to offer for a student-athlete. The coaches at South Carolina are amazing, especially Coach Walvius and Coach Marciniak. Coach Walvius has a very good base there and the program is building and that’s something that I want to be a part of. Columbia is a great town and there is a lot to look forward to at USC and I just want to be a part of it.”

Susan Walvius Regarding Courtney Newton: “Courtney would compare to a bigger Kelly Morrone. She’s got a toughness to her. She’s a rebounder who gets on the floor and can pass the basketball and is a money three-point shooter. She fills a role that we really need and that is perimeter poise, shooting ability, passing ability and she’s got nice size.”

Jewel May
6-1 Forward
Conyers, Ga./Heritage

Prep: Attends Heritage HS in Conyers, Ga., where she was recognized as the Gatorade Player of the Year in her district as a junior and was also recognized as the Gatorade Rookie of the Year in her district as a freshman … Nominated for the Wendy’s High School Heisman … Averaged 18 points and 17 rebounds per game as a junior … Also competed for the Heritage track and field team, winning the state high jump title her sophomore year and finishing eighth at the state meet in the shot put … Competed in the triple jump, 100m, 4x100m and 4x400m and holds the triple jump and high jump records in her district.

Personal: Jewel May was born Feb. 25, 1989 in Decatur, Ga. … Parents are Gina and Dennis May … Has two older sisters, an older brother and a younger sister … Older sister, Delise competes for the track and field team at Furman University … Was Heritage High’s homecoming queen in 2006 … Member of her school’s Diversity Club … Enjoys writing, drawing, movies and music … Chose South Carolina over Vanderbilt, among others.

Jewel May Regarding Why She Chose South Carolina: “South Carolina has a good balance of education of sports without being too overbearing on either side. I like all the coaches, especially Coach Walvius because when you do something wrong, she doesn’t just yell at you. She looks to correct the mistake and help you move on and get better from there. I like their style of play and how they like to get out and run.”

Susan Walvius Regarding Jewel May: “Jewel is a phenomenal athlete. She’s fast. She rebounds the basketball. I’d almost compare her to a Jocelyn Penn. We are going to develop Jewel. She has competed as a track athlete and plays aggressively. She is aggressive defensively and is an aggressive rebounder. She will be really good in our defensive system. She’s very smart and will fit in because she is very coachable.”