Janita Badon (Jefferson, 2008)

Janita BadonJanita Badon

Janita Badon (Jefferson, 2008)

June 2023 ~

It was the promise of a little girl who loved her grandma and wanted to one day make her comfortable and happy. Very, very happy.

But it was the promise of a little girl, after all, and a big one at that. In other words, not necessarily one Janita Badon (Jefferson, 2008) figured she would be keeping. Yet, there she was in February 2022 walking her beloved Momo up the sidewalk and surprising her with the new home she had talked about 20 years earlier with a world of folks watching. Not just the large assembly of family members on the other side of the door, but also the millions of TV viewers tuned in that night to ABC News, which had caught wind of the heartwarming story.

On the broadcast, ABC News anchor David Muir spoke of Janita saving up her money over the years and reminding Momo on an annual basis of the promise she had made. Now, more than a year later and behind the scenes, Janita tells a slightly different version of that tale.

“It was less me reminding her of my promise and more her never letting me forget,” she says, laughing. “Momo would say, ‘You told me you were going to do this when you were 8,’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah…I was 8; I didn’t know what I was talking about!’”

Turns out she did. Throughout her life, which includes a whole lot of athletic success at the elementary, high school, college and professional levels, Janita generally has known what she is talking about. Especially when the subject matter is her own athletic skills.

“I had to work hard at sports because I had a mouth and I had to be able to back up what I said,” she says, again with a robust laugh, another of her many demonstrations of a trait as endearing as her achievements are impressive.

Janita referenced her work ethic to make it clear her skills didn’t magically appear as the product of DNA or environment, although there definitely was that too. She was raised in a sports family and says her mother would routinely rent out the gym out the old Humboldt Elementary School in North Portland and let her kids get after each other on the court.

“At the time, Humboldt had a boys basketball team but not a girls team, but after playing with my sister, who was two years older I was thinking, ‘I can do this,’” Janita says. “I decided we needed a girls team at school, so I helped organize one in fifth grade.”

That first girls team turned out to be “really good,” says Janita before adding, “And I didn’t pass the ball at all. In fact, a team meeting was hold specifically to talk about me needing to pass the ball more. I said, ‘Oh no, I organized this team!’ I have best friends who to this day give me a bad time for not passing to them. I just tell them ‘I wasn’t sure you could make it.’” (Insert another big laugh here.”

The next year, as a sixth grader, Janita played on both her team and her sister’s eighth grade squad. “To this day I tell her, ‘I was better than you, but that’s OK.’”

At Jefferson, Janita’s skills – and her confidence in them – continued to expand. When the varsity basketball coach told the freshman she’d be playing on the freshman team, Janita responded with “You’re gonna regret that,” then started working even harder to prove her point.

She still started on the freshman team, but over the course of the year wound up swinging between the frosh and JV squad, then between JV and varsity and, ultimately, strictly playing varsity, earning the first of her four letters in the sport.

While Janita also ran track for a year and earned two softball letters, basketball was where she made her mark and, more often than not, hit the mark. She said she didn’t learn this until her induction into the PIL Hall of Fame, but Janita averaged about 18 points a game while being named 1st Team All-PIL her last three years and Player of the Year as a junior and senior.

The Jeff team won the PIL championship and were third in the state her junior year, which was a worthy achievement but also a heartbreaking shortcoming that fueled the team’s run to an undefeated season and state championship Janita’s senior year. It’s that final game that holds the top spot on her list of great memories.

“We thought we were best team in the state our junior year, and that loss in the state tournament stayed pretty fresh,” she recalls. “We didn’t lose another game after that. I think we were 33 and 0 and on a mission.”

That mission culminated in the state title game against Hermiston, led by Shoni Shimmel, who would go on to star at the University of Louisville and in the WNBA. At halftime, completing the mission looked close to impossible.

“We only had 14 points at halftime,” Janita says. “In the locker room the whole team was crying. I was co-captain and I’m like ‘Yo, the game is not over. Let’s play some defense.’ We wound up winning. It’s the best memory ever.”

Janita, a point guard, had learned a valuable lesson in the middle of that season – there’s more to being a great basketball player than scoring. “I remember my coach pulling me aside and telling me ‘You’re scoring a lot, but you need to get teammates more involved. When he first said it, I was like, ‘Are you serious (queue more laughter)?’ But I did I figure out how to get everybody else involved and it got them more confident, and we won the championship. That was so much fun. I wish I could do it all over again.”

Janita had offers to continue playing at several major colleges but chose Utah after being recruited by an assistant coach, Anthony Leverts, who was fulfilling a promise of his own, one he’d made when she was playing and he was coaching AAU ball. “He told me he was interviewing for an assistant coaching job at Utah and, if he got it, I was going to be his first recruit.”

While she would enjoy a stellar collegiate career that ended with her among the Ute’s all-time top five in assists, steals and defensive rebounds, Janita came close to never playing a minute for the team. Early in her freshman year, she had to return to Portland after her grandfather died. Only a week and a half later, while she was still home, Janita’s father died. Besides the personal tragedies, Janita was having trouble adapting to the college game. The combination of difficulties almost convinced her to stay in Portland.

“At Jefferson, we just played basketball. But at Utah you had to create your own identity within the context of all the plays. It was almost like I didn’t know how to play basketball anymore.”

Janita went back to school and back work and by the end of her freshman year and for the next three was the team’s starting point guard. She led the Pac-12 in assists her senior year and parlayed her collegiate success into the opportunity to play professionally for several years in Germany, Spain and Australia.

“I was so blessed to be able to play pro ball and go places I could only imagine,” she says. “It was a blessing, but also hard. I’m such a family person, so it was difficult to be so far away for so long. But I loved being able to see different countries and experience different cultures.”

These days, Janita has settled into a dream job with Portland Public Schools that has her working with young athletes and, on occasion, back in the halls of her alma mater and other PIL schools. “I just saw my Jefferson softball coach the other day. She was, like, ‘What are you doing here?’.” (More laughter.)

 “I’ve kind of gone full circle,” she adds. “I work in the college access program, helping student athletes find their next adventure. I started working with 12 really good athletes who hadn’t found a place to play. My job is to help them get placed somewhere and so far we’ve found schools for 10 of them. It’s really rewarding.”

Janita is engaged and planning for a New Year’s Eve 2024 wedding but, considering her competitive nature, it’s something of a surprise the couple made it past their first date.

“We played one on one, and he beat my bad,” she remembers. “I accused him of doing research and scouting me.”

Janita says her 2022 induction into the PIL Hall of Fame caught her by complete surprise, no easy feat considering she’s never been short on self-confidence. “When I got the email telling me I’d be inducted I thought, ‘Wow, this is huge.’ Then I called my high school coach first and said, ‘Is this real?’ I thought people didn’t get inducted until they were, like 50.”

And with that, Janita ends the conversation with one last heartfelt laugh. Until the next one that is.

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