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St. John Vianney grad Tina Lebron breaks 3-point record at Caldwell University

While growing up in Manalapan, New Jersey, Tina Lebron played a little bit of soccer and softball, but she said from a very young age her heart was in basketball. That passion carried into playing AAU basketball for the Jersey Shore Elite.

“AAU is a whole different ball game, sometimes three or four games in a day and just that conditioning and toughness to be able to get through tournaments definitely prepared me for high school and college,” said Lebron.

Attending St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel, New Jersey, Lebron ran track as well but it was the basketball court where she excelled the most, especially in the remaining two years tallying 371 points and knocking down 82 three-pointers. The Lancers dominated during the four years Lebron was there registering 109 victories with only 22 losses.

“I absolutely loved playing at St. John Vianney for Dawn Karpell and still keep in touch with all my teammates,” Lebron said. “I made memories there and my senior year was probably my favorite year. Winning the Shore Conference, states and TOC (Tournament of Championships) Championships. It was unimaginable how exciting it was being in the first team in 17 years to do that. There is nothing like it and hard to explain unless you share those memories with your teammates.”

“When I go back to school to watch games, seeing my name and teammates names on the banner it definitely brings back so much happiness and emotion that was running through our veins. I have taken lessons that Dawn taught me and have used and incorporated into my game and academics and life.”

After graduating from St. John Vianney, Lebron had to make a critical decision on what college to attend. Simplifying that process was a trip made to Caldwell University located in Caldwell, New Jersey. “What made Caldwell the perfect fit was the small campus and class sizes,” Lebron remarked. “Since I went to a pretty small school, it was nice for me to have that 1 on 1 connection with the staff and even the President of our school Nancy Blattner. You would see her around campus and at the games.”

In her freshman year, Lebron played in 22 games and finished with 30 points. Lebron gives credit to senior captain Antoinette Pilla for helping with adjustment from high school to college. “She taught me about the transition from high school to college so I tried to definitely model my game after her in being a relentless shooter and never giving up,” said Lebron. “One of our most successful seasons my freshman year and what I did take away the most was how to be a successful leader, teammate and player moving forward.”

Facing another hurdle in her sophomore year with a new head coach in Torey Northup-Jones. However, making the transition easier was the fact Jones attended the university and played on the basketball team. Lebron responded in a positive manner averaging 7.6 points per game while leading the team in three-pointers with 71. “From freshman to sophomore year had to do with a lot of confidence and getting the chance to prove myself on the court,” Lebron said. “I didn’t have too many opportunities to capitalize on in my freshman year.”

“When Coach Jones came in, she gave me so much confidence in her being a shooter herself and college player played an important role in my leap. She had amazing career here, kept the team motivated in practice and told us stories when she played here. It really benefited to have someone who knew the school, program and culture. More of a family type of culture.”

There would be no drop-off in Lebron’s junior year, boosting her scoring averaging to 12.3 points per game, scoring a career high 24 points against Bloomfield and setting the program record with a single season high 86 triples. “A really nice moment and had no idea I was close to the single season record and once I found out I was a little bit shocked but definitely thankful to have the record,” Lebron said.

Even with Caldwell finishing up with an 11-16 record in the 2018-19 season, Lebron was optimistic heading into her final season and with goals in mind. “In the pre-season and summer I worked on getting in shape, working on weaknesses I had in my game and a different mindset on working harder than ever and incorporating new things into my game by driving to the rim and creating for other teammates that I didn’t do in the last three years,” Lebron said.

With a majority of underclassmen on the roster and Lebron being the only senior on the team, the Cougar got off to a rough start in the 2019-20 season by dropping their first six games. On the other hand Lebron kept putting up impressive numbers including pouring in a career high 27 points against Mercy on November 26. Furthermore, Lebron’s hot shooting from beyond the arc continued as she moved up the career list for most three-pointers made.

“It’s definitely been different these last two years but we give each other confidence and get confidence from our coaches and we just stay together and things will get better and fall into place and were meant to be,” said Lebron. “With that confidence and drive every day in practice and going into each game that we’re just as good or not better than every opponent we are playing and definitely continuing to stay close to .500 instead of falling all the way down.”

“I have been thankful for the past three years to have some amazing senior and junior leaders to look up to and show me the ropes. We are a very young team and have struggled a little bit this year but we have been able to get into the swing of things starting in the second half of the season. I’m excited to see what this group has in store for the next couple of years and more than ready to take over the leadership role I have shown them a little bit. The fact that this young group was able to persevere and pull through hard times shows a lot about this team.”

Facing a second consecutive losing season did not take away from Lebron’s personal accomplishments heading into Senior Day against Bloomfield College at the George R. Newman Center. Only needing two treys to break the program record for most career three-pointers made by Jones (234), Lebron eclipsed the record in the second quarter. In spite of a 72-64 defeat, Lebron netted 14 points and canned four trifecta’s.

“Going into the game, I needed one to tie the coach’s record and another one to break it,” Lebron said. “It was in the back of my mind but I told myself to let it come and not try to force anything. I knew my teammates would be able to find me and hit open shots. I heard the whole crowd cheering, actually had no idea that people knew about the record and it was great to look over into the crowd and see the whole men’s (basketball) team there, a bunch of student-athletes, my family, friends, staff here at the school and amazing to see all of them standing up and cheering for me.”

“The whole culture here with the athletics department is we’re able to have events throughout the year and able to bond with other teams’. Having classes with them and seeing them around campus and our team goes to support other teams’ and to have that support come back is awesome and brings out a crowd for home games. The CACC (Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference) is a great conference in the East Region and we have faced some amazing opponents. I loved when we hosted the tournament the last two years and my favorite memory appearing on two TV games. The gym is packed, running on adrenaline and we are playing Jefferson and Bloomfield. We don’t have to travel far for away games, get off the bus, lace up our shoes and get ready for a game.”

“It was absolutely amazing, being up there with some of the greatest shooters we have had here at Caldwell was amazing and to break it on Senior Day with a bunch of family and friends there was amazing but thanks to my teammates. I’m more of a catch and shooter and didn’t create much for myself. For the past four years thankful to have some amazing point guards, post players and good teammates in general that look to get me the ball. There were a bunch of emotions going around, an emotional time going into the last home game and playing here for four years but a very exciting one and a crazy journey I’m grateful for. Unfortunately, we were not able to get the job done but does not take away how the day was for me.”

“Coach Jones has meant a lot to me, she has given me the confidence and motivation from breaking her record and showing me what it means to be a strong woman in a leadership position. She has taught me so much over the last three years and so thankful to have her and many assistant coaches that have set me up for success moving forward. Absolutely love playing home games here at Caldwell and having support from friends that I have made here at the school, athletic department and teachers.”

Majoring in Psychology, Lebron will not be finished attending Caldwell University after graduation. The next step will be pursuing a master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis. “I have definitely learned from the best about time management skills and been able to focus on my academics while focusing on athletics aspect of the game and being a collegiate athlete,” said Lebron. “80 to 90 percent of the fame is actual confidence and if a player has confidence they can do anything they set their mind to. It’s been nice learning about the psychological aspects of the game and I actually took a sports psychology course so that was interesting as well and learning how mental sports is for athletes.”

Lebron was named to the CACC All-Academic Team during her sophomore and junior years.

“When it becomes very difficult, the rewards are I have a team to fall back on and I was thinking it’s getting to be too much or not worth it I look at my teammates and say how worth it really was. Having them to help with studying or people who have taken the same classes and give you different tips on professors.”

For Lebron, it all comes back to the support from family and the community in her hometown of Manalapan. “I love Manalapan, it’s a pretty big town and you definitely make friendships through school and athletics and still friends with people I played with in 4th and 5th grade,” she said. “It’s always nice to go back there for break and catch up with them.”

“My family has been amazing through the ups and downs of basketball, traveling around the country for AAU tournaments, supported me playing basketball for the past 15 years, meant so much to having them there on Senior Day and dedicated their lives to me. Having the support from my Mom, Dad and brother helped me through the toughest times in my life and I will be forever grateful to them.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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