Wednesday afternoon inside the media center at Salem High School, Shay Tarver held back tears as she thanked her friends, family and coaches for helping her get to where she is now, with now being a future Howard University women's basketball player, as Tarver signed her national letter of intent to play for the prestigious university on a full scholarship.
"This is the school that she actually wanted to go to and this is where she wanted to play basketball. It's kind of one of those things where you read about dreams and this is actually her dream coming true," Alonza Tarver, Shay's father, said.
Tarver, who averaged over 16 points per game and was crucial in helping the Lady ‘Noles reach the elite eight two straight seasons, says she went on two visits: the Air Force Academy and Howard.
"I really liked how they made me feel like I was a part of their family when I first got there," Shay said. "They really talked about how they value me not only as an athlete, but as a person and how they want me to be academic first. I really liked how I meshed in with their team as well."
Shay has worked her butt off to get to this point. She started playing basketball at a young age. When Tarver was around 5 at Disney World with her dad, he put her on top of the table at a shooting station and she made five shots in a row. Alonza, however, took about 20 minutes and couldn't make one of them. That's when he realized that Shay had talent.
Tarver started playing basketball soon after and she loved it. She used to wait with the basketball in the backyard until her father got off of work and then they'd play. It's a part of why she's so good. Tarver started playing AAU at nine years old and she's been playing with the same team ever since. She credits Rochone Dilligard, Salem head coach, and her AAU coach, "Coach D," for her growth and development.
Dilligard has said before that she can see that Shay has played against guys before and that's why she's so gifted as a scorer. It started with Shay playing in the backyard against her father, and it morphed into her traveling with him to the gym while she was in middle school where she would shoot around while he played and she would play against the guys.
"The good thing for Howard is that she's able to put the ball in the basket as a scorer, but she's also a real true point guard. I actually played her more as a shooting guard, but she is a true point guard. So it's kind of a double threat when you can actually be a true point guard and set people up as well as actually be able to score one-on-one on your own move. That's going to be something that's very beneficial," Dilligard said.
"It's bittersweet. I'm extremely, extremely happy for her because she's worked hard for it. She deserves it. I know that she's never going to score a basket here [again], but the relationships that we've built never ends," Dilligard said. "I'm going to go see her play when she comes close. I may fly up there. They come to play Savannah State, I believe they're playing Georgia State next year so I will definitely be in support and sitting in the stands. But it's just really, really good to watch all of her hard work come to something like this. So she deserves it."
Shay says that she wants to become a physician's assistant, so she plans to major in health science. Alonza says that watching her go from a girl who could barely dribble to getting a full ride to college is pretty amazing.
Alonza said, "It's been a rough, really, really busy life experience, but it finally paid off. It's very rewarding and it's good to see her happy. This is what she loves doing. She's loved it all her life."