Fresno State’s all-time leading scorer returned to the Save Mart Center this week, except this time Jaleesa Ross’ seat was reserved on the visitor’s bench. On her right was another former Fresno State graduate in John Bonner, the interim head coach at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
While the Bulldogs went on to beat the Toros 73-60 Wednesday night, both coaches saw old friends and made new ones, including current Bulldogs players who were in awe of one of the best players to come through the program.
It feels amazing. This is home. I talk about Fresno all the time. I love it. I miss it all the time, especially the food, and the community is just amazing. Nothing but love.
Jaleesa Ross, on her Save Mart Center homecoming on Wednesday
“It’s really awesome because, I mean, her picture is in our locker room,” said Bulldogs point guard Candice White, who introduced herself to Ross after the game. “We see her all the time, every time we go in and out of that locker room and it’s crazy the amount of accomplishments she had here.”
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Ross in 2007-08 was a freshman and Bonner was in the first of his three seasons as a graduate assistant under then-head coach Adrian Wiggins when the Bulldogs won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament and advanced to what would be the first of seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances for the program.
2,002 career points scored by Jaleesa Ross in her four seasons at Fresno State. Ross helped the Bulldogs win four conference tournaments and reach the NCAA Tournament every year.
Now the two are back together helping model Cal State Dominguez Hills’ program on the tradition they helped build at their alma mater.
And for Bonner, who also assisted at Fresno Pacific since 2010 before joining the Toros staff this fall, having a former player like Ross on the staff helps immensely.
“I think the biggest thing is that I’ve used Jaleesa Ross as an example the whole time at Fresno Pacific and even going in to Dominguez Hills because she’s an example of what hard work is,” he said. “Every day she was in the gym shooting first. Everything she did she worked hard for, and so I use her as an example.”
Their reunion at Dominguez Hills wasn’t meant to unfold this way, either.
It’s always good to come back to where you experienced so many good memories. It’s definitely molded me to the coach that I am today. It’s still in my heart. This is my alma mater. That will never leave.
Toros interim head coach John Bonner, who was a graduate assistant for three seasons for the Fresno State women’s basketball team
Ross was hired as an assistant under then-coach Molly Goodenbour, who left earlier this summer to coach at the University of San Francisco. Top assistant Janell Jones was promoted to coach and hired Bonner in September as an assistant. A few weeks later, though, Jones joined Goodenbour’s Dons staff, leaving the new assistant at the helm at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Nonetheless, Bonner wasn’t worried as he had a friend in Ross to help.
“Having someone who knows exactly what I want, offensively and defensively, in Jaleesa Ross, that sort of makes everything a lot easier when it’s your friend of nine years who understands the expectations and what we want in the program,” Bonner said.
Ross said the two of them being thrust into the positions on short notice will benefit the program that went 22-10 last season and reached the championship of the California Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament.
It’s amazing to have somebody who won four conference championships, go to four NCAAs. In one year it’s something, let alone all 4 years. She’s a great person to have around our players.
Bulldogs head coach Jaime White on Wednesday’s homecoming of all-time leading scorer Jaleesa Ross
“It definitely helps with our chemistry, in practice, and with the girls. They see that we trust each other 100 percent,” she said.
Added Bonner: “We’re not trying to be Fresno State, but I want to model it off of the experience that I’ve seen winners display and we’ve had the opportunity to do that.”