Jackson Academy basketball player honors late mom with career performance

WJTV – “I’ve seen her in that mode before.”

Jackson Academy girls basketball Jan Sojourner expects it out of senior guard De’ja Bradford. She’s taken over some of the biggest moments for the Lady Raiders, hitting buzzer-beaters and filling stat sheets to help win back-to-back state titles.

But her latest feat was to open JA’s new season. And it came under heartbreaking circumstances.

“We went down to Alabama for a football game and she wasn’t feeling really well,” Bradford said.

She had complained about her head hurting and threw up. So Bradford helped her mother, Etonne, to a paramedic at the game. She knew her mom had blood pressure issues, but this reading was abnormally high, which led to an overnight stay at a local hospital.

“They ran some tests on her and found an aneurysm in the back of her brain,” Bradford said. “They went in to do the procedure and it ruptured in her brain. It left her in a coma and on life support.”

Bradford said doctors informed her family that if her mother stayed on life support, she would become “neurologically dead for the rest of her life, filled with tubes and all of that.”

“We just decided that if it was us,or if it was one of her daughters or her son, then she wouldn’t want that for us,” Bradford said, tears starting to fall. “So we decided to take her off.”

She died on Oct. 23 at 42 years old.

“It hit me pretty hard too because i had spent all my life with her,” Bradford said. “I remember once, I was sitting with my mom and my brother in the park. We were on the swings and she just looked at me and she said that we were the best kids she ever had.”

Plenty of memories come rushing back to Bradford’s mind. But the ones that shine most were built on a basketball bond.

“She taught me basketball when I was four years old,” Bradford said.

“All they’ve ever thought about is playing the game of basketball,” Sojourner said. “She grew up doing that because of her mother.”

“Anybody could tell you when she was here, she was always yelling in those stands,” Bradford said with a laugh.

So after speaking at her funeral and laying her to rest on Oct. 30, she had to decide if she wanted to play against East Rankin Academy in Jackson Academy’s season opener that night. Sojourner said she gave Bradford every chance to skip it.

But Bradford didn’t give it much thought. She wanted to play.

“That’s something she would’ve wanted for me,” Bradford said.

“When she realized that her mother wasn’t going to be there, she knew that I’ve gotta play this game,” Sojourner said.

So she changed her own number from two to 30, which is what her mom wore while playing at Crystal Springs High School. And she balled out.

“I knew it was going to be a good one for us,” Sojourner said.

The senior scored a career-high 32 points to help lead the Lady Raiders to a 51-39 win. Bradford honored her mother with the best game she’s ever played.

“I think that she was kind of watching over me,” Bradford said.

“It’s one of the neatest things, one of the best experiences I’ve had a chance to be a part of,” Sojourner said.

“After the game, I cried because I really wanted her to be there,” Bradford said.

She might not have been physically. But her daughter embodies everything she tried to teach her.

“My friends and family would tell you that I’m probably one of the strongest people in my family,” Bradford said. “And that’s because of my mom. She taught me that through anything
that happens, we always have to be strong.”

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