January/February 2009 Alliesha Easley Clay Meyer Ole Miss University Common Ground
Her story reads similarly to those that often appear in the pages of STV: An athlete grows up in a Christian home, excels at a specific sport, faces hardship, and then must rely on a relationship with Christ that began long ago — a relationship that has been fostered and cared for by FCA. In the end, the athlete comes out of the struggle a stronger person, Christian, teammate, friend and witness. Those, after all, are the stories from which we want our readers to draw inspiration and, ultimately, use to witness to others.
Sometimes the story and the issues, though, can be just outside the reality of the readers. Yes, the high-profile sports personalities who often grace the STV covers are great role models and inspiring figures. (We wouldn't feature them if there wasn't purpose in it.) But how often do we really relate to what they go through at that level?
Alliesha Easley #32
|School: University of Mississippi|
Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Hometown: Cordova, Tenn.
• 2006-07 SEC All-Freshman Team
• Two-time SEC Freshman of the Week
• 2006 Tennessee Division II Miss Basketball
That is where Alliesha Easley's story comes in. It takes a step right into the average reader's everyday life. She may be a standout on the Ole Miss women's basketball team, but really, the issues she has faced are similar to those of many high school or college students. She is quite real. So much so that her story is more likely to be reflected in the lives of your friends and family than on ESPN.
In a down-to-earth way, she provides inspiration in how she has handled her problems, and her testimony will encourage anyone facing similar situations. Easley was able to move forward from difficulty — thanks to her relationship with Jesus Christ — and through her story, you can find encouragement to do the same.
Alliesha Easley was no stranger to the inside of a church. Her great-grandfather was a pastor, her grandmother led the church choir, her mother was a youth minister, and her father was a deacon.
"We were a very Christian family," she said. "We always went to church and Bible study. God was the center point of our entire family, and we were very close-knit."
She officially became a part of that Christian family when she accepted Christ into her life and was baptized at the age of 7. Her mother and grandmother were both very influential in her decision to be baptized and reminded her of the weight of such a life-changing decision. Easley knew what it meant to be a follower of Christ.
"I knew Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and I prayed and asked Him for forgiveness and to be close to Him," she said. "Ever since then it took off."
As Easley grew up, she developed into quite the basketball player and was a perfect fit for Briarcrest Christian High School in Memphis, Tenn. Its basketball program was one of the best in the state, and Easley added to that recognition by guiding the Saints to a state runner-up finish in 2006 and winning the Tennessee Division II Miss Basketball Award.
Her success at Briarcrest didn't hurt Easley's list of prospective colleges. She was recruited by highly rated programs such as Louisiana Tech and Georgia, but ultimately it was peace from God that led her to the surprise choice of Ole Miss.
"I went for a visit and, for some reason, I felt like I was at home there," Easley said. "I went back home, and I prayed about it. And then, after an unofficial visit, I just felt like Ole Miss was where God had called me to be."
Easley's calling was confirmed once her first college basketball season came around. Starting in all 35 games, she became one of the top freshmen in the country and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team. She helped lead the Rebels all the way to the 2007 Elite Eight — a run that included victories over defending national champion Maryland and perennial power Oklahoma before a loss to eventual champion Tennessee.
"It was just a great feeling to accomplish what we did my freshman year," Easley said. "And I have to thank God for my success. It wasn't in my vision to come and play here, but I can see that it was in God's vision."
Also in God's vision, but not necessarily Easley's, was the rocky road that lay ahead.
Before she left for college, Easley's parents, Sabrina and Clevie, had always been there for their daughter. They supported her in her relationship with Christ and in what she did on the court. They were her biggest fans.
But, like many married couples, Sabrina and Clevie had their share of marital issues. According to Easley, however, they would typically work through them and everything would be fine.
After winning the Tennessee Miss Basketball Award in high school, Alliesha Easley was an SEC All-Freshman selection in 2006-07.
Unfortunately, the problems continued after Easley arrived at Ole Miss, and it took her a little by surprise late in her freshman season when she looked up into the stands and Clevie was nowhere to be found.
"Toward the end of that year everything kind of fell apart," said Easley, whose parents are currently in the final stages of a legal divorce. "It hit me hard when my dad wasn't at one of my games because he had always been there to support me."
Through the storm, Easley understood that the best place for her to turn was to her Heavenly Father for support and guidance. He provided comfort for her, and she has since transferred that comfort to her mother.
"My biggest part in it is just being strong for my mom and praying for the whole situation," Easley said. "My dad has kind of distanced himself from us, but I pray that one day we will have that relationship we used to have."
Seeking the Lord through it all has helped Easley, but that doesn't mean there aren't tears and heartache, especially when she goes home during school breaks.
"Of course some nights I cry and think about them both," she said. "It's sad going home and not having a father there. Growing up, my mom and dad had always been there. It's just hard to see one car there when I go home."
Returning to the basketball court for her sophomore season gave Easley a place to escape — to get away from everything that was happening at home. But even that was taken away, only this time, in an instant.
In Ole Miss' 2007-08 season-opener at Nebraska, Easley collided with an opponent while driving to the basket, causing her to fall and tear the ACL in her right leg. Her promising sophomore season was over after just 32 minutes of basketball.
"Growing up, my mom and dad had always been there. It’s just hard to see one car there when I go home."
As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours.
Rather than get discouraged and drown in the pouring rains of adversity, Easley looked back at another moment when she was being covered in water: her baptism — a time when she was submerged in the water of new life in Christ.
"Through it all, I never really turned away from God," she said. "There were moments when I would be a little negative about things, but I always bounced back quickly."
Inspiration came from a variety of outside sources for Easley. She even drew strength from TV footage of a disabled runner.
"He was running around a track with prosthetic legs, and he had a smile on his face," she said. "I just started crying because I thought, 'Here I am moping and mad about this bum knee that is going to be fixed, and this guy will never get his legs back, but he is so happy.' That immediately made me come to my senses. I realized that I shouldn't sit there and complain and be mad about my situation, but I should ask God what He was trying to show me through my situation."
What God had to show her was a tough road to recovery — something that would test her mentally, but, at the same time, develop her testimony of His faithfulness.
Easley with FCA's Jonathan Rainey
Through all the difficult circumstances, Easley learned how to lean on God and was faithful to relay His message of hope to others. She soon stepped up to share her testimony at an FCA meeting, which allowed her to meet Ole Miss FCA's Jonathan Rainey. Their resulting ministry teamwork has been an encouragement to them both.
"My challenge to her has been to stay devoted to God," Rainey said. "The thing that most college students do in that time is take their focus off God and put their focus on the divorce or the ACL. As a result of fixing her eyes on Jesus, she was able to receive the strength He would provide to sustain her."
The injury behind her, and Easley is now looking forward to picking up where she left off after her freshman campaign. She could barely contain her excitement about getting back on the court after the ACL tear.
"It was the greatest feeling ever," she said of her first court action this season. "I was just so excited. It was something that I missed, and it showed me how much I love playing basketball."
Easley has a renewed excitement for being back on the court and is also able to see the positives in her tough situation at home. She said it has allowed her to grow closer to her mom through the encouragement she can provide her.
Easley has also been a similar source of encouragement at FCA, where she leads praise and worship at each meeting. And to Rainey, it is clear that she has added to the ministry at Ole Miss because of the trials she has experienced.
"It's amazing how it has all developed," he said. "She is able to relate to a lot more people. She has an avenue to really say, 'The two most important things at this time in my life were taken away: my father and basketball. But the thing that is most important is God and my relationship with Him.'"
Subtract the Division I basketball status from Easley's resume and her life resembles that of many high school and college students in the United States. Injuries affect student-athletes' careers, and parents' marital problems wreak havoc on their home lives. Easley is an example for anyone facing those problems. She knows that it isn't us, after all, who decide what happens from day to day, but rather the sovereign Lord.
Her advice to anyone struggling with difficult life circumstances: "Just know that God is in control. Sometimes we want to control things ourselves or blame things on others, but just stay prayed up and in the Word."
Rainey echoes Easley's encouragement for those in the rain of adversity: "God is always there, and He is the only consistent thing we can ever depend on. Not our jobs, not our sports, not all these different things. God is the only consistent thing that is always there."
Need proof of that? Both Easley and Rainey would direct you to God's Word. See Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever."
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics, Jonathan Rainey.