Staff Photo: John Bohn Archer High School sophmore Alesha Mann is one of the standout players on her girls basketball team. Mann is part of a planed "Pink Out" day at Archer, she recently lost her mother to breast cancer.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- One day after her mom died, Alesha Mann climbed aboard a bus headed for Allatoona High School.
The high school sophomore had 90 minutes to ride and think. Her thoughts centered on her mother.
"I just thought to myself, 'I don't know what to do. Do I sulk about it, just sit there, just depress myself, or do I play hard?'" Mann said. "I can remember what my mom would say, she said, 'I don't know much about basketball, I know I played, but all I can tell you is to play hard.' She always told me to play hard. When I didn't play hard, she would get onto me."
Mann certainly did that.
By halftime she had four steals and her effort surprised even her coach.
"I swear she was flying around that gym, like I've never seen her," Archer coach Ryan Lesniak said. "She was getting back tips and all kinds of stuff. It was stuff she has done before but never in that compact amount of time."
The next night, Mann scored 19 points and Archer won another holiday tournament game.
Mann's mother, Sandra, passed away about noon on Dec. 27 from breast cancer. The former vice president of the Archer booster club, the battle was her second with the disease, which first presented in 2009. She fought it off the first time even as the chemotherapy took its toll. This past September the cancer returned.
Through it all, Alesha kept playing basketball and softball. She worked out with a basketball trainer and traveled with her summer softball team. No matter where the game was or how she felt, Sandra Mann usually found a seat in the stands. And Alesha always saw her.
"No matter if she was sick, no matter if she wasn't feeling good, if she had a headache or was throwing up, she would still try her best to make it to all of my games, whether it was softball or basketball," Mann said. "Whether it was downtown or in a whole different state, she would do her best to come and watch me play."
Sandra never let her daughter down. Alesha vowed to do the same.
It's why she played the next day. It's where the energy came from. It's the reason she showed up, the very night her mother passed, at her team's Christmas party.
"That is something my mom taught me," Mann said. "If she told me she would come or she would pick me up, she would do it. As a kid I wanted to be just like my mom. I wanted to be brave, strong-hearted and everything."
On the court, Mann ripped off double-digit scoring efforts in six of the next 10 games. Off the court, the fledgling Archer community rallied around the Mann family with the same energy. The school sold enough long-sleeved pink shirts to donate $900 to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund at last weekend's Girls Night Out basketball event at Starr's Mill. This Friday, Archer hosts its own "Pink Out" in honor of Sandra Mann for its home game against Brookwood.
Alesha Mann sees it all.
"They've always been there, no matter if I needed a shoulder to cry on they are there, if I needed a someone to talk to, they are there," she said of her teammates. "It's just amazing to see how people you just met two years ago would do all that just for you."
Mann came to Archer an out-of-position post player. She watched varsity games as a junior high player and understood she needed to switch to point guard. She told her coach and started working. With the support of her mother, she met with an trainer, Mike Griggs, after her freshman year. Her ball skills, her footwork and, above all, her shooting, improved. Though she was second on the team in scoring as a freshman, all her points came at the rim. She didn't attempt a single 3-pointer. This year, she's a threat all over the court.
In Archer's win Tuesday, it was Mann who sank the game-sealing free throws, her usual stoic look on her face.
She wasn't going to let her teammates down.
"I am just blessed to be a part of it," Lesniak said. "I am thankful that Sandra was able to be a part of my life. One of the nicest people you will ever come across and for her to be able to impact me and be around this program and the memories she's left for her daughter and the example she left for her daughter are going to strengthen our program for years to come."
"It's really awesome," Mann said. "We are all a family. We are all together."