CROSS RIVER, N.Y. – Senior Jessica Leff is a co-captain of the John Jay girls’ basketball team. She plans to attend Harvard College in the fall.
How old were you when you started playing basketball and how did you get started?
I started playing basketball in first grade and have been playing ever since. I was drawn to the fast pace of the game.
What is your favorite activity, pregame or postgame ritual that you share with your teammates?
On the bus, [teammate] Kelly [Nolan] blasts music, and the entire team jams out together. Off the bus, we’re not exactly considered the best dancers, but we all have a great time dancing together and hyping ourselves up before games.
How do you see your role on the team, and how do much do you value being a leader?
As a captain, my responsibility is to be a role model for my teammates. At each practice, I make sure I come prepared, work hard, and help maintain the high intensity that our coaches desire. I’m probably the loudest player on the team. So, I use my voice to keep the energy up in both practices and games. I also do my best to check in with my teammates to see how we can improve as a team. At the same time, I strive to be someone my teammates know they can come to about anything—on or off the court.
Do you or the team have any goals for this season?
With many of our players having little or no on-court varsity experience, one goal is to simply have fun and play together. Hopefully this helps us get to know each other on the court and learn each other’s strengths. Either way, we have so many talented players that I know if we work together, league champions or a section title could be in our future.
Who has been your biggest role model over the years and what have you learned from them?
Last year’s seniors have been my biggest role models. Anyone could see how easily they connected and never took their time together for granted. Playing each game like it was their last, they taught me the importance of working as a team. And although they were great athletes individually, it was when they played to each other’s strengths that they were unstoppable.
Tell us one thing about yourself that not a lot of people know.
Most people know that I really like to sing, but not many know that I’m teaching myself guitar. I’ve always wanted to be able to pick up a guitar and sing as I play. Now I (kind of) can!
Do you plan to play basketball in college? If yes, where are you going and why did you choose that school?
No, although I would love to challenge anyone to some pickup!
Do you know what you want to study in college? If yes, what and why?
In the fall, I’m attending Harvard. I plan on concentrating in biology or neuroscience on a pre-med track. I have always been interested in medicine, and generally how the brain functions. I am also considering a joint concentration in theater. I have been performing since age 4.
Who is your favorite professional athlete and pro or college sports team?
I don’t have a specific favorite athlete, but my favorite sports team is the UConn women’s basketball team. I admire the legacy the Huskies have left, and how they continually push to be even better than they already are.
What is your favorite music to listen to while warming up for a game?
I’ll listen to almost anything. I really like throwbacks, pop, and occasionally country. My favorite before a game is anything that Kelly [Nolan] plays on her speaker. She has the BEST music.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
Time travel. I would see the past and major events first-hand or travel to the future to get a glimpse of what’s in store for me. Also, it would be nice to go back for a “do-over” or change a past decision.
If you could pick one place to visit on vacation that you’ve never been to, where would you go and why?
I’ve actually never left the country, so that’s a hard question. If I had to pick just one place, I would probably pick somewhere in Greece, because it looks beautiful. There are a lot of nice beaches, and I really like Greek food. I also love the movie “Mamma Mia,” which was filmed there.
What’s your favorite food to eat before or after a game?
Before every game, I always have a GoGo squeeZ. It’s a superstition that I have had since I first joined the team.
Best place to eat in Katonah-Lewisboro and why?
I love Empire Bagels. I really like their No. 35 with grilled chicken. They also have great smoothies and are right next to the high school. So, it’s super convenient for me to get there, and we love to go there right before a practice or game.
Favorite social media platform? Why?
Instagram. I think it’s a great way to keep in touch with all sorts of people: your close friends, old friends, family, favorite celebrities, etc. I also love just looking at my explore page and finding random funny posts to send to my friends.
What would you tell younger John Jay athletes about your experience with the basketball program? Why should they go out for the team?
The John Jay basketball program is truly a community. Everyone is here to support one another on and off the court. We love to win, but most importantly, we love to spend time and grow with one another. Basketball is just about having fun. It’s simple: when you have fun playing the sport, you play better. Athletes should go out for the team because they will have fun! Yes, they will develop skills and become better players through the guidance of coaches staff and teammates, but will also create lasting friendships.