Lister doles out assists on and off the court

Nov. 26, 2013

By Jerome Boettcher | Subscribe to Commodore Nation

Former volunteers and interns often return and visit the Magdalene House, a residential program for women recovering from addiction, prostitution and trafficking.

Most just don't evoke the response Jasmine Lister does.

"They see Jasmine come back, and it is almost like little kids when their parents show up and their eyes light up," Magdalene assistant program director Keri Seay said. "That is how they respond to her--that is not always typical. They get real excited about seeing her again."

While many of her Vanderbilt classmates left Nashville for summer vacation, Lister juggled preparing for her senior season on the basketball court and a two-month internship at the Magdalene House.

With a major in women and gender studies, Lister wanted to attain hands-on experience and connect personally with the 22 women.

"I got to know a lot of them on a different level," she said. "It's a different world. I got to hear a lot of their stories and what they were like. It really surprised me how close a lot of things that go on in Nashville are. The stories...what they've been through and how happy they are. They are able to see a way out."

Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest who is a chaplain at St. Augustine's on Vanderbilt's campus, started the Magdalene House in 1997. For two years, residents are offered housing, food, medical and dental needs, therapy, education and job training at no charge and without assistance from government funding. They also have a chance to work at Thistle Farms, also founded by Stevens, and create natural bath and body products. Profits directly benefit the women who make and sell them.

The women range in age from 20 to 50 and some have been sexually abused, used drugs or alcohol since they were 13 or spent time in prison. According to its website, 72 percent of Magdalene residents are sober within 2 1/2 years of starting the program.

"It was a humbling experience--most definitely," she said. "The staff there, they let me sit in on their staff meetings. They took each individual case and were like, `All right, so-so is going through this this week so what should we do to help her?' They really individually care about every single woman.

"It was definitely rewarding."

In addition to helping with filing and paperwork in the office, Lister observed during staff meetings and life skills group meetings. Seay said Lister learned about the women's past and the obstacles they had to overcome. More than anything, she was there to listen and provide support.

She also spearheaded an effort to encourage more women to participate in a sand volleyball tournament with Narcotics Anonymous.

"Her personality and her demeanor was really inviting and warm for the women," Seay said. "To them, they found her to be a breath of fresh air for them and very inspiring. She was extremely encouraging and motivational."

This shouldn't surprise those who have watched Lister in a Vanderbilt uniform the past three years.

The 21-year-old from Corona, Calif., has started in all 98 games of her Commodore career. In May, she was targeted as one of the better players in the country, receiving an invite to the USA Basketball Women's World University Games Team trials. From a spunky little freshman to a seasoned veteran, the 5-foot-4 point guard has evolved into a natural leader.

Not to mention a top scorer.

With 1,192 career points, she is tied for 23rd on Vanderbilt's all-time scoring charts. But if she eclipses 400 points for the third straight season she'll land in the top 10.

The two-time All-SEC selection also has garnered a reputation as a top distributor. With bounce passes through traffic, no-look dishes on the run and a selfless attitude, she has compiled 447 assists--seventh most in school history. Realistically she could finish in the top three, but Dee Davis' school record of 730 appears safe.

"Jasmine has just over-achieved, superceded any expectations we had," coach Melanie Balcomb said. "She has developed a work ethic that stands out. Therefore, she is a leader. She is very driven, very self-motivated. She wants to learn about the game. She spent a lot of time early in her career especially watching film and learning the game. Then she comes a coach on the floor and an extension of the coaching staff."

Lister credits her drive and selfless attitude to the teachings of her mom, Happi, and father, Deland, a former youth pastor.

Instead of resting on their laurels, Happi has reminded her daughters nothing is guaranteed.

"My mom has always taught me to be humble no matter where I'm at, no matter what I do," Jasmine said. "Stay humble because it can be taken away from you like that. You can say all these things about yourself but, `OK, you have to prove it.' Once you do prove it, you stay humble because there is always room for improvement. I try to keep that level-headedness.

"It is what I have been taught all my life."

Right there with her on the basketball court--and off of it--has been her identical twin sister, Cinnamon.

The two were inseparable, playing together all the way through their senior years at Santiago High School. Then college pulled the backcourt pair apart. Jasmine headed east to Nashville, and Cinnamon went to Boise State. She has since moved closer to home, transferring to Cal State Northridge.

The sisters talk every day, and Jasmine admits she misses her twin.

"At first it was weird--I'm away from my twin," she said. "But, then at the same time, we're gaining our own identity. Before, it was like Jasmine and Cinnamon, Jasmine and Cinnamon. Now I'm Jasmine and she's Cinnamon, but we're still twins. She's my best friend."

After she graduates in May, Lister hopes to pursue a dream she always talked about with Cinnamon--playing in the WNBA. While some see her stature as a hindrance, Lister draws inspiration from former North Carolina point guard Ivory Latta. The 5-6 point guard is in her seventh year in the WNBA.

"I know a lot of people are like, `I don't know if I'll ever play again,'" Lister said. "No, that's my goal. I want to keep playing as far as basketball will take me."

If that doesn't pan out, she will look into possibilities overseas. And once her playing career is over, she wants to stay on the sideline as a college coach.

For now, she aims to end her senior season in grand fashion.

Her sights are set on a clean sweep of the SEC regular-season and tournament championships and a deeper run into the NCAA Tournament (the Commodores haven't advanced out of the second round since 2009). In fact, Lister and her teammates want to make the Final Four. They wouldn't have to travel far, as the 2014 Women's Final Four will be in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena.

"My past three years, we haven't really done anything great as a team," she said. "To be a part of that, to get to a Final Four, that would just be an accomplishment. I would feel I had an impact on our school's legacy since we do have a history of winning. I want to add to that, as well."



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