A quiet approach

If actions speak louder than words, Jazmine Sepulveda makes a lot of noise. The words that collect in her mind don’t always make it off the tip of her tongue, so she lets her actions on the basketball court do most of her talking.

“I’ve always been shy,” Sepulveda said. “I don’t even know where it comes from.”

Sepulveda, a senior in her second season at USF, has been able to make things happen for the Bulls this season. She is second on the team in scoring (15.3 points per game) and helped South Florida go 2-1 in last weekend’s Paradise Jam Tournament in the Virgin Islands.

“The first three games (of the season), she didn’t even have a turnover,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “In the Texas Tech game she didn’t shoot well, but at the end of the game she made some really good decisions. She did a good job of getting our post players involved, and hit a nice runner down the middle of the lane. That was a big shot for us.”

Sepulveda — who helped the Bulls win 71-61 over the Red Raiders on Saturday — has done that often in her career.

Despite not scoring a lot, she always does the little things on the basketball court. Sepulveda transferred to USF after her sophomore season at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, where she played under coach Kim Muhl. Muhl said he had a similar story showcasing Sepulveda’s character.

“We were playing a game against Western Iowa,” he said. “She didn’t even score the whole game for us. I said to her that I’ve never had a kid start for me that hasn’t scored in a game before. All she had to say was, ‘Coach, we won, didn’t we? That’s what matters.’ Well, that sums up her attitude.”

It’s that attitude that has had an impact on her teammates at USF. Senior Brittany Denson, who transferred from the University of Miami the same year Sepulveda did from Kirkwood, said it’s been great to have someone lead by example on the team.

“She really motivates me on a personal basis by the way she carries herself,” she said. “She’s always encouraging me, and the way she works hard is really great.”

Sepulveda, a Brooklyn, N.Y. native, said she learned how to play basketball in a different way than most girls.

“When I was 12 years old, I started playing on the boy’s basketball team, and I schooled them a bit,” she chuckled.

On that middle school basketball team, her mother Vilmary encouraged her to wear a No. 4 on her jersey. Her mother, who moved to Brooklyn from Puerto Rico at age 3, said the number four represents a connection she shares with her daughter.

“I was born on January 4 and Jazmine was born in April, the fourth month, of course,” she said. “We just figured it was a way for us to share something between a mother and a daughter.”

The senior guard wears No. 4 for USF, too.

Sepulveda leads the team with 20 assists this season, and one girl she passes to a lot is preseason all-Big East guard Shantia Grace. Grace said she and Sepulveda have built a good connection during the last two years.

“She’s a great basketball player, and to have someone out there to work next to that is so good is great,” Grace said. “She really has the ability to keep our team together.”

Perhaps her experience at USF has opened up the soft-spoken Brooklynite. Her mother said it takes time for her daughter to open up to new surroundings.

“She’s definitely shy at the beginning,” she said. “She takes her time in getting used to things.”

One place the 5-foot-9 guard seems to have warmed up to is the USF Sun Dome. Sepulveda said she’s a lot more comfortable here compared to last season, which has enabled her to take on a leadership role in the team.

“This season has been a lot different for me,” she said. “I knew what to expect this year coming into the season, and did a lot of work in the offseason. I knew the teammates and the coaching staff, so it’s been real good.”

“Jazz,” as she’s known by her teammates, turned the ball over 100 times in 32 games last year. This season, she has only four turnovers in seven games.

It’s the offseason conditioning work that’s been the biggest difference from last year, though.

“I stayed busy in the offseason,” Sepulveda said. “I even stayed here over the summer instead of going home to work on my game. I came into the gym every day and justran, shot and got myself better working with ‘Coach K’ on a regular basis.”

“Coach K” is Aaron Komarek, in his third year as strength and conditioning coach at USF. He said he could tell right away in workouts that Sepulveda had not only physical strength, but mental strength as well.

“Jazmine is a hard worker, which makes my job easier,” he said. “She’s one of the athletes who decided she didn’t need a summer break, and stayed here on campus during her break just to get better.”

Not seeing her daughter often is tough for Sepulveda’s mother.

“We miss her so much,” she said. “We are very proud of her, though, and I always, always, always knew she would do great things. I always knew that.”

Komarek said that’s the kind of sacrifice great leaders make.

“As ‘Jazz’ entered into the fall, she continued to do well,” he said. “We can try to motivate kids as much as we want, but when it comes down to it, it’s up to them to do the work. With her, she wanted to put forth the effort.”

With the hard work she put into the offseason, her comfort level and the development of her game, Sepulveda is one of the leaders on the team.

Perhaps no one knew she was here all summer working in the gym — she’s not one to boast — but the results speak for themselves.

“She’s always been a person that leads by example,” Muhl said.