Ledger News Article by Ray Beasock-
When it comes to basketball, Nikki Jessee has had quite a career.
She was a star player for Lakeland High School in the 1990s, a recruit for the Florida Gators, a star at Rollins College, a Sunshine State Conference head women’s coach and now she’s the head coach at Lakeland Christian School.
Through it all, Jessee, 43, has won many awards and honors, but she got a first this week from a school that gave her a second chance.
Jessee will be inducted into the Rollins College Sports Hall of Fame for her time as a star women’s basketball player for the Tars from 1996 to 1999. The induction ceremony is set for March 28.
“I’m just letting it sink in,” Jessee said. “It’s an honor. To be considered one of the best is shocking and awesome all at the same time. My coach is still there. He gave me another chance to play and make up for all the dumb mistakes I made at Florida. We did some great things there. At least two others I played with are already a part of the Hall of Fame. To be a part of that is pretty amazing.”
It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Jessee’s career amazing either.
After a stellar high school career with the Dreadnaughts, where she was named The Ledger’s girls basketball player of the year three times, Jessee was recruited to the University of Florida as one of the top 50 recruits in the nation.
While things didn’t work out well for Jessee in Gainesville, Rollins head coach Glenn Wilkes Jr. was more than willing to bring Jessee into the fold.
“Her coming here was a great move for her,” said Wilkes Jr., who has been coaching at Rollins for more than 30 years. “She really got better as a player and a person. From a player standpoint, there was really nothing she couldn’t do. She was a real Swiss army knife type of player. She gave us so many dimensions. She was one of the better players that has ever been in this league.
“There’s no question she stands out. We’ve had a lot of really good teams, but to have good teams, you have to have good players. Speaking from 33 years of experience, she’s one of the best we’ve ever had.”
At Rollins, Jessee was a three-time all-conference selection, a Sunshine State Conference Tournament MVP and holds a top-10 spot in multiple categories, including scoring, 3-point baskets made, 3-point field goal percentage, free throws made, free-throw percentage and blocks.
Jessee signed a professional contract with the Thames Valley Tigers of Bracknell, England, where she led the team in scoring and rebounding after graduating from Rollins.
After her playing career wrapped up, Jessee held high school jobs as an assistant coach at George Jenkins and the head coach of Lyman in Longwood (Seminole County). In the college ranks, she was an assistant coach at Campbell, Tusculum, Tampa and head coach of Martin Methodist, Lynn and Saint Leo.
While she was head coach at Lynn, she started dating her future husband and current Tampa women’s basketball head coach Tom Jessee.
During her time as a SSC head coach, Jessee coached against her husband and her former head coach at Rollins.
“It was appropriately awkward,” Wilkes Jr. said. “She was really good, and she was going to continue to get better. The circumstances with Tom and her were great, and had she chosen to stay in coaching she would’ve been very successful.”
Jessee left Saint Leo after three years to focus on her family.
“We had a young daughter and we were like ships passing in the night,” Jessee said. “It was hard. At the time, we thought it was cool being the first husband-wife team to ever (coach against each other). Now, we understand why nobody else did it.”
While her career has brought her back to the courts of Polk County, Jessee will always hold Rollins in high regard.
Getting voted into the Tars’ Hall of Fame shows the school holds her there as well.
“Rollins has been a big part of my life,” Jessee said. “It’s because of Rollins that I met my husband. They definitely hold a special place in my heart.”