Last season, former Jonesboro High standout Rasham Suarez, left, averaged 14.9 points and five assists at the College of Central Florida. (Special Photo: Bruce Ackerman/Star-Banner Photo)
JONESBORO — Rasham Suarez has had a long journey to finally reach his goal of playing on the NCAA Division I level in basketball.
He played at four different high schools, a prep school and two years of junior college basketball.
But next school year, he will begin his dream of playing basketball on college’s highest level after signing a scholarship with Southern Mississippi.
“I’m really excited about my opportunity,” said Suarez, a former standout at Jonesboro High.
Suarez, a former Region 4-AAAA Player of the Year who led the Cardinals to a semifinals appearance as a senior in high school, signed with Southern Miss last November. However, a coaching change at the Conference USA school cast some doubt if he would play at the school.
Although the new coaching staff wanted him, the 6-foot-3 point guard had other offers. But a relationship with Golden Eagles assistant coach Jareem Dowling proved to be the difference.
“He is the one that was recruiting me the entire time,” Suarez said. “We built a good relationship. When Southern Miss changed coaches, I had to make a decision. I still feel I made the right decision.”
As a freshman at College of Central Florida in Ocala, Suarez averaged 14.2 points and 5.9 assists to lead the Patriots to the NCJAA National title. In the process, he made the NJCAA All-Tournament Team.
This past season, Suarez averaged 14.9 points and five assists.
“He showed tremendous progress during his two years here,” CCF coach Tim Ryan said. “He did a tremendous job for us. I know he will do well on the next level because he is a winner. He was a big part of our success the last two seasons.”
It wasn’t the first national championship with Suarez. Before moving to Georgia, he was a member of powerhouse Findley Prep’s national championship team.
With two championship rings, Suarez wants to lead Southern Miss into the NCAA Tournament next season. The Golden Eagles reached the Big Dance during the 2011-12 season where they lost to 70-64 to Kansas State. Prior to that, the program’s last NCAA appearance was in 1991.
The team has never won an NCAA tournament game in three appearances.
“I want to help put them back on the map,” Suarez said. “I want us to make some noise next season.”
Earlier this month, Suarez reached a milestone for his family. When he walked across the stage at the College of Central Florida commencement exercise, he became the first in his family to get a college degree.
The Puerto Rico native, who got an associate degree in liberal arts studies, said he is looking forward to working towards his bachelor’s degree at Southern Miss.
“It was a great feeling getting that degree,” Suarez said. “My sister wants to follow in my footsteps and go to college.”
Suarez’s journey to the College of Central Florida wasn’t easy. He originally signed with Georgia Southern entering his senior season at Jonesboro, but had to attend Faith Baptist Christian School in Florida before enrolling at the College of Central Florida.
He said although it was a minor setback, it helped him mature as a person.
“It taught me a lot of patience,” Suarez said. “I realize things won’t come easy, and that I had to work for everything. I know God has a plan for me, and I just have to follow where he leads me.”
And the next stop is Southern Miss.