First impressions can last a long time.
When Damon Smith first saw Christi'ana Armstrong
pick up a basketball in middle school, there were some mixed thoughts from the coach.
"I knew she had potential but it was rough," Smith said. "She was shooting the ball at the top of the backboard as a sixth-grader."
Boy, have things changed in four short years.
Armstrong is coming off a strong sophomore campaign in which she led Jefferson (Shenandoah Junction, W. Va.)
in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. She was honored accordingly and named first-team all-conference, among other accolades.
"In sixth grade, I started out as a cheerleader and I wanted to try something new, so I tried basketball," Armstrong said. "My coach saw something in me, he pushed me hard."
Smith, who is now Armstrong's coach at the varsity level, has watched her transformation from a lousy shooter to a dominant inside player.
What has changed in Smith's eyes?
"I think just a love for the game and her willingness to get better," Smith said. "She has done a lot of work every offseason, playing on travel teams. She got better by working hard. She wants to be the best player in the state by the time she's a senior."
At 5-foot-10, Armstrong was Smith's main post player and center this past season. She has respectable moves in the paint and is constantly trying to improve that part of her game.
"It's a lot of like power moves," Smith said. "Nothing really electric or anything like that; it's just a power dribble and go straight to the basket."
If a player is powerful inside, that can be tough to stop at the high school level. Muscling her way inside has been quite effective for Armstrong.
As a sophomore, she averaged 14.2 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots per game. That's up from 12.6 points, eight rebounds and three blocks her first season.
Armstrong doesn't always just camp in the lane waiting for her teammates to feed her the ball. She's good at drawing defenders to the outside to create one-on-one matchups that she'll most likely win.
"I'll like pop up to the elbow and do some moves up there," Armstrong said.
"This year, I think people were a little surprised by that because she gets double teamed a lot," Smith said. "So, bringing her outside a little bit more is hard for teams to double team. She's definitely been working on that and will continue to work on that these next couple of years."
Along with her scoring prowess, Armstrong is a crafty rebounder. She said her ability to rebound so well is because of her sound fundamentals and boxing out.
Registering in a double-double is "almost a given" every game, according to coach Smith.
"It just shows that I'm not just a big that can go up, I can do more than one thing," Armstrong said.
Smith believes Armstrong is going to go a long way in basketball because one of her top traits is she's coachable.
"It's not like I have to constantly keep telling her things over and over again, she gets it right then and there," Smith said. "She's a team leader, also."
For the last three seasons, Armstrong is using the AAU circuit to help fine-tune her game. Playing for the NHB Ballers — where she is the team's primary scoring option — Armstrong tallied 30 points in her last game this past weekend.
As Armstrong's game continues to progress, colleges are starting to take notice. The University of Maryland, which is less than 100 miles from Armstrong's hometown, has shown interest.
Looking to pursue a degree in criminal justice in college and possibly become a detective, Armstrong is dedicated in the classroom with a 3.1 grade point average.
Last year, Armstrong decided to challenge herself and enrolled in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). Taking part in the program every day for the entire school year provided Armstrong with plenty of structure.
"You have to learn discipline and you have to learn all the moves and stuff that they do," Armstrong said. "It was hard. You had to dress nice."
It was physically and mentally laboring but it certainly made a positive impact on her life.
"I listen better now because you have to listen well in that program," Armstrong said.
When Armstrong is away from the basketball court, the 16-year-old enjoys donating her time to others. Last year, she volunteered for a few projects close to home. There was a breakfast feed at a park on Veterans' Day where Armstrong served food to former military members. Armstrong also helped at a Special Olympics activity. She was assigned to a special needs kid and helped that person compete in running and field events.
"It was nice to help them do something they had never done before," Armstrong said.
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