Holland Sophomore Honored for Courage

April 15, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

What LayRay Paw has experienced and overcome during her still-young life is likely unimaginable for most she encounters on the basketball court.

The Holland High sophomore and her siblings were forced to navigate a refugee camp in Thailand and the deaths of their parents – who had fled Myanmar before she was born. They then came to the United States and began a new life with a new language, new adoptive family and new customs.

And she has excelled. 

Paw was recognized today as one of two winners of the 2020 Jersey Mike’s Naismith High School Basketball Courage Award.

The award recognizes a players who have “consistently gone above and beyond throughout the basketball season and (have) demonstrated courage in their approach to their team, their school, the game and their community.”

Following is an except from Paw’s nomination for the award, as told by adoptive parents Marsha and Bob Gustavson. Visit the Naismith Courage Award website for more including video with Paw, her parents and her Holland basketball and soccer coaches.

LayRay Paw was born in a refugee camp in Thailand called Mae La Oon. This particular refugee camp was for the people who were forced to flee from their home country of Myanmar due to war. They had to leave everything behind. When LayRay Paw was only a year old, her father was beaten to death after he attempted to leave the refugee camp in search of food and supplies for his wife and six children. Unfortunately, when LayRay was three years old, her mother became very ill and passed away. There are very minimal medical services for people living in refugee camps. After LayRay's mother passed away, she and her four older siblings were raised by her oldest sister, who was fourteen at the time. They survived on rationed rice, provided by the Thai government as well as anything else they could gather to eat from the river and forests. Because food was scarce, medical care almost non-existent, and fearing for the safety of her family, LayRay's oldest sister decided to sign up with the United Nations program to seek asylum in a different country.

In 2010, when LayRay was six years old, she and her five siblings were resettled in the United States and were all adopted by us. It was a huge culture shock for LayRay and her siblings upon arriving in the US. They did not speak or understand any English, had never seen or used running water, electricity, or toilets. They also had to learn to eat all new food, although rice continues to be the staple for each meal. Since being in the USA for ten years, LayRay now eats most American food, with the exception of cheese. Not only has LayRay completely caught up to her peers in school, but she excels in the classroom and she participates in many different extracurricular activities. Despite all that she has been through in her short life, she has demonstrated such resilience and is now a teenager who loves life, gives 100% to whatever she is working on and is always encouraging and helpful to others.

On top of basketball LayRay also plays soccer. During basketball season she works with our community to help run our elementary school camps. Girls are drawn to her. She is an amazing positive influence.

Photos courtesy of the Gustavson family and Holland athletic department.

High School 'Hoop Squad' Close to Heart as Hughes Continues Coaching Climb

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

July 11, 2024

Jareica Hughes had a Hall of Fame collegiate basketball career playing at University of Texas-El Paso and has played professionally overseas, but her most prized possession is something she earned playing high school basketball in Michigan. 

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosA standout at now-closed Southfield-Lathrup High School during the early-to-mid 2000s, Hughes proudly displays a signature symbol of Lathrup’s Class A championship team in 2005. 

“I have my state championship ring on me right now,” said Hughes, now an assistant head coach for the women’s basketball program at UTEP. “I wear this ring every single day. Not so much for the basketball aspect. Inside of the ring it says ‘Hoop Squad.’ It’s more the connection I’ve had with those particular young ladies. Friends that I’ve known since I was kid. Every once in a while when we talk, we go back in time.”

Believe it or not, Hughes and her high school teammates next year will have to go back 20 years to commemorate a run to the title that started when they were freshmen. 

It was a gradual build-up to what was the first girls basketball state championship won by a public school in Oakland County. Lathrup, which has since merged with the former Southfield High School to form Southfield Arts & Technology, remained the only public school in Oakland County to win a state girls basketball title until West Bloomfield did so in 2022 and again this past March. 

Lathrup lost in the District round to Bloomfield Hills Marian during Hughes’ freshman year, and then after defeating Marian in a District Final a year later, lost to West Bloomfield in a Regional Final.

When Hughes was a junior, the team got to the state’s final four, but a bad third quarter resulted in a heartbreaking one-point Semifinal loss to eventual champion Lansing Waverly. 

A year later, when Hughes and other core players such as Brittane Russell, Timika Williams, Dhanmite’ Slappey and Briana Whitehead were seniors, they finished the job and won the Class A crown with a 48-36 win over Detroit Martin Luther King in the Final.

However, the signature moment of that title run actually came during the Semifinal round and was produced by Hughes, a playmaking wizard at point guard who made the team go. 

Trailing by three points during the waning seconds of regulation against Grandville and Miss Basketball winner Allyssa DeHaan – a dominant 6-foot-8 center – Hughes drained a tying 3-pointer from the wing that was well beyond the 3-point line. 

Lathrup went on to defeat Grandville in overtime and prevail against King.

Hughes said the year prior, she passed up on taking a potential winning or tying shot in the Semifinal loss against Waverly, and was reminded of that constantly by coaches and teammates. “I just remember in the huddle before that shot, that just kept ringing in my mind,” she said. “That was special. I cried for weeks not being able to get a shot off (the year before) and leaving the tournament like that.”

Growing up in Detroit, Hughes got into basketball mainly because she had five older brothers and an older sister who played the game. In particular, Hughes highlights older brother Gabriel for getting her into the game and taking her from playground to playground.

“I’m from Detroit,” she said. “We played ball all day long. Sunup to sundown. When the light comes on, you had to run your butt into the house.”

Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center.Hughes played for the Police Athletic League and also at the famed St. Cecilia gym in the summer, developing her game primarily against boys.

“My first team was on a boys team,” she said. “I was a captain on a boys team.” 

The family moved into Lathrup’s district before she began high school. 

Once she helped lead Lathrup to the 2005 championship, she went on to a fine career at UTEP, where she was the Conference USA Player of the Year twice and helped lead the Miners to their first NCAA Tournament appearance.

Hughes still holds school records for career assists (599), steals (277) and minutes played (3,777). On Monday, she was named to Conference USA’s 2024 Hall of Fame class. 

After a brief professional career overseas was derailed by a shoulder injury, Hughes said getting into coaching was a natural fit. 

“I had to make the hard decision, and I knew as a kid I wanted to be around basketball,” she said. “Once I made that decision (to quit), I knew I was going to coach.”

Hughes started coaching in the Detroit area, first serving as an assistant at Southfield A&T from 2016-20 and then at Birmingham Groves for a season. She then served as interim head coach at Colby Community College in Kansas before being named an assistant at UTEP in May 2023, a month after her former coach Keitha Adams returned to lead the program after six seasons at Wichita State.  

While fully immersed in her job with UTEP, Hughes’ high school memories in Michigan certainly aren’t going away anytime soon – especially with the 20th anniversary of Lathrup’s championship coming up. 

“We are still close friends because we all essentially grew up together,” she said. “They are still my friends to this day.”

2024 Made In Michigan

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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Southfield-Lathrup’s Jareica Hughes drives to the basket against Detroit Martin Luther King during the 2005 Class A Final; at right, Hughes coaches this past season at UTEP. (Middle) Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center. (UTEP photo courtesy of the UTEP sports information department.)