While basketball star R.J. Nembhard capped his Keller career guiding his team to the Class 6A state tournament last season, another Nembhard was writing the first chapter of her own Keller sports legacy. Now, Jayden Nembhard, who will be a sophomore this year, is hoping to attach more success to the surname.
“Basically, I’m ‘Little R.J.’ or ‘Mini R.J.,’ she said.
Jayden is an outside hitter for the Lady Indians volleyball team. She played at the varsity level last season as a freshman — something her big brother was able to help her adjust to.
“I knew that R.J. had been through it, so seeing how he handled it and did it, I just took it that way,” she said. “I felt a little bit frustrated at the beginning of the season, but as the season went on, it simmered down.”
He was able to be there all the time. Now, since his season will start a little earlier, it will be different without him there.
Jayden Nembhard, on her first season not attending the same school as older brother R.J.
A year later, Nembhard feels differently about this season, which officially kicks off Aug. 7 across the state.
“Last year, I wasn’t really excited, because I was more nervous,” she admitted. “My confidence was pretty low. Going into this year I have a whole bunch of confidence, so my excitement level is really high for this season.”
Perhaps boosting that confidence was winning a national club title. Nembhard, along with Keller teammate Kate Lang, won gold in the Open division of the 2017 Girls Junior National Championships. It’s actually her second national title; she won the same tournament the year before last.
This summer’s success gives Nembhard some momentum entering the high school season.
“I think the fire keeps burning,” she said. “I think we get more excited, especially just to keep playing together [with Lang].”
Lang, also a sophomore, was called up to the varsity squad around the start of district play last season.
“It was great, I was so excited,” Nembhard said. “You could see the difference between before and after she got called up.”
The Lady Indians went on to share a district title and reach the regional tournament. With the bulk of that team returning for this season, expectations in the gym are high.
“At first it was difficult last year,” Nembhard said. “This year I think it will be a lot easier. We have a bunch of people returning from last season, so adjusting will be easier. Performing will be easier.”
Nembhard had a valuable support system in place last year with her big brother around. Now that he’s moved on to TCU, things in the halls will be a little different.
“A little bit,” she said. “He was able to be there all the time. Now, since his season will start a little earlier, it will be different without him there.
“Last year, after the season ended, he told me I had a great season and beat his freshman year. That gave me confidence. Now, this year it’s just kind of, ‘be yourself and you don’t have to worry about anything.’”
With three years still to write her Keller sports legacy, you might assume Nembhard longs to flip the script and make people refer to R.J. as Jayden’s brother, but she’s just fine with things as they are.
“I’m fine with people calling me Little R.J.”