OGDEN, Utah (AP) — There's a bright star on the Weber State University women's basketball court who easily could have chosen a life of darkness.

Junior point guard J'Aiamoni Welch-Coleman, 20, is known as an athlete with seemingly endless enthusiasm who gives the game her all.

Yet her story is about early struggle as she was raised by her grandparents.

Her mother was murdered when she was 6 years old.

"That pain was just extra fuel," she told the Standard-Examiner. "I used the pain to move forward."

"Reality hit me harder, faster at a really young age," Welch-Coleman said in a video featured at the WSU Cat Bash, an event that raised $62,000 for student-athlete scholarships.

"I definitely play for my mom," she said. "Everything I do is for her. I feel like I owe it to her to be successful and to make her proud."

Realizing now that she could have acted out, Welch-Coleman said she tried not to ever use her situation for any negative results.

Turning challenges around for her betterment seems to come naturally to Welch-Coleman.

"Everything happens for a reason," she said. "Bad things happen all the time. I've always known that things could be a lot worse. ... I've always used the bad to create some good."

At 5 feet 3 inches, Welch-Coleman is short for a collegiate basketball player.

But she doesn't see her height as a disadvantage whatsoever.

"I have better speed and quickness," Welch-Coleman said. "I can get around people faster."

"She goes out there and puts everything on the line every time," said Devan Newman, the assistant women's basketball coach at WSU. Newman takes pride in having discovered Welch-Coleman while attending a high school game near Berkley, California, to recruit a different player.

"There was this 5-foot-2, 5-foot-3 kid just going at people with no fear whatsoever," Newman said. "She plays like she's 6-foot-3."

Welch-Coleman gained Newman's respect from the beginning.

"Everything she had to overcome at such a young age is just inspiring," Newman said. "That will take a lot of kids down, but for her, it fueled her."

Welch-Coleman said she took up basketball right about the time her mom died.

Playing against the boys, she had to continually prove how tough she was.

"Athletics basically gave me an outlet," she said.

She admits she decided early on to fight back.

"I can't let this define me. I can't let this be a reason I didn't do anything," she said.

Newman said she knew if given the chance Welch-Coleman — who she nicknamed Money — would grab onto the opportunity to prove her worth at WSU. "So far, that's what she's been doing," Newman said.

Without knowing her story, Newman said no one would suspect Welch-Coleman's trials. "She's tough. She's feisty. She's always smiling," Newman said.

"She's got a big smile on her face all the time," Newman said.

Weber State head coach Bethann Ord said Welch-Coleman's heart is as big as she is small.

Watching Welch-Coleman succeed both on and off the court as she studies exercise science has inspired Ord.

"She's a good citizen and a good student as well as a student-athlete," Ord said.

Welch-Coleman said much of what she does now is for her teammates.

"There's a lot at stake," she said.

She has her grandmother, Amanda Coleman, to thank for teaching her how to look out for others, she said.

Realizing how her grandmother likely was in as much emotional pain as she was when her mother died, Welch-Coleman said her grandmother kept her moving forward in a positive direction.

"She would tell me everything was going to be OK," Welch-Coleman said. "She told me to pass my classes and get good grades in school. I just did what I thought was right all the time."

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Information from: Standard-Examiner, http://www.standard.net