As the lone senior on the county’s last undefeated basketball team this winter, Long Reach’s Kiana Williams has a unique perspective.
She’s a captain, four-year starter at point guard and, after having been named Howard County Player of the Year as a sophomore, has the pedigree needed to lead by example.
But it’s something else, something that no other member of this year’s Lightning squad has really experienced, that truly gives Williams her edge — she knows what it’s like to be part of a losing team.
Back when she was a freshman, Williams was part of a Long Reach group that went just 7-13. In the three years since, coinciding with the arrival of what is now an incredibly deep 2019 class, the Lightning have gone a combined 44-12.
It’s that first year of high school, though, and the desire to complete the program’s turnaround by helping Long Reach win a region title for the first time, that keeps Williams from getting complacent. When you’ve seen the bottom, it’s easier not to take being at the top for granted.
This winter for a Long Reach squad that enters the week with an 8-0 county record and is 9-0 overall, Williams is averaging 13.5 points and just under nine assists a game. On Jan. 9 against Mt. Hebron, she scored a career-high 31 points and notched the 1,000th point of her career.
Nearing the midway point of the regular season, she recently sat down to discuss her high school basketball journey to this point, what it’s like being a frontrunner for the first time and her decision to continue her basketball career at Bethune-Cookman University next season.
What’s it been like to see the program from your freshman year, through the turnaround, to the point now where you are currently the top team in the county?
It’s exciting because when I started everyone used to doubt Long Reach and a lot of teams looked at us like an easy win. But I feel like now with new people coming in every year, we’ve continually gotten stronger and completely changed things. We’re not just winning, but we’ve gotten to the point where we now have the potential to do things no other girls basketball team at Long Reach has done. We have a chance to make history and I’m just excited to be part of that.
As a team, you guys have seemingly always been the underdog since you started high school. Has it felt different at all this year?
It’s definitely a little different, but I’d say even as recently as the Howard game at the beginning of this month, there were a lot of people still doubting us. And I think the key is just keeping that mentality that we have something to prove. Yeah, teams are now going to be hunting for us so we have to be prepared for that … we can’t take any days off or overlook anyone. But we also know that we haven’t accomplished our goals yet.
As a sophomore and junior you finished as one of the top five scorers in the county — averaging more than 15 points per game. This year, though, your scoring numbers are a little down, but the assists are way up. Is that by design?
I have a lot more help and scorers around me this year than I ever have in the past, so I think it’s more I’m just taking fewer shots. Right now, when I’m distributing the ball, that’s when we are at our best. There are still going to be games, like against Mt. Hebron, where maybe I score a little more. But I think the fact that I don’t have to be our leading scorer most games is a sign of how far we’ve come as a team. And, honestly, I enjoy passing as much as I do scoring. Especially passing to [Arianna Briggs-Hall], she knows it’s coming and is always ready to finish.
You talk about that connection with the younger players on the team. What has it been like to see how much they’ve grown and improved?
I take a lot of pride in their development, I really do. I think it’s on me to be a role model, because they are younger than me and I’ve been with them every year since they got to high school. The example I set is going to have an affect on the kind of leaders they become next year when I’m gone and when they are trying to continue the success and direction of the team. And, yeah, on the court, they’ve all gotten so much better every season and I have faith in all of them. I love how this team, we all ride for one another and have each other’s backs through everything. It’s a real family atmosphere and part of that is because we’ve been together for so long.
Off the basketball court, you made second team All-County as a golfer both as a freshman and as a sophomore. What other things do you like to do when you aren’t playing basketball?
I actually like to do a lot of different things. I don’t like just sitting around. So whether it’s the gym, going to the movies or Dave and Busters with friends, or bowling … I keep busy. I also enjoy like Sky Zone, and I worked there up until a few months ago.
With all those activities, do you find yourself constantly competing?
Absolutely. Every place I go, everything I do, I am trying to win. Bowling, I went with my dad and cousin the other day, and we get real competitive. My dad, he kind of won that one but I told him I will get him next time. And I still go golfing with him for fun and we have some good matches. It’s nice having that father-daughter time with him, being able to share those things.
What went into your decision to sign to play next year at Bethune-Cookman?
I think I knew from the very first day I walked in there because of the family atmosphere, from the coaches to the players. I had heard about Bethune through our coach Rashida Challenger, who knew one of their coaches and shot him my mix tape. And that got them interested, then they started coming to my games toward the end of this past AAU season. Then they flew me down for a visit and I immediately felt so much love. And really it reminded me a lot of Long Reach, the kind of atmosphere where no one feels left out of anything. I feel like it’s going to be so tough to leave this team behind, but it helps knowing I will be joining a team like that.
Last year, you guys made the region championship game and, with Arianna sitting out with an injury, ended up losing to Atholton. What’s it going to take to make this the year you get over the regional final hump for the first time?
More than anything, just staying healthy. That’s the biggest thing because we feel like with this team and everyone on the floor together, we can beat anyone. Last year, not having Ari in there for the boards and presence in the post, that definitely changed things. And we aren’t maybe as deep as some other teams, so having all of us out there is definitely important.
Is there anything other than a regional championship that would make you consider this year a success come the end of the season?
I’m trying to enjoy every game and not look too far ahead, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted that hardware. I feel like that’s the one thing still missing. We’ve accomplished so much during my four years and it’s been everything I could have ever wanted. But winning that [region championship] and getting to states, that would mean so much. I feel like it would be the perfect way to finish, giving back to Long Reach after everything it has given to me.
Reach Brent Kennedy at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports