It’s been tough going for the Lady Indians basketball team this season. They held Milford within their grasp but gave way 47-40 on Jan. 12 and since have lost two games, to St. Thomas More and Polytech (51-28 and 39-28, respectively). That whittled their record to 1-10, but the team is trooping forward nonetheless.
Junior guard Kiarra Graves sees this year as an opportunity to get better and looks to take her teammates with her.
She’s only played organized basketball since the ninth grade, when she admittedly wasn’t very good. She didn’t have an opportunity to play much on JV and decided to take on the problem head on.
“It was a reality shock, but I realized that the other players had seniority and I would have to pay my dues.
Graves hasn’t played any other sport other than basketball in high school thus far, in order to concentrate on basketball. And that dedication earned her a prominent playing time on last year’s varsity team. Though the team finished 8-11, Graves was driven by winning their last six games and desired to continue what they started.
It would be a tough task because almost the entire team was lost to graduation. But that fueled Graves even more. She knew that she would have to shoulder the load and become a leader.
She buried herself in basketball and training throughout the off-season, to better her game. She wasn’t satisfied with her ability to go left or shoot a jumper off the dribble, so she practiced. She shot 100 jump shots before most would have been out of bed. She nailed 100 free-throws before it was time to flip the pancakes and washed it all down with 50 three-pointers.
It’s tough to get somebody to work out with at 7 a.m. in the morning, so oftentimes she’d have to improvise. She’d imagine a defender playing defense with the same intensity she plays with when driving to the basket or pulling up for a shot. Sometimes she’d play pickup games with some of the football players or run drills with teammates who filtered in.
The skills developed at the break of day have made Graves into the basketball player that fans see each game: fearless, determined, aggressive and skilled.
Though she hasn’t played many years of basketball, she herself has been a fan and adopted another talented guard’s playing style.
“I love watching Allen Iverson play because he gives 150 percent every night — and you can’t say that about every NBA player,” said Graves. “I love how he drives in against guys who are 6’9” and he’s 6’1” [actually, 5’11”] but he goes in like they’re shorter than he is. He proves that it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight but the fight in the dog.”
Collegiate basketball caught her eye for that very same reason and has fortified her basketball mentality.
“College players play because they love the game,” Graves said. “Not that a pro player doesn’t love the game — it’s just that college basketball has a higher percentage of passionate players.”
Graves reveres defense, which explains why spectators will see her steal so many passes or dive on the ground for a loose ball. For her, defense sets the tempo.
“I love pressure. It’s my favorite part of the game,” Graves said. “I love pressuring the opposing point guard to give up the ball to the No. 2, who isn’t as good a ball-handler. It’s why you’ll see me on the floor nine to 10 times a game.”
Head Coach Summer Chorman loves Graves’ aggressiveness and, combined with fellow guards Marnisha Butler and Charne Rayne, Indian River has a talented trio of defenders.
“It valuable to have three guards who are really good at pressuring the ball when it’s coming up the court. It’s a good way to get turnovers, but that’s also how she gets so many fouls because she is so aggressive,” explained Chorman.
Chorman likes to run man-defense, just like Graves — but the team’s defensive development has stunted their ability to use man.
“A lot of the girls are inexperienced in man-defense and haven’t played at this level. They end up getting beat by more experienced girls,” said Chorman.
It’s been a long time since Graves had to look down at her dribble when breaking a press, but the rest of her team isn’t there yet. She is the only upperclassman on the team, which means the remainder of the team comprises freshman and sophomores. And Chorman is hesitant to put inexperienced players out of position.
It’s for this reason that Chorman called a timeout rather than let sophomore guard Rayne take the lay-up following the steal when they trailed three points with under a minute to go in the game.
“From my angle, it looked like Charne was out of bounds, and I called timeout because I wanted to have a set possession,” said Chorman. “The ball was already in the net by the time the timeout was called.”Had Chorman not called the timeout, Indian River would’ve trailed by one point — but that is neither here nor there. Tough calls need be made at decisive moments and that was one of them. But one thing is for sure: Graves has the motor and leadership ability to lead this team back into the hunt for the Southern Henlopen Conference.
“I’m not the best player and I know that. And I have a lot of improvement to do myself. But to improve as a team, we all need do our part,” said Graves, “not 50 percent — it needs to be the whole team working together.”