Prep Basketball: Salisbury’s Rice signs with Pfeiffer
By Mike London
Salisbury girls basketball coach Andrew Mitchell recruited at Livingstone for years so he understands Division II programs have to look a little harder to find hidden gems.
“At a D-II school, you’re not going to get those big scorers,” Mitchell said. “You have to search and search until you find those diamonds. I believe Pfeiffer just found one.”
The diamond in the rough is Salisbury guard Kia Rice, whose never been fully appreciated by anyone except coaches and teammates. Rice signed with Pfeiffer as the “regular” signing period began on Wednesday. It runs through May 20.
“Kia’s never really gotten the credit she deserved,” said fellow senior Shi-Heria Shipp, the Rowan County Player of the Year. “For my four years here, she never caught an attitude once. She just came off the bench and gave it all she had every time. I’ve watched the film of our state-championship game. That girl is all over the place. Offense, defense ó just all over the place.”
Rice didn’t start often for Salisbury’s 2A state champions. She averaged 4.6 points a game for a 29-3 team.
It wasn’t that she couldn’t score. After all, she contributed 401 career points to teams that won 110 of 122 outings. It was more a case where she understood her team had stronger offensive options and her forte was defensive energy. She concentrated on deflections and steals and made it tough for opponents to run an offense.
One former basketball high school coach in the county asked the Post early in the season who Salisbury’s No. 14 was. She hadn’t noticed her before. Was she a freshman?
No, just a girl who earned increased minutes as a senior and made them count.
“Kia learned to play to her strengths,” Mitchell said. “She’s very fast with very good hands. She’s a great defender.”
Pfeiffer head coach Jill Thomas began the recently concluded season as an assistant. She was named interim coach late, went 7-2 at the helm and had the interim removed from her title after the season.
Mitchell said Thomas has been interested in Rice for a while, mostly because she’ll add an injection of quickness and defense.
It didn’t hurt Rice’s cause that she’s an outstanding student and a personable ray of sunshine who lights up classrooms as well as gyms. Besides athletic money, Rice is receiving a $6,000 per year Legacy Scholarship from Pfeiffer for academics.
“Kia was a great teammate and a wonderful all-round person,” senior De’Rya Wylie said. “Basketball, singing, dancing ó she can do it all.”
Rice, attired in a black and gold Pfeiffer T-shirt for her signing party in the SHS gym, modestly admitted she was a bit surprised when Thomas first contacted her.
“She called me up and said she really liked the way I played defense and they wanted to make me an offer,” Rice said. “I was thinking, ‘Well, I’m not going to turn it down.’ I went over there to visit and liked it. It really is a blessing to find a place so close to home. I just feel like so many doors are opening up for me.”
Rice plans to major in criminal justice and hopes for a career in Forensic science.
It bears repeating that Rice missed a vital layup late in the 2006 state- championship game when she was a freshman. That one miss in a frantic situation could have wrecked her confidence, but it only made her tougher and better.
She moved on, kept working and got a chance to redeem herself as a senior when the Hornets made it back to the title game.
In the championship game against Graham all she did was jump off the bench and make four straight shots. That unexpected burst of offense put Salisbury in the driver’s seat. Under the circumstances, it was just an unbelievable performance under serious pressure.
In her biggest game, Rice played the game of her life.
When Mitchell handed out postseason awards, Rice was the recipient of the Clutch Player Award. The accolade probably startled her, but it didn’t surprise her teammates.
“Kia missed a layup as a freshman and had to carry that burden with her for three years,” Mitchell said. “But she always came through at the right time for us and she definitely saved her best for last.”
Rice may never score a lot of points at Pfeiffer, but she will make the Falcons better. That’s something everyone agrees on.