Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

GRANITE QUARRY — It sounds like a tall tale (no pun intended), but East Rowan senior Karleigh Wike swears it’s true.
“I blocked a girl’s shot in middle school, and then I apologized to her,” the 6-foot-4 Wike said.
That’s just how Wike, who signed with Richmond last week, is, and, well, it’s no sin to be nice.
East coach Danielle Porter, feisty as a honey badger in her playing days, has tried to cure Wike of some of the politeneness, at least on the court, and she’s succeeded to a certain degree.
When Wike rejected a shot as a varsity freshman, she didn’t stop the game to write a letter of apology, but she did help her victim back to her feet, as hot smoke poured out of Porter’s ears like she was a wood-burning stove.
“She helped that girl back up,” Porter said. “I told Karleigh she’d be running suicides every time that happened in the future.”
Informed that Wike could dominate the world if she’d just get meaner, Porter suppressed a giggle.
“You know if I had a quarter for every time someone made that suggestion, I’d be pretty rich right now,” she said. “But Karleigh is just Karleigh. She’s a jewel.”
Wike will never be an elbow-thrower, but she has learned a lot playing against top-flight AAU competition. She learned to defend herself, and then she learned to assert herself.
“My nature is to be nice, I guess, but I’ve played against a lot of tough aggressive girls, and I understand that I have to have a certain presence on the court,” Wike said.
Porter took the head-coaching job at East the same year Wike was a varsity freshman, so she’s watched her progress as a scorer from 6.7 points a game to 13.7 as a soph to 13.9 as a junior. She has 823 points, with a high of 30 against North Rowan in the 2011 Sam Moir Christmas Classic. She scored 20-plus four times last season and averaged a double-double. As a junior, she was a nominee for the McDonald’s All-America team and for N.C. Gatorade Player of the Year.
The thing that surprises people who see Wike play for the first time is her skill level. Her height and length make her a D-I player, but she would be a very good high school player even if she was only 5-8. She handles the ball well, passes the ball well, runs the floor well and shoots the ball from outside well. She’s just about ambidextrous. She’s a smooth basketball player, not just a tall girl.
“That’s the thing,” Porter said. “You go to the camps and the tournaments, and you see there are quite a few 6-4 girls out there, but it’s not like all of them are D-I players. Karleigh has put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make herself such a good player.”
Wike doesn’t recall any sudden growth spurts or awkward periods of adjustment to sudden gains in inches.
“I think I was a fat baby, but after that, I was just always kind of tall,” Wike said with a laugh. “I didn’t really think about being tall until I was in middle school and I started to stand out. I like being tall because when you walk in a room people notice you right away. I don’t know that I’d want to be 6-9, but I really enjoy being 6-4.”
She plays like she enjoys it, and that’s something else to like about Wike, When a teammate scores she’s as happy as if she scored herself.
Wike played last summer everywhere from Washington, D.C., to Atlanta, and Richmond coach Michael Shafer was usually in the audience. That’s why Wike picked Richmond out of the host of schools that made offers.
“There are hundreds, thousands of players out there, but Coach Shafer was always there to see me,” Wike said. “That made me feel like Richmond really wanted me, and that meant a lot.”
Shafer believes Wike is a perfect fit for Richmond’s system.
“She’s an active and mobile forward, and she can shoot or drive from the perimeter or score on the block,” he said. “Karleigh has great height, but we liked the versatility and skill that went along with that size.”
Wike made unofficial visits, but her only official visit was to Richmond. That’s the only one she needed.
“I just kind of fell in love with the city and the school,” Wike said.
Wike will have to continue to get stronger to handle the rigors of college basketball, but Porter has no doubt she’ll be successful in basketball and in life.
“There’s a lot more to Karleigh than basketball,” Porter said. “She’s at the top of her class, and all the Ivy League schools wanted her. Like I said, she’s an all-round jewel.”
For the record, Wike is still nice. She’s just not a pushover anymore.