High school basketball: Salisbury’s Bryant ready for next challenge

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 18, 2023

By Mike London


SALISBURY — Her selection for the East-West All-Star Game means Kyla Bryant still has one more high school game to play.

That’s a good thing. Her smile and that step-back jumper make any game better.

Bryant will try her best to make her West squad a winner when that July 17 all-star game at Greensboro Coliseum rolls around. She won so often at Salisbury High that people took it for granted after a while. The Hornets were 98-8 in her four seasons.

They were 51-0 in Central Carolina Conference games, plus 9-0 in CCC tournament games.

The Hornets were 17-2 in state playoff games with the ball in Bryant’s hands. One loss was in a regional final when she was still a kid. The other loss was on a last-second shot that didn’t fall for a teammate. The Hornets won the rest of them, including two regional finals and two state championship games.

That’s not to say Bryant won all those games herself, just that she did an awful lot of things extremely well in order to help Salisbury win. She made teammates better.

Bryant was a Rowan County Player of the Year three times, received just about every conceivable accolade at the conference, regional, district and state level and scored 1,809 points, the second-highest total in program history. She scored 1,809 despite losing a dozen or so games and several hundred points to COVID her sophomore season.

Throw in National Honor Society grades and waves of community work and stacks of good deeds and college basketball programs should have beaten her door trying to get her to sign, but they really didn’t. She had options, but it wasn’t anything like the recruiting circuses that some Salisbury athletes have attracted.

Sure, you’d like for Bryant to be taller and quicker, but her skill level is unmatched, her head for the game is unrivaled, her competitive spirit is unsurpassed.

Bryant enjoyed a signing celebration recently at the school and a happy family meal at Olive Garden. North Carolina Central University is the lucky program that got her. It’s not the ACC or the SEC, but it’s Division I, and it’s where she wants to be.

“Sure, the recruiting process can be really frustrating,” Bryant said. “But it wasn’t something I could control. My mom (Salisbury head coach Lakai Brice) would tell me to keep playing, to keep my head, to keep right on performing. That’s what I tried to do every night.”

She performed well — 22 points per game.

But what was it about North Carolina Central that made the difference?

” I could see that they genuinely cared about me as a person as well as a player,” Bryant said. “Even if they couldn’t be at my game, they were always following my game. They were consistent in their recruiting of me for years and they were always loyal. Loyalty is a very big thing with me. That’s why I wanted North Carolina Central, and I am very excited about North Carolina Central.”

Bryant was impressed with North Carolina Central’s head coach. Trisha Stafford-Odom has been an assistant at Duke and UNC. She was an outstanding college player out west for the Cal Bears and spent some time in the WNBA.

“She’s been at every level and she has a lot of knowledge to offer,” Bryant said.

Bryant’s planned major is nursing. While that’s among the most admirable potential professions, that ambitious plan was a negative for some schools. They wanted Bryant’s focus to be on basketball practice and film study and conditioning, but as much as she loves hoops, she has academics at the top of her list of priorities.

“Nursing is a tough major and I understand that, but North Carolina Central encouraged me to pursue it,” Bryant said. “I’ll be prepared to handle the academics as well as the basketball.”

Bryant’s longtime friend and teammate Mary Morgan, the famous taker of charges, will also be enrolling at North Carolina Central as a student. Having her best friend around will help Bryant make the transition to the collegiate world and to Durham, a sizable city.

As she leaves high school behind, one thing Bryant is asked frequently is which of Salisbury’s back-to-back 2A state championships meant the most to her— the breakthrough in 2022 or the repeat after losing so many key players in 2023.

“The first one was more exciting for me  because I hadn’t done it before and because Salisbury hadn’t been able to do it for such a long time,” Bryant said. “The second one was hard and it took a lot of preparation and work. It was satisfying because not many people believed that we could do it again. The emotion I felt when we won the second championship was pride, more than excitement. Proud of my school, proud of all my teammates, proud of my coaches.”