High school basketball: Salisbury’s Noble makes commitment

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2023

MaKayla Noble. Social media.


By Mike London

SALISBURY — On Wednesday night, senior MaKayla Noble became a Division I basketball commit, something that seemed likely to happen the first time she set foot on a basketball court as a Salisbury freshman.

Noble is headed to Albany, N.Y., for college basketball and a college education. That’s a haul, 11 hours away by car, but airplanes were invented for a reason.

There have been detours, injuries, setbacks and frustrations for Noble, but the bottom line, the end result, was never really in question. This is a gifted girl, and she’s never minded putting in the work to maximize her talent.

The head coach of the Salisbury girls, Lakai Brice, has coached back-to-back 2A state champs. Her daughter, Kyla Bryant, was the driving force for both teams, the scorer, the ball-handler, the leader, a refuse-to-lose battler. Kyla now is a college freshman at North Carolina Central where she is wowing the coaches with her hoops savvy, so the Hornets in 2023-34 will count on Noble to be their engine. They will count on her far more than ever before.

“When MaKayla came in as a freshman, I made her three promises,” Brice said. “I promised her she’d be a state champion, and she’s already been a big part of two state-championship teams. I told her she would get a Division I scholarship, and she checked that box tonight. I promised her she’d score 1,000 points, and even though she’s missed some games and had some tough injuries, she’s going to get there.”

Noble’s commitment announcement was staged in a balloon-filled Salisbury auditorium. The timing was carefully planned  and choreographed. It was the 18th birthday celebration for MaKayla and her twin sister, Mya, a Salisbury track sprinter. It was quite a party and quite a turnout, one the twins always will remember.

Twins run in the family, so it’s a story they may be able to tell their own twins some day.

Noble visited the University at Albany campus — yes, it’s the University at Albany, not the University of Albany — in late August when everything was serene and lovely, but she realizes it snows quite a bit up there, usually 60 inches of the fluffy white stuff will fall in an average year. Jack Frost can arrive in that part of New York state as early as October and he can hang around until May.

But that’s OK. College basketball is played indoors and with heat.

Even if you despise winter, you have to like Albany’s purple and gold uniforms and you have to love the unique nickname for the school’s athletic teams — the Great Danes.

The University at Albany actually was known as the Penguins back in the day, but Great Danes, dogs that are long and lean and smart, provide a much more positive image for a basketball team than a plodding Penguin.

The most famous Great Danes in the world are cartoon characters — Scooby Doo and Marmaduke. If you’ve got some years on you, you also may remember Astro, George Jetson’s dog Astro also was a Great Dane.

It’s possible that Noble will become the most famous human Great Dane ever, although she admits when Albany first made contact, she did a double take. She had no clue who they were.

“When Albany first started watching me play and started recruiting me, I’d never heard of the school,” Noble said. “But that was two years ago. I’ve been building a great relationship with their coaching staff since that first meeting, and I’m very comfortable going up there. When I visited, it couldn’t have gone any better. It was a great visit. I liked the basketball part of things, but I also really liked the campus and the school. I’m going to major in business and the academics there are exactly what I was looking for.”

The University at Albany is a solid program. Led by a 6-foot forward, the Great Danes were 22-12 last season. They only lost twice on their home floor and they were invited to participate in the WNIT.

While the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions New York is the densely populated city, Albany, the state capital and home to about 100,000 residents, is quite a bit north and west of the Yankees and Mets.

Albany’s basketball rivals in the America East Conference are the New England schools such as Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire.

Noble welcomes new experiences and is willing to branch out and explore. If she’d wanted to stay close, she could have. Western Carolina and Queens, which is right down the road in Charlotte and competes at the Division I level now, wanted her pretty badly. They offered during the summer months.

Basketball is a game that Noble was born to play. She’s got the ideal frame for it. Lean, but wiry strong, not skinny. She is long, quick, fast and springy.

Noble only claims 5 feet, 10 inches and most college prospects will add an inch to their measurements. There weren’t any tape measures in the auditorium on Wednesday, but 5-foot-10 may be understating. She certainly appears to be close to 6 feet tall.

When Noble was a freshman, she was clearly talented, but Salisbury already had a winning combination in place, a young group that had lost in a 2020 regional final right before the COVID nightmare hit.

Because of COVID, Salisbury played only 16 games during Noble’s freshman season, and Noble missed the last two. Salisbury lost 48-46 to eventual state champ Shelby in the second round of the playoffs to end that season. Had Noble been able to play against Shelby, it’s certainly possible Salisbury would have won three state titles in a row. As a freshman, Noble averaged 6.3 points.

Her sophomore season might have been the breakout, but a January injury cost her five full games and limited her in others. She was still coming off the bench and averaged 6.8 points per game for a deep team that was a 28-1 buzz saw and won it all in 2A.

Graduation hit the Hornets hard in the spring of 2022 and not many fans saw a repeat coming.

But Brice did. Noble, Haley Dalton and Icesis Nwafor had been reserves, but she had seen them every day in practice and knew they could shine in starring roles. The Hornets weren’t nearly as deep as the season before and they lost three times, but they still were the best in 2A. Noble had the breakout that was inevitable once she got heavy minutes. She scored 378 points, topped 20 a few times and averaged 13.1 points per game on her way to all-county and all-conference accolades.

Her points came with great variety, off offensive rebounds, drives, spins, floaters, post-ups and 3-point bombs. She blocked shots and she rebounded. She scored 15 points and was named MVP of a low-scoring state-title game. No one really doubted she could do all that, but then she went out and actually did it.

Playing with Team Curry over the summer, Noble continued to display a well-rounded game and the ability to play guard, forward or center on offense and to guard multiple positions on defense. She can score in every way imaginable. She can start the break with a rebound or she can run a lane and finish the break. She is high-energy.

She still has her senior season to go at Salisbury, and while she’ll be the focus of every defense Salisbury faces next season, it won’t be a shock if she averages 20 points per game. She’s that talented, and she’s that good. She’ll get some easy points with her hustle, but she’ll also make tough shots that can’t be defended.

Noble has 628 career points now, so she needs 372 for 1,000. If she can stay healthy, that 372 shouldn’t be a problem.

Another box will be checked. Another promise will be kept.

“MaKayla was patient and was a great teammate until her time came, and then she made the most of the opportunity,” Brice said. “She’s very talented. She can do it all on a basketball court.”