Kia Lends A Hand
Ex-HHS Star Loving Assists
HARRISONBURG — At Harrisonburg High School, Kia Whitley-Duncan was known as a scorer. She led the four-team Massanutten District with 17.4 points per game as a senior in 2010-11.
Now, in her second season playing junior-college basketball, Whitley-Duncan — a diminutive, super-quick point guard — has redefined her game with an assist emphasis at Frederick Community College in Maryland.
“She wants to pass the ball,” Frederick coach Caitlin Brauer said. “It’s hard to get her to shoot the ball.”
The change is part of a transition in Whitley-Duncan’s game. She’s developed into a more well-rounded point guard since going to Frederick, which she attended to improve her grades with the hope of getting a scholarship to a Division I or II four-year school. Now, she’s auditioning for college coaches every game, and it took her a while to adjust.
“Every time I found out I had a coach coming to the game, I played nervous for the first couple of minutes of the game,” Whitley-Duncan said. “Then it’s over, and I just try to play my game.”
Last season, the 5-foot-2 Whitley-Duncan led all Division II junior college schools in assists, averaging 8.9 in 27 games. (There are 126 schools in the classification, which contains programs that offer scholarships up to the cost of tuition and fees.)
Whitley-Duncan also received honorable mention on the All-Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference team. The Cougars went 21-9 overall and 9-3 in the 14-team conference to finish fifth.
This season, Whitley-Duncan, a team captain, is in a three-way tie for fourth in JUCO D-II, averaging 6.0 assists per game, revealing a part of her game that people may not have known existed during her career at HHS.
“It’s something I wanted to do, because I’m actually good at passing,” Whitley-Duncan said.
But Brauer said it’s more than that. The first-year coach, a former forward at Grinnell College in Iowa, has forced Whitley-Duncan into a leadership role and given her reign over the offense, letting the 19-year-old decide when to push it and when to pull back into a triangle-tinged half-court offense. Frederick currently is 7-6 and has won five straight games.
But becoming a leader has been a process. In high school, Whitley-Duncan had a tendency to play in spurts and not move on from bad plays. Brauer said the attitude part of her game is improving, and that Whitley-Duncan has responded to a more structured environment.
“She’s had her ups and downs like every player,” Brauer said. “But she’s handled it quite well. But I only put that much responsibility on a player who I believe can handle that much responsibility ’cause of the gifts she has.”
“She’s got this innate court vision and this basketball sense that … you can’t really teach,” Brauer said. “It’s really a special gift. She could be a double-double every single night.”
At Harrisonburg, Whitley-Duncan shot 40 percent (146-of-365) from the floor her senior year, despite a funky jump shot. This season at Frederick, she’s shooting 41 percent (59-of-144) through 13 games and averaging 16 points per game, which ranks 15th in the conference. She’s also shooting 34.8 percent (16-of-46) from 3-point range.
But Brauer thinks Whitley-Duncan can do better. Currently, Brauer said, Whitley-Duncan gets most of her points from outside shots, but Brauer wants the speedy guard to do more damage in the lane.
“When she gets to the hole, she wants to pass,” Brauer said. “She wants to draw the defense to her and dish it.”
Whitley-Duncan said her scoring is coming on.
“I’m starting to score more, ’cause last year, I was more of an assist person,” she said. “This year, I’m trying to do more scoring.”
And play more defense, which, Whitley-Duncan admitted, is the weakest part of her game.
“Just stay down low more,” she said.
Brauer said it was a combination of interest and positioning.
“She understands that when she’s playing really good defense and she’s forcing turnovers, we’re a much better team,” Brauer said. “We can walk out of any gym with a win.”
Brauer said Whitley-Duncan has drawn interest from four-year colleges, primarily at the D-II level. The coach declined to reveal who but said Whitley-Duncan currently had one scholarship offer from a D-II school, with “five or six others that are in communication.” Brauer also said one D-I school had shown interest but hadn’t offered.
“She’ll go somewhere,” Brauer said.
Frederick, the national runner-up in 2002, has placed players at D-I schools. Most recently, it sent 5-9 forward Kristine Mial to East Carolina. Mial, who originally signed with James Madison, averaged 21.8 points per game during her one season at Frederick.
Whitley-Duncan said she hasn’t picked a destination, yet, but that she wants to make a decision by March or April.
“I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time,” Whitley-Duncan said of going to Frederick. “I feel like I’m going to get to go somewhere.”