When the Northern Nash girls’ basketball faced Nash Central last year, Knights’ coach Grover Battle didn’t even remember Kiana Thomas playing.
He found out late last season that she might be coming over to Northern Nash because of redistricting, and he heard from his peers that she possessed a pretty good elbow jumper.
Battle eventually formed his own opinions of Thomas’ practice habits, which he called a blessing.
As the Big East Conference schedule hits its full stride, Battle knows exactly what Thomas means to the Knights.
“(She has) been really important. We have all the other parts,” Battle said. “... (She) probably has made the difference.”
Thomas and Rocky Mount High guard Isaiah Alston are both in their first year with their respective schools because of redistricting. They are also both the final piece of the puzzle for two teams with championship aspirations.
“We’re excited about having him, very happy to have him,” Rocky Mount boys’ coach Mike Gainey said of Alston’s addition.
Alston gives Rocky Mount, which starts three players who are 6-foot-5 or taller, a deadly outside shooter. He has stretched defenses, opening up play for the Gryphons’ trio of big men and is averaging 16.4 points per game – second on the team.
Thomas is something Battle hasn’t had in recent memory.
Even with talented teams, like the Knights’ squad last year that went undefeated in the regular season, Northern Nash hasn’t had an offensive big with touch like Thomas.
The Knights seem to have all the other parts – a slashing point guard, a dynamic two-guard and an outside shooter. All they were missing was Thomas, who has fit right back in with her teammates from Red Oak Middle School.
“I came back like we were still in middle school,” Thomas said. “... I came in, and we were like a family.”
Both players were given the choice after redistricting changed the school boundaries. They could stay at their previous school or attend whichever school’s district they were assigned. Both players chose new schools. Thomas was pulled back to her former teammates after what she said was a hard decision – one that Battle called the right decision through a big smile.
Alston didn’t have as many options. His entire family went to Rocky Mount, including his mother who played softball for Gainey.
“They wanted me to keep it going,” Alston said. “They decided for me to come here.”
Both Northern Nash and Rocky Mount would have been contenders for a Big East Conference title without their newest additions. Thomas and Alston just make both schools that much more dangerous.
And the adjustment period hasn’t been long at all.
“Everybody knows where everybody is supposed to be at during different times in the game,” said Alston, whose former teammates cheered for him when he returned to Northern Nash at the Nash County Christmas Tournament. “They know where I like to get the ball and where to get the ball to me.”
Thomas, whose father played basketball for Battle nearly two decades ago, has shined on the defensive end, sometimes playing at the top of the press. It’s somewhere she never expected to play, but her new coach has kept her disruptively long arms at the top of the Knights’ press.
“He saw I could be there, and he’s pushing me to be better,” Thomas said.
Offense has come easy to both, but defense has been the key. Gainey said he has watched more film this year than any other of his 20-year career in order to have Alston comfortable in the Gryphons’ high-pressure rotations.
Alston, who routinely hangs out with his teammates off the court, is starting to feel comfortable. It’s a feeling Thomas shares.
“It feels like this is where I was supposed to be,” Alston said.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com