SPRINGER, Oklahoma — No one can question Khalayah Willis’ passion for basketball.
Absolutely no one.
Take, for instance, just recently when Willis sent her mother, Kaniesha Roberts, text messages pleading with her to allow her to go to a nearby YMCA so she could work on her fundamentals despite being hampered by an ankle sprain that required medical treatment.
Said the injured Willis via text: “Mama, can I go to the YMCA tomorrow to play basketball? Tiona wants me to come because she’s going to be the only one there.”
Approximately one minute later, Willis continued to convince her mother that she’s armed with an immense competitive drive for the game she’s come to embrace.
Her ensuring text message read: “Why am I going to have a brace on? Please…I’ll put ice on it to make it feel good. I’m trying to and get better.”
After sharing her daughter’s text messages on her Facebook timeline, a number of Roberts’ fellow social media friends were astounded, thus intrigued by Willis’ unyielding love for basketball.
And to think, she’s only 11 year old.
“The time I was really proud of my daughter was the time she sprung her ankle in the first game of a (recent) tournament and she played on that ankle the last two games with pride and heart,”
Roberts said. “She finished what she started. The following tournament, the doctor told her to stay off it for two weeks.”
However, as Roberts recalls, her daughter had other ideas.
“She refused to do that,” Roberts explained. “She played that whole tournament with a brace on. She was told to rest. She said, ‘I can ice it and wear my brace.’ She said, ‘I can’t get better in a brace.’”
It is, in fact, because of Willis’ assertiveness and willingness to contribute mightily for the Lady Dream Team 11-and-under AAU team that this squad has become a force on the amateur hoops circuit of late.
Willis is the catalyst of a Lady Dream Team squad that recently captured a fifth-and-sixth-grade group championship in San Antonio.
The team’s leading scorer, the 5-foot-5 Willis plays mostly point guard and, given her team’s success in recent weeks, it’s safe to assume that as she goes, so goes the Lady Dream Team.
“I was so excited when they won the championship in San Antonio,” Roberts said. “It was a long drive (from Springer). “The girls worked so hard for a week long and came out on top. Khalayah played that game with heart and she had me so proud.”
Willis’ admiration for basketball was first discovered by her mother at a local YMCA when she was only five years. From that point on, Roberts began to devises way to get her child — who boasts mostly a size advantage against opposing point guards — involved in the sport on a competitive level.
To her daughter’s credit, she’s been playing for three years — and counting.
“My reaction after finding out she will be playing AAU basketball was exciting because at that time she, was young and there wasn’t an AAU (team) for her age. So I got with the coach that was coaching a grade up and told him I have a daughter that has a heart for the game. I asked him if she can play on your team and he said bring her to practice and we will go from there. She has been playing for 3 years now and every year she gets better and better.”
Among the reasons for her continuous progress is that Willis has developed such immense passion, let alone a never-say-die countenance that many say is virtually unteacheable.
“My overall reaction when I knew this was going to be her sport when I see how upset she gets when she loses a game,” Roberts explained. “At that moment, I knew right then she was very competitive.”
Which, by all accounts, is why the sky’s the limit for Willis — this young, vibrant, speedy floor general whose admiration for the game can’t merely be brought into question.
By absolutely no one.
“I love basketball because it’s fun and easy,” Willis said. “My mom and dad have been supportive. My mom tells me what’s right and she is real serious. The best advice my mom and coach tell me is not to cry and have an attitude on the basketball court. I’m going to continue to make my parents proud and hopefully one day make it to the WNBA.”
If nothing else, she certainly appears to be on the right track.
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Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.