Catching up with Kiah Stokes
Throughout the 2010-11 season, USA Basketball is talking to athletes who competed for the red, white and blue this past summer. We’re asking them to look back at their international experience, to talk about their current basketball season and to describe what they hope to achieve in the future. Check back often to read up on more USA Basketball athletes at usabasketball.com.
Kiah Stokes, a 6-3 senior out of Marion, Iowa, is a two-time USA Basketball medalist. She’s also a USA Basketball ‘legacy.’ Stokes, who won a gold medal with the 2009 USA U16 National Team and returned in 2010 as a member of the 2010 U.S. Youth Olympic Games Team that captured the bronze medal, is the daughter of 1983 USA Pan American Games Team gold medalist Greg Stokes.
In addition to playing alongside the likes of Michael Jordan, Chris Mullin and Sam Perkins on the ’93 Pan Am squad, her father also competed in the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials, was an All-American at the University of Iowa and played in the NBA for the Philadelphia 76ers. Coming from an athletic family, one in which her mother played high school sports and her brother, Darius, is currently a walk-on freshman on the University of Iowa basketball team, it’s no surprise that Kiah turned to athletics.
“(My dad is) real proud of me,” Stokes stated. “He never could have imagined traveling to Singapore when he was 17. He is just really excited that I’ve gotten to do so much stuff because of basketball.”
To say that she’s inherited her father’s skills would be an understatement. The All-American from Linn-Mar High School was the 2010 Gatorade Iowa Player of the Year as a junior and has signed a National Letter of Intent to join one of the top programs in the country, University of Connecticut, next fall.
She was the top scorer and rebounder for the U.S. Youth Olympic Games Team, averaging of 12.3 ppg. and 4.0 rpg., for the U.S. squad that finished with a 6-1 record, which included a heartbreaking overtime loss to Australia in the semifinal, in the inaugural 3-on-3 event for 17-year-olds and younger.
Playing seven games, in which the first team to 33 points or the highest-scoring team after 10 minutes, was declared the winner, over a nine-day period left the athletes with a lot of free time on their hands. So just what did the team do during the remainder of their time in Singapore?
“We had practice once or twice a day, so we had to base our schedule off of that,” said Stokes. “We usually just hung out in the Village with our team and the guys’ team, then we’d go and hang with some of the track people or volleyball players.”
In addition to connecting with many of the 5,000 other young athletes from around the world, Stokes fit right in with the international style, where bigs often step outside and shoot the three. She proved that by winning the 3-point contest at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games.
She also has a gold medal to her credit. As a member of the 2009 USA U16 National Team, Stokes averaged 5.8 ppg. and 3.3 rpg. as the USA posted an unblemished 5-0 record and won the gold medal at the 2009 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
Stokes said she learned from her experiences both summers with USA Basketball. After running the table as a junior with Linn-Mar for a 26-0 mark and the Iowa 4A state championship, she has propelled her squad this season to a 17-1 record and is looking for a repeat at this year’s state tournament.
“It has helped me this season,” said Stokes, who is currently leading all scorers in Iowa with a 24.9 ppg., while ranking second among Iowa Class 4A rebounders (14.7 rpg.) and tops among 4A leaders for blocked shots (87). “It’s really important that we always play hard all the time. That’s what I’ve tried to do (this season), is to never take plays off and always play hard every second of the game.”
She’s traveled to Singapore and Mexico with USA Basketball, met athletes from around the country and around the world, competed against some of the top players her age from other countries and is hoping that her international travels haven’t yet ended.
“If I could do it again, I would go anywhere in the world to play basketball,” she added. “It’s my dream to play basketball as long as I can all over the world.”
USABasketball.com caught up with Kiah on the phone recently and asked her to take a look back at what it’s been like for her to represent her country at such a young age.
You were on the U16 team in 2009 and were hoping to be back on the U17 team with your former teammates last summer, but were selected for the USA Youth Olympic Games Team. What was your initial reaction to that?
At first I was really disappointed that I was the only one that didn’t make the U17 that made the U16 team after the trials. But then, after looking into the whole Youth Olympic Games thing, I got really excited because it was the first-ever Youth Olympic Games. To be on the first team is always a great experience. After the first initial reaction, I was really looking forward to it.
What do you feel you learned about yourself and your game from being on the U.S. Youth Olympic Games Team last summer?
I learned that you always have to play to the best of your abilities because if you don’t, at any time someone can beat you. That’s what happened to us. You really have to be confident in how you play. You can’t second-guess or question how you play, because that won’t help you in the long run. It’ll only make it harder for you.
That’s especially true for the 3-on-3 format. With only a 10-minute game, you can’t take any time off because if you lapse for even a minute, the other team can take advantage. Did that teach you to be more focused this year during practices and games?
Yeah. That was one thing my high school coach told me last season, I need to not take plays off and always go hard all the time. Playing in this 3-on-3 tournament, with only 10 minutes you really don’t have any time to just not play hard, because at any point the game can change. It has helped me this season. It’s really important that we always play hard all the time. That’s what I’ve tried to do, is to never take plays off and always play hard every second of the game.
Tell me about your experience in Singapore.
I loved it there. It was great. The people loved all the USA team members. If we had a USA sweatshirt on, they would always ask for pictures and autographs. It was definitely a different environment being in the (Youth) Olympic Village. It was great to meet all these people from all over the world. It was really fun. If I could do it again, I would go back right away. It was amazing.
Did you go see other U.S. athletes compete?
We tried to get to a few of them, but usually our schedules conflicted with theirs. It was really hard, but we tried to see as much as we could. They had TVs around the Village, so we could watch them if we couldn’t get a ride to wherever they were competing. We got to see some of them, but not as many as I would have hoped to.
Did the USA Basketball teams support each other?
Yeah, we watched all their games and they would come watch all of ours. We were definitely close, the girls and guys team were all really close with each other. We tried to support them whenever we could.
Did you know anyone among the rest of the U.S. athletes before going to Singapore?
No, not that I know of. I guess I didn’t really look into who might have been from the Midwest, but from the people I met, I didn’t know anyone.
Did you make friends with any other athletes in the Village and do you keep in touch with them?
Yeah, the girls on my team. I keep up with Briyona Canty and Andraya Carter mostly, and some of the guys. As far as the other athletes, yeah, we’re friends, but we keep in touch mostly through Facebook. It’s kind of hard because we all have different sports going on with all different schedules throughout the year.
After all your experiences last summer, even though you came up short of your ultimate goal of a gold medal, do you look back on it with fond memories?
Yeah, I think so. There’s always going to be that one game where you wish it would have ended differently, but overall I think it was great. We played well as a team, and we really got into the flow of things. I think that in the end, a gold would have been great, but for the first-ever Youth Olympic Games, I think the bronze medal is pretty good and they can only get better from here. Hopefully in four more years the USA will get the gold medal.
With only one 10-minute game a day, and with off days figured into the schedule, you had a lot of free time. What did you do when you weren’t playing games?
We had practice once or twice a day, so we had to base our schedule off of that. We usually just hung out in the Village with our team and the guys’ team, then we’d go and hang with some of the track people or volleyball players. It was mostly doing what we could within the Village. We would try to, when we had time, go outside the Village and see more of Singapore, but we didn’t see as much as we would have liked because of the schedule.
What did you learn from that experience that has helped you grow your game this season?
To always play hard and you have to really be confident in what you’re doing. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything, because when I did the 3-point contest, I heard from a lot of people saying, like, ‘why is your biggest girl shooting threes?’ But it really doesn’t matter what other people say because you know your game and nobody else knows it better than you do.
What kind of questions did you get from your teammates after your stint with USA Basketball?
They just wondered what it was like. They asked if it was fun, and of course it was. They asked how we did and it was kind of disappointing to say we got third, but after explaining everything and how it all worked, I think they really understood how it’s really hard to get the gold medal. No matter what sport. They were really supportive, wanting to know all about it, so it was great to share that with all my friends at home.
What does your family think about your world travels with USA Basketball?
My parents are really proud of me. My dad played on one of the USA teams back in the day. He’s real proud of me. He never could have imagined traveling to Singapore when he was 17. He is just really excited that I’ve gotten to do so much stuff because of basketball. My mom’s proud of me, too. She didn’t play basketball in college, but she was an athlete in high school, so she knows how much hard work it takes. My brother, I’m pretty sure he’s happy for me (laughs), he keeps to himself a lot. From what I hear, from what he tells his friends, he’s really proud of me and he hopes his career will get going, too.
Did you follow the USA World Championship Team and your future college coach in its gold medal run?
I tried to watch as many games as I could. With the time change and everything, it was difficult at some points, but I tried to watch as much as I could.
Did you feel more of a connection to the team after having also played for USA Basketball?
Kind of. You just imagine yourself in that situation. I’m hoping one day I’ll get to play on that team. It’s always fun to imagine what it would be like and it actually could be a reality for me one day, which is very exciting for me.
Any final thoughts overall on your two summers with USA Basketball?
I just think that they’re amazing and they’re fun. If I could do it again, I would go anywhere in the world to play basketball. It’s my dream to play basketball as long as I can all over the world. If I could do that, that would be amazing.