It was two years since Kia Wright played a competitive and meaningful basketball game when St. John’s opened its season against Canisius last November.
On that night at the St. Bonaventure tournament, Wright, the third all-time leading scorer in Long Island history, reminded everyone how special a talent she is.
“I really can’t remember exactly what was going on in my mind,” Wright said. “But I was in a zone that game.”
The 5-foot-8 junior guard finished with a career-high 33 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including six 3-pointers and a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line. Wright followed that with a 21-point performance against Colgate and tournament MVP honors.
Her journey to the moment started when she transferred to St. John’s in the fall of 2003 after a brief stint at UConn. She was forced to sit out the 2003-2004 season because of NCAA transfer requirements and an ACL injury.
“I missed the competitive part of basketball,” Wright said. “It was just hard for me to sit out, but that first game really got me pumped for the season.”
And what a season it was.
The former Copiague High School standout finished first on the team and third in the conference in scoring, averaging 14.8 points per game, and also led the Red Storm in assists with 115 and steals with 68.
“I actually spoke with her family the other day and I said, ‘I see now why UConn recruited her and why she was one of the top players in the country,'” St. John’s coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “It took me a couple of years to actually be able to say that because I think she was coming off of that ACL injury and then she had to sit a year when she transferred.”
Wright was one of the difference makers in the Red Storm’s first 20-win season and first national playoff appearance since 1988. Last year also included the program’s first win over a ranked opponent, a 69-52 victory over then-No. 16 Boston College.
But she knows last season’s success needs to be the start of something greater.
“We have to have a better season than last season,” Wright said. “They’re going to look at us like, what happened to this team if we come out flat, if we come out not as good as last season. Last season is probably a fluke for most people.”
What cannot be denied is the impact the smart, skilled and savvy guard has made on the program, and not just with her scoring.
“I think she is helping even the seniors, and especially the underclassman, really develop and really see what this is to work hard and compete at both ends of the floor,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s not only an offensive player, but she’s a defensive player as well.”
The freshman who should receive the most help from Wright is guard Lisa Claxton, who played on the same Long Island Wave AAU team with Wright.
“That’s like my little sister,” Wright said. “She was always underneath my wing. I always looked out for her and I let her know it’s not going to be easy this season.”
The duo led the Wave to a second-place finish in the girls’ 14-and-under AAU National Championship in 2000.
“I am glad that I have the chance to do it again,” Claxton said of playing with Wright. “Back when we used to play with the Wave, a lot of people said we didn’t communicate. We had an unspoken type of relationship. We were kind of like twins. I knew where she was going to be at. She knew where I was going to be at. We threw the ball there and we knew the other person would get it.”
Playing with former teammates is nothing new to Wright. She and Angela Clark both played at Copiague together.
“I love being home,” she said. “I’m like 25 minutes away from home. I can have my mom, my parents come up here anytime they want.”
While much at St. John’s is familiar to Wright, showcasing her talents at Madison Square Garden, something she will do twice this season, is not.
The games at The World’s Most Famous Arena are just one of the signs of improvement for the women’s basketball team that Wright and her teammates have and will continue to develop.
“St. John’s, no one ever heard of St. John’s a few years ago,” Wright said. “But now that I’m here, I have my teammates with me and it feels good to make a name for this school and [for] years to come little girls are going to want to come here just like they are dying to go to UConn.”