The Wolfpacker

January 2018

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 73 of 107

74 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY BRIAN RAPP I t's pretty hard for someone who stands 6-5 to be overshadowed most of her basketball playing career. For Akela Maize, the past three years in Raleigh have been ones of assum- ing a support role for teams dominated by older, more experienced players — most of them under six feet tall. But now the Greensboro, N.C., native is in her final season in red and white, and is being called on to take over a leadership role she hasn't occupied since high school. And that's certainly fitting for someone named after the leader of the wolf pack in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. "Akela is the head wolf in the book," Maize explained during a recent break in practice. "My parents named me and one of my sisters [Lakota] after tribes." While she may have a leader's name, the youngest child of Garry and Deborah Maize has put in many hours of work, and persevered through some unfortunate set- backs, to become the starting post player for NC State. Hoops never really even entered Maize's life until a growth spurt in sixth grade made her involvement almost an inevitability. "I was maybe 5-7 or so up through sixth grade," she recalled, "and then I shot up to six feet. By the time I was in high school I was 6-5. "There was a lot of knee pain and things like that, and people started talking about me trying out for different sports, like bas- ketball and volleyball." Unlike many of her Pack teammates, who grew up around older siblings who played basketball or got involved in sports at an early age, Maize didn't begin her ath- letic career until junior high. "Even though I got tall, my dad never pressured me to try basketball," she said. "I was into dance and other things to be creative. But when I did get interested in playing … he was probably the biggest influence in my basketball career so far." By the time she tried out for her seventh- grade junior high team, Maize was head and shoulders above the rest of her future teammates. She has remained the tallest player on every team she's played on since then. Still, her lack of experience in the game was, initially, a handicap — as was a con- tinuing health concern. "I found out in high school I have ex- ercise-induced asthma," Maize explained, noting that the condition still hampers her stamina and almost derailed her hoops ca- reer before it began. "My coach [at Dudley High in Greens- boro, where she first enrolled before finish- ing her prep career at New Hope Christian Academy] told everyone going out for bas- ketball that they had to run cross country to get in shape," she said. "Our practice runs were something like five miles, and the seniors on the team had to literally carry me halfway or I never would have made it." Though she's developed better condi- tioning and different medication to handle attacks, there are still times when Pack head coach Wes Moore has to pull her off the floor. "My assistants have to tell me to get her out because she needs a blow," Moore said. "She's handled it great. Some kids might use that as a crutch, but she just tries to play through it." Maize played three years at Dudley, making the varsity her freshman season, but didn't see extensive court time until she was a sophomore. By then, she'd also started playing on an AAU team coached by the father of future teammate Lucky Rudd — former Wake Forest star and NBA veteran Delaney Rudd. "He also coached New Hope Christian," Maize said. "We talked, and he felt I'd get more exposure playing there because they played against better competition. "I'd been getting some looks at Dudley, but playing AAU ball made me want to get to the next level, and I felt I had a better chance transferring." Maize's only season at New Hope Chris- tian was a memorable one — the team went 32-1, with the lone loss coming in the National Association of Christian Athletes national championship game in 2014, when another future NC State teammate, Chloe Jackson of Maryland's Riverdale Baptist Academy, buried a winning three-point shot in the closing seconds (Jackson left NC State after her freshman season). Though her stats were modest (3.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game her senior year), Maize was still ranked as the No. 16 post in the nation by ESPN. "I was getting letters since the begin- ning of junior year from big schools, mid- majors — it was overwhelming," she said. She visited Virginia Tech and was going to take a trip to Notre Dame, but decided to cancel after her second official visit, to Raleigh. "When I got here, Coach Moore was just starting his first season, and I knew how successful he'd been at Chattanooga," she recalled. "Also, everyone said I could make a big impact early since they were about to graduate a post who was eventu- ally drafted by the WNBA [All-American Markeisha Gatling]. The fact they had de- veloped someone who was going to be drafted impressed me. "And another big factor was that my fam- ily could come to every game — I know a lot of people in college choose schools to get away from home, but I like being able to go home on off days or weekends." Moore said Maize had been a recruiting target even before her breakout senior year. "She was on the same AAU team as [UNC guard] Paris Kea and [West Virginia forward] Kristi King, and we tried to re- cruit all three," Moore said. "She's 6-5, long and can run well." Maize was considered a strong candidate to start, or at least see considerable time in the post as a freshman, but then suf- fered a severe ankle injury in the preseason that hurt her development and limited her Maize averaged 12.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 21.9 minutes per game to help the Wolfpack get off to an 8-2 start. PHOTO BY GREG MINTEL MAKING A NAME FOR HERSELF Senior Post Akela Maize Is Ready For A Breakout Final Season

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