The Wolfpacker

March 2018

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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58 ■ THE WOLFPACKER "I wanted to stay close to home, so I verbally committed to Kellie [former Pack coach Kellie Harper] during my sophomore year [2012-13]," explained Ealey. But when Harper's contract wasn't re- newed after that season, new NC State head coach Wes Moore decided to re-evaluate all of the Pack's recruits. "He had second thoughts, so I reopened my recruiting," Ealey said. "But I only made one other visit, to George Mason." Eventually, Moore offered Ealey a schol- arship as part of his initial, six-member recruiting class of 2015 — and he and Pack fans are certainly happy he did. Despite a season-ending injury four games into her freshman campaign three years ago, Ealey has emerged as the floor general for a team that returned just one starter (senior forward Chelsea Nelson) from last season's NCAA Tournament qualifier. The Pack's redshirt sophomore point guard started each of the first 29 games this season, and had more than tripled her previous scoring average from 2.8 points per contest the past two seasons to 9.2 per game this year, while leading the team in assists (126), steals (48) and free throw percentage (70.7, 104 of 147) — critical for a team that's shooting just 66.0 percent from the stripe. Despite being just 5-7 and playing point guard, Ealey has also provided a rarity at that position: a point guard that contributes significant numbers on the boards. Through Feb. 25, she was the team's third-leading rebounder, averaging 5.3 boards per game. "She probably could have bigger num- bers rebounding," Moore admitted. "But we made a commitment to defend against transition and not give up easy buckets, so we don't let Kaila go to the offensive boards a lot." Ealey's development this season mirrors the surprising success of this year's Pack, which was 22-7 following its 86-67 loss to No. 5 Notre Dame Feb. 25 in the regular- season finale. NC State finished tied for fourth in the ACC standings with an 11-5 mark — virtually a repeat of last year (23-9 overall, 12-4 ACC) — and were slated to be the No. 5 seed in the league tournament. What makes Ealey's performance un- expected is the rocky road she's had to travel to this point — beginning with that on-again, off-again, on-again commitment three years ago. "We did want to evaluate her, but I saw her play in Augusta [in an AAU tourna- ment] and mentioned her to Jim Davis [the former Clemson coach]," Moore noted. "He told me she'd be worth eight points a game just off of steals. "She has a very high motor, she wanted to come here, and we felt like she had a high ceiling for improvement." A 26-point scorer her senior year at Broughton, Ealey was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN HoopGurlz and earned second-team all-state honors. She was expected to be a prime backup at point for then-junior starter Miah Spen- cer, and was averaging 12 minutes of court time through the first three games of the 2015-16 season when a routine drive to the basket — in the Pack's fourth game at Liberty — resulted in a torn ACL that sidelined Ealey for the remainder of her freshman year. "I'd never had a serious injury — I'd never missed a game since I started play- ing when I was 8 years old," she recalled. "When the trainer told me it was an ACL tear, I lost it — I cried for two minutes." Determined not to let the devastating injury affect her, physically or mentally, Ealey pushed the limits during her rehab — often to the frustration of Pack trainer Casi Dailey. "She'd get on me for doing things before I was supposed to, like jumping or not wearing my brace," Ealey pointed out. "I have mixed feelings about [the injury] now," she added. "I do feel it maybe pre- vented me playing more than I did last year [she appeared in 29 games as a sub, averag- ing 13.2 minutes, 2.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per contest], but at the same time it gave me more time to watch Miah, and Dom [Dominique Wilson] and develop my shot." Moore isn't hesitant to label Ealey "probably our most improved player in all aspects of the game." "With the loss of those three guards last year [Spencer, Wilson and Ashley Wil- liams, all two- or three-year starters], ev- eryone wondered if we could be competi- tive," the Pack's head coach said. "Kaila's made a big difference in our ability to once again hang in the upper half of the ACC." Ealey's main goals now are to improve her shot — she was hitting just 35.0 percent from the floor and 32.3 percent from three- point range — and continue to find open teammates for the assists she most values. "If I'm not scoring, I want to be do- ing something else to lead my team," she noted. ■ LIVING THE DREAM Point Guard Kaila Ealey Overcame Doubt And Injury To Run With The Pack "Kaila's made a big difference in our ability to once again hang in the upper half of the ACC." ■ Head coach Wes Moore on Ealey Through 29 games, Ealey had tripled her scor- ing average from 2.8 points per contest the past two seasons to 9.2 this year and was the team's third-leading rebounder with 5.3 boards per outing despite standing just 5-7. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN BY BRIAN RAPP T here was a time, five years ago to be exact, when Kaila Eal- ey's dream of one day playing basketball for NC State was in danger of vanishing. The youngest of three sisters who all played ball at Raleigh's Broughton High School, Ealey had grown up spending winter nights at Reynolds Coliseum, watching such Pack standouts as Me- lissa Kastanek, Le'Nique Brown and Myisha Goodwin-Coleman.

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