Here's A Name Worth Memorizing: Kasiyahna Kushkituah
Kasiyahna Kushkituah turns 16 on August 16, and there's just one present she really wants.
"A miniature pig, the kind you can carry in your purse," Kushkituah said. "Pigs have always been my favorite animal because they are pink, and I love pink."
A pig popping up on her doorstep would certainly make for an unusual birthday, but Kushkituah, who already is 6-foot-4, is an unusual talent. She is the nation's No. 3 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Terrific 25 for the 2017 class.
Kushkituah, who plays for St. Francis (Alpharetta, Georgia), has already accomplished a lot in high school, and she still has two years remaining. As a freshman, she averaged 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks, leading St. Francis to the Class A state semifinals. Last season, she averaged 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, leading St. Francis to a state championship. She was also named first-team all-state in Class A.
An incoming junior, Kushkituah is so tall that people who don't know her often think she's much older. That's what happened when AAU coach Alfred Motton first met her.
She was 6-foot-1 at the time, and, in a gym full of 70 girls, he thought she was a high school kid who was a little behind the others on the court.
"I wasn't very good," Kushkituah admits. "I couldn't even walk and dribble at the same time."
A month later, Motton was at a middle school track meet, and he saw -- from a distance -- this young girl tearing it up in the 400 meters. As he got closer to the track, he realized who it was.
That's when he put it all together: The tall girl with long strides and blazing speed was just a sixth-grader.
Soon after that, Kushkituah joined his AAU basketball team, FBC, which stands for Finest Basketball Club.
"When I saw her speed at that size and I realized how young she was and that she had been in my gym ..." Motton said. "I sprinted down to the finish line to talk to her."
Four years later, the race has just begun for college coaches wanting to sign Kushkituah.
"She has come a long way since I met her," Motton said. "She can defend multiple positions.
"On offense, she can play pick-and-roll and finish with contact. She has a lefty and righty hook. But she is just starting to truly expand her game offensively."
Clumsy at times
St. Francis coach Aisha Kennedy has known Kushkituah's family since before she was born.
Kennedy was a childhood friend of Kushkituah's uncle, Toddrick Echols. She also knew Kushkituah's mother, Talandra Echols, who is a couple of years older.
After her playing career at Alabama State was finished, Kennedy returned to the Atlanta area. One day, she passed by Talandra's house and saw Toddrick trying to teach 6-year-old Kushkituah how to inline skate.
"I said, 'Wow, they are going to kill that girl,' " Kennedy recalls. "She was not very coordinated."
Kennedy was not yet a coach, but she recommended that the family put this tall and uncoordinated girl into a basketball program.
The family took Kennedy's advice -- but not right away. Kushkituah played soccer first, as a forward, ran track, took ballet and played volleyball before realizing basketball was her sport.
Once she got involved in basketball, it was Kennedy who recommended she go to Motton's gym. And once Motton saw her run the 400 meters, it was on.
That summer, Kushkituah led FBC's 11-and-under team to a third-place finish at nationals.
Kushkituah has since begun to harness some of her athletic gifts. But she still can't skate, and the clumsy part of her occasionally comes out.
"Sometimes I will trip over the free throw line -- I don't know why," Kushkituah said. "It's crazy. I'm going to have to get knee pads because I keep scraping my legs."
A diva in training
If they made a movie about Kushkituah's life, the soundtrack would surely be sung by Beyoncé.
Kushkituah is so enamored with the pop star that when she put together a listing of her family tree, she listed Beyoncé -- and not Talandra -- as her mother. (Kushkituah, who sometimes goes by the nickname "Keyoncé," put that Nicki Minaj was her aunt in this just-for-fun exercise.)
"Kasi is entertaining," said St. Francis teammate Jasmine Feraro, a rising senior. "She loves to sing in the car at the top of her lungs. She thinks she sounds like the best singer -- but far from it."
Kushkituah also enjoys baking chocolate chip cookies, and, if it were up to her, she would play basketball with a pink bow in her hair.
"She can wear nail polish any color she wants as long as her nails are short and don't interfere with her layups," Kennedy said.
"At St. Francis, the girls wear uniforms Monday through Thursday. But on Fridays during basketball season, they can wear dresses and high heels, and she loves that."
Crushed in Colorado
Kushkituah has already received more than 20 college scholarship offers, many from ACC and SEC schools. But Kushkituah said she is one year away from even narrowing her list to a top five.
For now, she is focused on getting better at basketball. Last week, she was not among the 12 girls selected to represent the United States in the 2015 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
The tryouts, which were held in Colorado Springs, started with 149 girls, and Kushkituah made it to the second-to-last roster reduction, when there were 40 players remaining.
Colorado's altitude and her overall conditioning were factors in her not making the team, according to Kennedy and Kushkituah.
"Even though I didn't make the team, it was still a good experience," said Kushkituah, who has been cut two years in a row but vows to continue to try to crack a Team USA roster.
"This just pushes me to work even harder. I was disappointed for myself, but I was happy for the girls who made the team."
Kushkituah said rebounding and running the floor are her primary strengths. Shooting, especially from the foul line, is what she's most focused on this summer.
"Kasi can finish around the rim with either hand," Kennedy said. "We're bringing her out so she can make that 10-to-15-footer and also take people off the dribble. She's very quick for her size.
"The big thing we worked on this year is posting and always wanting the ball. She gets up for certain things and certain games -- I know for USA Basketball she was pumped.
"She is moving in the right direction, but we want to get to where she is consistently dominant."