By DAIJA JAMES, TANIJA MILLER, KHEIRSTUN TURNAGE, CORYANA SMITH and PROPHET DEVAUGHN
T’Ziah Kelly’s team was still trailing after she drove to the basket and sunk a one-handed floater.
It was only the first quarter of a conference game against Midway that, as of press time, hadn’t even reached halftime yet.
But listening to the crowd’s reaction — a sustained roar that hasn’t been matched inside the Goldsboro High School gymnasium so far this season — you would think the shot clinched a championship.
And the truth is, as far as individual achievements go, it was just about as close as any Lady Cougar in recent memory has come to cutting down the nets.
With that basket, T’Ziah, the Cougars’ star shooting guard, hit 1,000 career points. And when, moments later, an official timeout gave the crowd a chance to honor the Lady Cougars’ floor general, those who showed up to watch a milestone reached responded.
So who is T’Ziah Kelly?
Those who know her say she’s a hard-working student, fierce friend, and the undisputed leader of one of the greatest GHS women’s basketball teams of all time. For those reasons, nobody is surprised that she just accomplished the rare feat of surpassing 1,000 career points.
Head coach and former GHS Lady Cougar Latina Bullock told the Pride that T’Ziah’s leadership makes her special, but that her attitude both on and off the court — she never complains, doesn’t place blame on others when things don’t go her way, and she is always there for her teammates — is what makes her an all-time great.
“(Because of) the leadership she has shown the last three years, I continue to expect great things out of her,” Coach Bullock said.
Assistant coach and GHS history teacher Stephanie Orosco agrees.
“I’m impressed with her efforts — especially her balancing out her athletic and academic standing,” she told the Pride. “I’m very emotional about this being her last year, and I have many reasons why.”
One reason is because the bond between this coach and student has become more than a classroom or on-the-court relationship. Ms. Orosco considers T’Ziah family.
“I most definitely look at her as a daughter figure,” she said. “We have a great bond. I’ve taught her for almost three years and she comes in here every day, she gets on my nerves, she runs my copies. We just have have an incredible bond, and hopefully when she graduates, I can still be there for her just like she was my own kid.”
Another “family” member is fellow senior McKayla Roberts. She nearly cried when she was asked about her teammate’s achievement.
“T’Ziah really has been playing sports with me since seventh grade. Now she’s getting this great award for something she worked really hard for,” McKayla told the Pride. “(In) three years … she got 1,000 points. You can’t name too many people that have accomplished this. Not only is she a great athlete, but a great person in real life. Congrats T’Ziah. You deserve it.”
The truth is, many of us who have come to know T’Ziah see her as family. But her actual family — her blood — have the same pride in what she has accomplished as an elite student-athlete.
“I knew she was capable of it all, but to actually witness it is outstanding,” her mother told the Pride.
And one more person weighed in, too — the person we interviewed who has known T’Ziah for the least amount of time.
Principal Christopher Horne is new to GHS, but not to the game of basketball. He knows what it takes to surpass the 1,000-point milestone on the hardwoods — having done so himself as a high school student before most of us were born. So we talked to him in his office — where his own commemorative basketball is on display — just hours before tonight’s game about the type of work ethic needed to accomplish something so rare.
We didn’t want to jinx T’Ziah, but with only six points needed to reach her milestone, we knew it was all but certain it would happen for her tonight.
“You’ve heard the phrase, ‘Hard work pays off,’ and I mean, honestly, I learned how to play basketball in the summer of my sixth-grade year and I was probably the worst tallest player you’ve ever seen,” he told the Pride. “But from that moment on, I just really wanted to be a good basketball player. I wanted to go the (NBA) like most people do, so I worked tireless every day to get there.”
He didn’t make it to the League, but the man could score the ball. And when he reflected on breaking 1,000 career points, all those hours in the gym came back to him.
“That was a nice milestone. To be honest, my goal was to be the all-time leading scorer of my school, and I also achieved that goal. I end up scoring 1,606 points for my career, so when you set high goals, sometimes you exceed goals … but you’re still pressing towards a higher mark.”
Just like T’Ziah.
“I think it’s going be a really special moment for T’Ziah and I know she worked extremely hard and endured things on and off the court,” Horne told the Pride. “So I’m just really happy for her and the team and Coach Bullock and the Cougar family. I think it’s going to be a great moment for us. One the best of the year.”