March 2, 2000
BERKELEY - Time is winding down. The game is tied at 58-58. The ball gets loose. Kenya Corley recovers the ball near half court. She drives into the lane and hits a running jumper with 2.9 seconds on the clock to give California a 60-58 lead over San Francisco and the eventual win earlier this season.
A year ago, this scenario would have been unlikely for Corley. But, a huge dose of confidence this season has made the Bears junior shooting guard relish having the ball in her hands with the game on the line.
"If the game is on the line, I feel confident that I can hit the shot," said Corley. "Actually, I feel confident that anyone on the team can hit that kind of shot. We're all confident in each other."
Corley's game has evolved into much more than being a clutch shooter. During her first two seasons at Cal, the Lancaster, Calif., native averaged 3.9 ppg and 2.1 rpg, while starting only two games. This season, Corley is one of two players to have started all 22 games and ranks third on the team in scoring at 10.7 ppg. She also averages a career-best for both rebounds (3.0 rpg) and assists (1.7 apg).
"I really just want to help my team more," said Corley. "I'm tired of just being another player out there. I used to think too much and was scared of making mistakes. Now I realize that you're going to make mistakes."
The Bears have been able to count on Corley's leadership and consistency as she has led or tied for team-high scoring honors in nine games. Against Oregon Feb. 12, Corley matched her career high of 19 points she set in Cal's win over Fresno State earlier this year when she shot 8-of-9 from the field.
The oohs and ahs regularly echo throughout Pac-10 and non-conference arenas as Corley displays her trademark jumping ability on drives, jumpers and rebounds. Coaches and players have also come to appreciate Corley's unique basketball persona.
"A lot of times since high school I've had coaches come up to me and say, 'Wow, you can really jump,'" said Corley. "I've always been told my jumping ability would take me a long way, and it has."
"Kenya is one of the most athletic players I've ever coached," said Cal coach Marianne Stanley. "She's learned to utilize her natural abilities to her advantage this season."
Given that Corley can dunk a tennis ball, it's not surprising she has ambitions to dunk a basketball in a game at Cal. She's listed in the team media guide at 5-8 but may be closer to 5-6.
"That's (dunking) something I would do just to prove to everyone that I can do it," said Corley. "It's something I would do to have some fun, but I would rather get the two points than take a chance on missing. If we're way out in front, it's something I would definitely like to try."
Corley's leaping ability has helped her become the top long jumper on the Cal track and field team. A high school state long jump champion, Corley finished eighth in the long jump at the 1999 Pac-10 Championships in her first year with the Bears. She also ran the lead leg on the Bears 4x100m relay, which finished third at the conference meet.
While the immediate transition from basketball to track can be exhausting, Corley believes it's worth it.
"I think my work ethic has gotten a lot better mainly because of track," said Corley. "Track has made me a lot stronger. It's helped me a lot."
Whatever Corley aspires to do athletically or in the classroom, she knows her father is always in her corner.
"He's always there for me," said Corley. "He's always pushing me. One thing about him is that no matter how good a game I've had, he'll say I played okay but also that I should have done this or I should have done that."
With so much talent and consistent evidence of improvement, a logical question is whether Corley can play professionally in the WNBA.
"If the opportunity came, I would love to play professionally. But, I'm happy where basketball has taken me. I wouldn't mind having a nine to five job. But, if it happens, I'd take that. I know I have a lot of work to do to play at the next level."
Whether at Haas Pavilion or a WNBA arena, Corley now has the confidence to have the ball in her hands with the game on the line and two points being all that matters.