CLEVELAND — Five years after leaving Elyria High School, Honesty King still is the same offensive threat she was when she was named Lorain County’s Miss Basketball and a second-team All-Ohio selection as a senior.
But as her career and the Cleveland State University women’s basketball program has evolved, King has adapted her game. And while she remains capable of putting up big offensive numbers, King now is one of the Vikings’ defensive stoppers and mostly a 3-point threat, playing off the ball as sophomore guards Kiersten Green and Cori Coleman have matured.
King will be recognized before Saturday’s home game against Valparaiso along with fellow seniors Shalonda Winton and Kaila Montgomery.
It will be King’s 99th game as a Viking and her 60th career start.
But it’s been a long and winding road, with King’s role changing yearly.
“Honesty’s really come full circle,” said Vikings coach Kate Peterson Abiad, “taking on the whole aspect of the game where she’s not just an offensive player anymore. It’s really been a remarkable progression for her.”
King was surprised and unhappy when in the fall of 2008 she was told she’d redshirt. She played sparingly the next season, when the Vikings surprised by winning the Horizon League Tournament before losing to Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
She started seven games as a sophomore, but finally got the expanded role she fought for last year — albeit in a different capacity than she was used to. Due to injuries and attrition, King stepped in to the Vikings’ point guard role, a move she debated heartily with her coach at times.
But she grew into it, averaging 32 minutes a game — second on the team behind Horizon League Player of the Year candidate and good friend and roommate Winton. King started 25 of 26 games in which she played, averaging 8.7 points per game.
This year, she’s back off the ball. On Monday, in a 72-67 CSU loss to Loyola, King twice jump-started runs to keep the Vikings in it, the first on a long 3-pointer with Loyola up 12 late in the first half and threatening to run away with things; the second came early in the second half to get the Ramblers lead down to four.
She enters Saturday’s game with 118 career 3-pointers, three behind Audra Cook’s 121 for 10th place all-time at CSU. She ranked seventh after Monday’s loss to Loyola on CSU’s 3-point attempts list with 422.
“This year, I’m back to the 2, and I’m more comfortable in this role,” King said. “It seems more natural for me. I like that Kiersten is our point guard, how she handles it. With she, Cory and I on the perimeter, it gives our team three weapons. I’ve been more comfortable this year playing next to them.”
Freeing up King from ballhandling duties also has given Peterson Abiad the ability to use King more freely defensively. Often, King draws the assignment on the opponent’s best perimeter scorer, to keep that player from hurting the Vikings too badly.
On Monday, that often meant Loyola’s Monica Albano, a shooter who averaged 13 points entering the game.
“I told (Elyria) coach (Mike) Walsh that he wasn’t going to believe it when she started playing defense like she has,” Peterson Abiad said.
Walsh, who took in Monday’s game between the Pioneers’ district preparation, laughed when told of Peterson Abiad’s comments because of their accuracy. Walsh lauded the way King has grown up not only on the floor but off it, as well. Basketball, Walsh said, always was easy for her, but the classroom wasn’t as easy.
Now, King will graduate this spring, evidence of how focused she’s become in her studies. And for Walsh, the change on the court was just as surprising.
“I went down (to CSU) last year and I said, ‘Honesty King’s playing defense and playing point guard?’” Walsh said. “She’s grown up as an all-around player. She shot the ball for us. She wasn’t our best defender and wasn’t a great passer.”
King’s move back off the ball was made possible by the necessary emergence of Green and Coleman, sophomores from Lancaster, Pa., and Springfield Gardens, N.Y., respectively. Green spends the majority of her time at the point, but Coleman also can fill in. The duo plays a combined 73 minutes per game and together averages 23 points.
Each also played significantly as freshmen last season, as Peterson Abiad wasn’t afforded the same luxury with them — redshirting — as she was with King. This year, each has grown into top-flight guards, able to control the game either by scoring or finding Winton, who averages over 22 points per game, or King on the perimeter.
Peterson Abiad credits the pair’s maturation in part to King’s game experience and guidance.
“They respect her for sure,” Peterson Abiad said. “Defensively, we’ve given her much bigger roles. She understands our system better now. We give her the responsibility of chasing around the players we don’t want to help off of.”
King will hit 100 games played for CSU (12-15) Thursday at Wright State, the Vikings’ last game before the Horizon League Tournament. Without another surprise run through the bracket, King’s career will end and she’ll look to enter the social work field, which she’s studied while at CSU.
“It’s going to be shocking on Saturday that it’s almost over,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been here forever. It’s been a great experience for me. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.