Kendall Bird was playing with her cousin’s baby and was careful to only place the toys in the child’s left hand. Maybe it would make her left-handed, just like Bird.
“It didn’t seem to be working,” Bird laughed.
So it might take a while before White River High School finds its next left-handed basketball player, but it will likely take far longer to uncover the next player of Kendall Bird’s caliber.
Coach Chris Gibson has seen so few of them in his 28 seasons coaching girls basketball.
He had one his first year at White River. His niece, Trisha Hermanson, set the school’s record for career points and might have led the Hornets to the state title in 2000 if she hadn’t torn her ACL in the state quarterfinals.
And here is Bird, 17 years later. The double-double machine surpassed Hermanson’s record with 29 points and 15 rebounds in a district-title victory two weeks ago, and she enters the Yakima SunDome for the 2A state tournament this week — White River’s ninth consecutive state appearance – with a career total of 1,866 points.
The 6-foot-2 forward is averaging 23.1 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game this season, and the University of San Diego signee is The News Tribune’s 2016-17 All-Area girls basketball player of the year.
“We talk about it all the time — how long would you have to coach to have another player like her?” Gibson said. “With the 6-foot-2 body, with her combination of physicality, speed and explosiveness — I could coach the rest of my life and not have another player like her.
“I’ve had so many good players. But Birdy? She’s one of the best who has ever played here and who will ever come through here.”
She will scratch your eyeballs out. People can be fooled by her calm demeanor. But when it gets to game time, she has such a will to win. Amazing will to win.
White River coach Chris Gibson
Bird is a two-time 2A South Puget Sound League basketball MVP and was also the Mountain Division’s volleyball MVP. She will have competed at Saint Martin’s University for the state volleyball tournament and the Yakima SunDome for state basketball in the same school year.
“When she gets the ball, people are afraid,” White River’s Sofia Lavinder said. “They don’t want to guard her. In practice we have to triple-team her, and she still scores on us.”
“And she’s always the first one to practice,” said Georgia Lavinder. “She’s a great teammate and a great person.”
But first? Bird was supposed to be a softball player.
She grew up on baseball fields. It was a legacy thing — her father, Ian, played college baseball at Central Washington and her brother, Ryan — a lefty just like his sister — is a senior outfielder at Whitworth.
But Bird wanted a more fast-paced sport. She stumbled across basketball in the seventh grade when asked if she would fill in on a recreational basketball team one weekend.
“And I loved it,” Bird said. “I told my parents that I want to do this. Basketball is what I want to do.”
She hadn’t played basketball competitively until then. She stopped playing softball.
“I just thought it was fun,” Bird said. “It was just natural for me. I like playing fast, and the thing about basketball is if you mess up, you have like five seconds to redeem yourself. In softball, if you mess up, you get to think about it for like three hours.”
Only Bird wasn’t close to the 6-foot-2 height she’s at now.
She was a shooting guard, even once playing alongside fellow TNT All-Area selection McKenzi Williams, who is now a senior point guard at Auburn Riverside.
I never looked past high school basketball. I never thought basketball was my future. I never knew I was going to be playing college basketball until the season ended last year and I was like, ‘Why not?’
White River’s Kendall Bird
So if you see Bird dribbling the ball up the court to break a press, it’s because she has some experience from her more height-challenged days. She said she hit a big growth spurt in the eighth grade.
“Just look at the kid — that’s a big kid,” Gibson said. “She’s big, she’s strong. But her explosiveness and her speed and her ability to run for a kid that size — when she gets out on the fast break, she’s gone.”
But Bird said she never imagined she would have the opportunity to play beyond high school — let alone NCAA Division I. She was getting her nails done this past summer when a San Diego coach called her.
“I was talking to the lady and like crying,” Bird said. “She was like, ‘Are you OK?’ And I was just kind of whimpering and like, ‘Yeah.’ So I called Gib (coach Chris Gibson) and then I called my parents and they were like, ‘You need to call her back right now and tell her you are accepting.’ ”
She played because it was fun. Never to receive a scholarship offer.
Bird didn’t play AAU basketball until this past summer, traveling to Richland for practices with Sagebrush Hoops, run by Michael Hodgins. She’s also spent time training with Brian Scalabrine, the Enumclaw alum and 11-year NBA player.
“I never looked past high school basketball,” Bird said. “I never thought basketball was my future. I never knew I was going to be playing college basketball until the season ended last year and I was like, ‘Why not?’
“So then I started playing for Mike Hodgins and he was like, ‘You still have to work hard every day and practice every day, but there’s no doubt in my mind you’ll get a Division I scholarship. And that was shocking to me.”
And maybe that was a good thing.
She didn’t know she would be starting her first game as a freshman. Not until Gibson laid out the lineups just before tipoff in a nonleague rivalry game against Enumclaw.
Less than a minute into the game, Bird went to the free-throw line for maybe her first career points.
Neither shot even hit the rim.
“I almost threw up before the game,” Bird said. “I was so nervous. And then I air-ball two free throws (laughs). It was a really, really bad start and I thought, for sure, Gib was going to take me out. I was like ‘Please take me out, please take me out, please take me out.’ ”
And later that year, Bird averaged more than 20 points per game in the state tournament, including a team-high 23 points in the Hornets’ fourth-place victory over East Valley.
Then this season, Bird had 27 points and 11 rebounds against 4A Bothell and never subbed out of the game at the ShoWare Center, outplaying Cougars standout Taya Corosdale, a 6-2 Oregon State signee who scored 16 points.
“Sometimes when people look at her they go, ‘She’s pretty laid back. She’s pretty calm.’ But there’s a fierce burning desire to be great,” Gibson said. “She will scratch your eyeballs out. People can be fooled by her calm demeanor. But when it gets to game time, she has such a will to win. Amazing will to win.
“She’s so much better than she acts.”
When she gets the ball, people are afraid. They don’t want to guard her. In practice we have to triple-team her, and she still scores on us.
White River’s Sofia Lavinder
Bird has been a part of three district title teams and four state tournament teams. But she’s never experienced a state title game in her four years.
And for all of Gibson’s success – including earning his 500th coaching victory earlier this season when White River beat 3A Snohomish — he’s never experienced one, either.
“It takes a great player — to win a state championship, you need to have a great player,” Gibson said. “But you’ve also got to shoot the ball really well and you have to have really good guard play. I don’t care if it’s the state tournament or the NCAA tournament, you need great guard play. And I know better than most that you got to be good, but you also got to be lucky.
“I know this group — they would enjoy that like no other if they got that state championship. It’s such a great group of kids.”
Emma Duff, Black Hills, sr.
Alexius Foster, Franklin Pierce, sr.
Japhera McEachin, Todd Beamer, sr.
JaQuaya Miller, Kentridge, so.
Kondalia Montgomery, Lincoln, jr.