Kondalia Montgomery stepped into the New York Knicks’ and Liberty’s training facility.
The first thing to catch her eye?
“The Gatorade,” Kondalia said. “As much Gatorade as you could drink. I was like, ‘Cool.’ And there was a pool table.
“I was like, ‘If I had to get up early to practice, I would do it if there was this.’”
Big sister Alex Montgomery laughed.
“Really?” she said. “That’s what you most liked?”
Kondalia stayed in New York for about a month after Alex went 10th overall in the 2011 WNBA Draft to the New York Liberty. The team shared a facility with the Knicks, so Alex said she had to keep reminding her younger brother, Antonio, to not drop his jaw so much when they were in the same cafeteria as Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.
“A couple of the NBA guys walked in and my brother … I was like, ‘Tony! Close your mouth,’” Alex said.
There’s a lot of perks to having a sister in the WNBA. The contracts aren’t the multimillion NBA ones, but there’s still a lot of free team gear, extravagant getaways, celebrity sightings and go-karting at Six Flags with San Antonio Stars guard Sydney Colson.
Alex’s success didn’t just change her own life. It nurtured a different world for her younger siblings than the one she grew up in – moving around from house to house and staying at every Tacoma homeless shelter there is.
“Our world changed drastically,” Alex said. “Just because we grew up not having a lot of stuff. So me making it to the league, that helped me provide for them and my mom. It opened up a lot of doors.”
But Kondalia hasn’t always known what doors she’ll walk into.
Life seems so easy on a basketball court. Kondalia is the starting point guard at Lincoln High School, following in her sisters’ footsteps. She earned the league’s MVP this season, just like her older sisters Jazzmn and Alex did at Lincoln before her.
She’s spent months at a time living with Alex (29), Jazzmn (31) or her oldest sister, Ashley (33), while their mother struggled to stay off of drugs and find consistent housing.
Not that you’ll ever hear Kondalia complain, nor ever stop loving her mother.
“On the outside looking in, nobody would know she’s in that situation at all,” Jazzmn said. “We try not to tell people, but she’s had a hard life off the court.
“But to be able to block that out when it comes to game time is very impressive, and she brings it every single game. So I’m so proud of her. She doesn’t let anything take her mind off of the court.”
She’s the reason Alex is in Tacoma right now instead of playing overseas.
WNBA players make most of their money playing abroad during the offseason, Alex said. But she missed watching Kondalia, or “Neenee”, play at Lincoln and her brother, Tony, at Graham-Kapowsin (he’s now 19 and graduated last spring).
So last year she took the girls coaching job at Steilacoom High School while the San Antonio Stars, her WNBA team from 2015-2017, were in their offseason.
It’s certainly not common for WNBA players to spend their off-time coaching.
“My teammates, they find it so weird and funny,” Alex said. “One was like, ‘You ... coaching? I can only imagine – because you have a temper.’
“It is what it is, but they think it’s funny.”
Kondalia was in the sixth grade that April day when her sister became a first-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech.
They didn’t know it was going to happen. Alex wasn’t invited to the draft and she thought she’d go in the late-second round, if at all.
Then Kondalia got word. She was with her mom and brother when they saw the video of Alex finding out she had been selected 10th overall by the Liberty and crying beside her Georgia Tech teammates.
“And we started laughing,” Kondalia said.
“Then we started playing basketball with our laundry basket,” she said. “Acting like we were playing. It was like she got picked to the NBA, but it’s the WNBA. So we wanted to play.”
Actually, Kondalia didn’t play basketball.
She liked playing soccer and tag at recess, but nothing organized – no matter how much Jazzmn and Alex tried to persuade her otherwise. The elder Montgomerys grew up playing tennis, basketball, fencing, track and field – you name it.
But Kondalia didn’t give organized basketball a try until she was in the eighth grade, even though AAU coaches and classmates had been working on her, too – knowing her sisters’ pedigrees.
“Every time (Jazzmn and Alex) would see me they would say, ‘You have to do something active, you have to do something,’ ” Kondalia said. “So every time I would see them I would try to hide so they couldn’t say something about it.”
But Kondalia hopped onto the Tacoma Shine AAU team – with Jazzmn and Alex right there for every game.
So much that Kondalia said if her sisters were on one sideline, she would run up the other side, even though they were typically just yelling for her to shoot more.
“It’s hard not to yell at her,” Jazzmn said. “We just want her to be more aggressive on offense, but we’ve never had to coach her on her defense at all. She’s a fantastic defensive player.”
Oh, yes she is.
That’s why Lincoln is the No. 1-ranked 3A team in the state, coming off its third consecutive league title. Kondalia was the league MVP, averaging 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals per game – coming one season after earning the league’s defensive MVP.
And don’t talk to opposing players about trying to score on her.
“At the end of the day, there are certain people who truly, actually believe that you can’t score on them,” Lincoln coach Jamila Jones. “That’s just her mentality.
“She competes, man, and she’s a freak of nature athletically. If we got her on our track team, I believe in my heart of hearts our track team would be the best in the area, if not the state. Without hesitation.”
Jones arrived at Lincoln in 2006, when Alex was a junior. So he got to witness for himself some of those quadruple-double games that helped attract scholarship offers from across the country.
Try being the sister-act to that.
“Neenee is the baby and you can tell,” Jones said. “There is a lot of pressure when your sister is a legend at the high school. It’s hard. She gets the, ‘Hey, your sister …’
“What people don’t understand is that Alex had the D1 offers, but as a high school kid, Neenee has done more (like a 61-20 record the past three seasons). She’s more athletic, too, and that’s saying something because Alex was a freak athlete.”
Alex won’t disagree.
“She’s way more physical than I was in high school and way more athletic,” Alex said. “I was fast, but she’s strong, physical and athletic.”
“She can’t touch rim, though,” Alex jeered.
“Yes I can,” Kondalia said.
“Get out of here,” she said.
“Well, I almost can,” Kondalia said.
“That’s not doing it, though,” Alex said.
“I know, I know – I’m just saying I’m close,” Kondalia laughed.
Few Montgomery meetings are without laughs.
Applebees is one of their favorite hangout spots, or getting sushi, even if that doesn’t happen as often with their busy schedules.
Kondalia said she would head to Alex’s place after school every day just to hang out, watch her sister’s TV or ride her hover board.
“This was when hover boards were cool,” Kondalia said.
“I still got it!” Alex said. “My godson, he rides it now.”
Kondalia wears Alex’s San Antonio socks during games. So does Lincoln junior guard Faith Brantley, Kondalia’s best friend. Brantley, by association, has been the beneficiary of some free padded undershirts, knee pads, sports bras and other WNBA team gear.
“I noticed that,” Alex said. “I would go to the games and go, ‘How did Faith get those socks?’ But before I leave for camp I give Neenee pretty much all my gear.”
It’s a different lifestyle than the one Alex had. She moved with her mother to Tacoma from Portland in 1998. Jazzmn lived with friends in middle school and she and Alex both moved in with their great aunt in high school, sharing a room with each other.
“But there isn’t a shelter in Tacoma we haven’t stayed at,” Alex said.
How she got out of that was her inner drive. She wanted a bigger life – and she worked for it. She never wanted to play against other girls, only boys.
She said it was WNBA all the way.
“Neenee and Tony, they’ve had chances not a lot of people get,” Jazzmn said. “Those two have been exposed to a lot of cool things because of Alex.
“Alex looks after them like they are her own kids. Whether they deserved it or not. But with all they’ve been through, they definitely deserved it.”
And now, finally, Lincoln has seen a different side of Kondalia than past years.
“I’ve seen her dance more this year than any of the three years combined,” Jones said with a laugh. “We get on the bus and she’s singing. She’s having fun.
“She’s gone through a rough path, but I think she’s enjoying it.”
She says so. It’s why she wears the No. 12. It’s Alex’s No. 21 backward. Alex said she has spoken to coaches at Vanderbilt and Alabama among others about her sister playing next year.
“It’s amazing,” Kondalia said. “She’s amazing. We’ve always been close and she’s always been there for me.”
“If she makes it to where I’m at or even college, she’s going to see the world,” Alex said. “Basketball can take you so many different places.”
But so, apparently, can a loving sister.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677