In an oceanside college far from Juneau, a former Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé girls basketball player is taking her game ever-higher as she leads her team into the future.
Kendyl Carson, a 2020 JDHS grad, is now captaining the Pepperdine women’s basketball team as they seek to improve.
“Her ability to see the court has still been unmatched even in our conference. She’s making plays where even our players are surprised,” said Pepperdine women’s basketball assistant coach Brian Rosario in a phone interview. “She has the tools: the outside threat as well as the inside threat.”
Carson signed with the team for a full-ride scholarship after several years playing for high school and travel basketball teams in Alaska and Washington. Joining the team during the beginning of the pandemic, she was elected captain by her sophomore year.
“I was the captain this year as a sophomore which was a big responsibility. We had to make the most of half our team getting COVID halfway through the season,” Carson said in a phone interview. “That’s what I’m going to keep pushing at Pepperdine; to keep rebuilding a program.”
The time will really show in the off-season, Rosario said, when Carson will be expected to lead the other players in readying for the next season.
“She was voted captain. It matters when your team elects you. When we go into the off season after being named captain, that’s where the captainship really shows.”
That experience with different teams and different players shows in her leadership, Rosario said.
“She has been unafraid to not only coach others up but coach herself up. That’s hard for a young player. No one wants to call themselves out,” Rosario said. “Kendyl’s rare. She wants to score. But her priority is setting things up for her team. That’s the x-factor that Kendyl’s bringing for us.”
An uphill climb
Rosario was the first coach on Pepperdine’s staff to see Carson play, when they were considering offering her a spot. After a missed connection where Carson was unable to reach a game due to air traffic being foiled by Alaskan weather, Rosario was able to see her play at home.
“She didn’t have to do much to sell us on how good she was,” Rosario said. “We were looking to get bigger. To have a 6-foot-1 point guard handle the ball and have court vision, that’s remarkable.”
The decision to bring her on has been justified, Rosario said.
“(She has) really good range. Her ability with the ball to see a pass before I think the receiver sees a pass is coming, you can’t teach that,” Rosario said. “I think our players are getting used to the kinds of passes she likes to make.”
Her first two seasons on the team have not been easy ones, Carson said.
“We lost a lot of games and I’m not used to that. He told me I just need to keep doing better,” Carson said. “You can’t get too mad at the people as long as they’re trying. They tried really hard this year. That’s what JDHS taught me.”
Pepperdine’s program is at an experience deficit against many of the other schools in its conference right now, Rosario said. However, the time Carson will spend with the team will give her time to build it into something stronger.
“I think this is going to be her season to really blossom. I always thought Kendyl was going to be a late bloomer,” Rosario said. “She’s going to have three more years with us. I think she’s going to have over 300 assists in those seasons alone. She’s playing with kids who will have 100 more games with her.”
That experience will stand her in good stead as Pepperdine seeks to climb up its conference rankings.
“I think this year was tough. We were playing teams that had so much more experience. We were playing teams that had 60 to 90 games on us,” Rosario said. “I think we really need to start competing in the top half of our conference.”
Changes in latitude
Beyond her life on the court, Carson herself has been enjoying Pepperdine’s climate, both weather-wise and academically.
“I definitely feel like I picked the right school for me. The atmosphere of vacation all the time — it’s a top 50 university of academics. It’s very competitive,” Carson said. “You gotta settle down, you gotta learn how to study, you learn to take tests. I think this year was my first glimpse of everyone back on campus. Going to class, and then going to practice, and then going back to class — you’re running around a lot.”
Carson said she changed majors after arriving, now on a course path focused on physics and mechanical engineering.
“There’s a very small community for the physics out here. I’ve very close with all my teachers,” Carson said. “I get a lot of one-on-one learning. I feel like I’m going to be set up for success. At a bigger school, I wouldn’t get the opportunity. As a student athlete, getting one on one time with your teacher is a blessing.”
Carson said that California and Alaska, though drastically differnet in many ways, also have some similarities.
“Malibu’s not that big. So it’s a lot of community like Juneau. You get to know a lot of people. I’m blessed because I get to meet a lot of different teams and different people,” Carson said. “The one thing I miss about Juneau is it’s probably the prettiest place in the world. In my opinion. I might be biased. It’s kind of a flex. I’m going from pretty place to pretty place. I have a type.”
Carson said there are other similarities, other touches of home, like her job in a seafood restaurant.
“Being surrounded by seafood, that’s a big part of me. That always feels like home,” Carson said. “I’m really into the small community. It’s really nice to come here and get a feel of home from Juneau.”
Without the support of home, she never would have made it here, Carson said.
“My family believed in my dream before even I did. Having that support; they’re watching me live a dream,” Carson said. “Sometimes I look over and I see the ocean and I’m like, wow, I’m really here. Being around water, it reminds me of being home every day.”
Carson’s rare-to-Malibu Alaskan-ness and presence on the court have been a boon for the team, Rosario said.
“She has represented her state so well,” Rosario said. “They would definitely be proud of their daughter.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or email@example.com.