Since Mitch Burley became the San Benito High girls basketball coach seven years ago, he’s only had two freshmen start the season on the varsity squad. The first was Alyssa Ito, who is the team’s junior point guard. The second is freshman forward Kaiya Dickens, whose best sport is softball.
“She is absolutely more mature than the average freshmen,” said Burley, whose team entered Thursday’s Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division game against North Monte Vista Christian with a 2-0 division record. “The fact that she is only the second freshmen girl I’ve ever had on the varsity is special in itself. Add in the fact that she rebounds extremely well, is aggressive, strong and able to finish in traffic around the basket.”
Whenever Dickens is in the flow of play, she never looks rushed. Midway through the third quarter in a game against Leigh last week, Dickens was near the left elbow area when she drove to the basket and converted a nifty left-handed scoop shot. It was the perfect synopsis of her game.
Looking composed and always in control, Dickens used her body as a shield against a taller defender to get the shot off. Still only 14 years old, there are plenty of things Dickens needs to work on—one being at the free throw line.
“I’ve always struggled with free throws, but today I was really, really off and it hurt us,” Dickens said after the team’s loss to Leigh.
Of course, what Dickens brings to the court—toughness in the paint, the ability to get her own shot and being strong on the glass—far outweighs any shortcomings she might have. Besides, Dickens plans on improving every area of her game in the coming years.
“I’ve got to work on my free throws, but also making sure I get to my spot, looking for open passes and not making dumb fouls,” she said. “I always overthink everything, and I just need to calm down, go slow and do what I need to do.”
Dickens had a career-high 20 points in a win over Like Oak on Dec. 16, and followed that up in the team’s next game against Independence with 13 points. The 20 points represented the highest single-game output by any San Benito High player this season.
Dickens has a confidence that has proved fruitful for the team.
“I think some girls doubt themselves and then they don’t shoot,” Burley said. “She’s the other way in that when she’s in trouble, she’ll shoot it but it goes in a lot of times. I need her in to score.”
Indeed, the Balers had all sorts of trouble scoring in the Del Mar Tournament last week, capping their tourney run with just 29 points in a 15-point loss to Lynbrook. Dickens has always loved sports, playing soccer, softball and karate from a very young age.
She picked up basketball a bit later, in the fourth grade, and has made tremendous progress, in part because she was never afraid to play with boys in grade school or middle school.
“I’d always be that one girl playing basketball and baseball with the boys,” she said.
Dickens credits her parents, Erica and T.J., for giving her tremendous support over the years. The family’s support is noticeable at nearly every game.
“In fact, whenever we have a game, home or away, I always hear my teammates and coaches say something like, ‘Look, Kaiya’s family is here,’ or ‘Kaiya, your fan club just arrived!’ when they see them walk in because they are a pretty big group and they’re always there.”
Baler fans should get used to seeing Dickens make an impact, because she’ll only improve with each passing season.
“I’ll be here for three more years, which will be awesome,” she said. “I’m getting a lot more knowledgeable about the game and getting more comfortable with the team and growing with them together.”
Dickens loves sports—“I’d rather be playing outside than playing video games or sitting on the couch,” she said—and she’s also already doing impressive things off the court, as she is San Benito High’s freshmen class president. On and off the court, Dickens achieves at a high level.