For the second straight year, University of Rio Grande went to pick from a litter of Kittens.
“We need somebody that can knock down three’s,” said 21st-year Rio Grande coach David Smalley.
That happens to be Kaylyn Gambill’s specialty.
Such a clutch shooter that one opposing coach dubbed her the “ice queen,” Gambill celebrated two big events in one sitting on Tuesday in the Ashland Blazer High School cafeteria — her 18th birthday and her signing a letter of intent with Rio Grande.
“I’ve dreamed of playing college basketball before I even knew what college was,” said Gambill, who also attracted interest from Pikeville, Berea and Heidelberg. “When I went on my official visit, I had a blast. Rio really won me over.”
Smalley remembered that visit, specifically the open gym portion of it.
“She was a little nervous, a little timid at first,” Smalley recalled. “The first four or five shots didn’t find the bottom of the net. My current players looked at me like, can she play? Then, all of the sudden, it was just like lights out.”
Area high school basketball followers have witnessed that before.
As a junior, Gambill sank 37 percent (87 of 236) of her 3-pointers.
Former Rowan County coach Scott Tackett slapped the nickname on the 5-foot-5 sharpshooter.
“She’s never emotional on the court,” said Ashland coach Bill Bradley. “I had Ali Wilcox and Kim Strait and they were two of the best (3-point shooters) around here. She’s right up there with them, maybe a little better.”
Gambill said it’s not uncommon for her to throw up 1,000 shots three or four times a week.
“I’ve always been better at shooting outside,” Gambill said. “I’m so small, I had to find some way.”
In terms of 3-point goals made, she is four away from a school record. A team captain, Gambill is 10 games from setting a Kittens record for varsity games played, and she’s sixth all-time in scoring, with 1,473 points.
One of Bradley’s favorite stats: “She’s never missed a practice in five years.”
At Rose Hill Christian, Gambill was a varsity player as a fifth-grader. She played in two state tournaments there. She helped lead the Kittens to Bowling Green last season, but they lost in the first round. This season, she wants a fourth appearance, and more.
“I want to go to State and get farther,” Gambill said. “I love my team.”
A former Ashland teammate, Julia Heaberlin, signed with Rio Grande last year. She is a freshman there now.
Gambill will get to keep her jersey number, No. 20.
Aside from her family, coaches and teammates, she thanked former Rose Hill teammate Laura Terry for helping drive her to a college career. Terry went on to have a good career at the University of Louisville after graduating from Rose Hill in 2007.
While Bradley hates to see her go, Smalley is eager to have Gambill.
“She’s a great individual,” Smalley said. “You want to find kids with a good mix of getting it done in the classroom and on the court.”
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.