Last week at this time, Kanyah Patterson and her East High teammates were preparing to play in the CIF State Division V girls basketball championship game.
Fresh off a victory over San Diego-Madison, where she scored a game-high 25 points, Patterson was riding high on what had been an impressive two-year run as the Blades’ point guard.
Unfortunately, Patterson’s senior season was cut short when the CIF decided to cancel the championship games in response to elevated fears about the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was sad that this was my last game and they canceled it,” Patterson said last week after hearing the bad news. “I already kind of knew because my mom told me that they might cancel, so I was kind of prepared, but I didn’t want it to happen. We all found out together. There was a lot of sobbing and it was hard to say good-bye, and even more sad for the five seniors.”
Despite the cancellation of the game, Patterson has plenty to be proud of, especially after struggling through plenty of challenges early in high school that led her to transfer to East from West High late in her sophomore year.
“My environment wasn’t very good and it turns out it was 100 percent better (at East), said Patterson, whose older sister Kylah transferred to East the year prior. “I was getting into a lot of trouble and just being (wild). There were things around me that were bad influences.”
Although it was anything but a smooth transition, Patterson’s focus began to change when she met Blades head coach Bobby Sharp and his assistant Jason Calhoun.
“They’ve had a huge impact because when I first moved from West to East, I was kind of lost,” Patterson said. “They helped me understand that I have to be a leader. So I had to grow up and develop different ways to make people follow me for the good and not just the bad.
“They helped contribute to my game by helping calm me down, helping me lead on and off the court and giving me accountability and the responsibility to be one of the leaders on the team.”
Although only 5-foot-1, Patterson’s talent has never been in question. But Sharp still wasn't sure how good she was as his team opened the year with a road game.
“Our first game in Taft last year, we didn’t really know what to expect,” Sharp recalled. “We’re on the road to Taft, which can be a tough place to play. It was our first game other than a scrimmage. She goes out and (scores) 38 (points) in her first game and makes five 3-pointers. And I kind of looked over at Jason and said ‘I didn’t realize she could shoot like that.’ And he says, ‘Coach, she can shoot like that.’
“We knew from there that we had someone that could be a pretty good player. And you knew that she had the physical talent, and we just wanted to help her enhance the basketball IQ and just continue to provide what we like to think of as a family environment for her to grow as a person and obviously that’s what we’re seeing now. I’m obviously extremely proud of her.”
Patterson scored 18.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists amd 3.4 steals for the Blades her junior year, but they were upset in the Central Section Division V quarterfinals by Kern Valley.
“That first year, she was very successful,” Sharp said. “She was first-team all-area and MVP of the (Southeast Yosemite League), but I think in the playoffs we fell short. I think there were things that she took from that. She learned how to work better, a little harder, she lost over 20 pounds, she took her diet a little more seriously. She just started seeing the game better, she became a better floor player, understanding the game.”
That understanding has been particularly evident during the postseason.
Patterson scored 34 points in the section quarterfinal this season, a 74-28 victory over Visalia-Central Valley Christian, as East rolled to the D-V title. Four more victories earned the Blades (23-9) the Southern California Regional D-V title, advancing the team to the state title game.
“She (didn't score) as much this year, but that has a lot to do with the fact we have other options,” Sharp said. “And I’ve tried to get her to understand that the most important thing is to make her teammates better. And when it’s money time, she’s going to step up. That’s just the type of player that she is.”
Patterson averaged 15 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.8 steals per game this year. Not a bad stat line for someone several inches shorter than most everyone else on the court.
But her height has never been an issue for Patterson, in fact, she sees it as a positive.
“Being smaller has actually helped me a lot,” Patterson said. “It’s made me want to train more because you’re smaller than everybody else and you have to create ways to score the ball effectively, or get your teammates involved, drive down the middle and shoot the ball when everybody else is taller than you. It makes it challenging to do anything with the ball. It makes you play smarter and increase your IQ on the court.
“I try to jump as high as I can because I know they’re going to contest the shot. I’ve had to find ways to get the shot up anyway I can. I do anything I can to make it easier to score.”
Patterson’s continued development is something she hopes will spark an interest from college coaches.
“My goal next year is to play college ball, as long as I can, maybe a junior college or four-year school to get my degree because I want to get my degree in psychology communication,” Patterson said. “So I just want to play until I can finish getting my degree.”
The 17-year-old Patterson hopes that when her playing days are over, she can give back to the community that has helped her overcome more than a few obstacles.
“I want to be able to help not just people that are going through the same things that I have, but just people in general,” Patterson said. “I want to let people know that there’s other people out here going through the same things they are. Basically, just give them a helping hand. I want to extend a helping hand to share the stories of what I’ve been through to become who I am today.”