I've won national championships and played alongside my sport's Michael Jordan, but without a doubt, one of my crowning achievements came when my team made our coach kiss a rooster.
Allow me to back up for a second. My name is Kalana Greene, and I'm the newest intern here at STACK. I'm also heading into my sixth season in the WNBA, where I'm a member of the Washington Mystics. Prior to that, I had the esteemed opportunity to play at the University of Connecticut, where I balled (and won championships) alongside Maya Moore, the MJ of women's basketball today.
But long before that, I was an outdoorsy girl growing up in Saint Stephen, South Carolina.
Haven't heard of it? I'm not surprised. Saint Stephen is home to fewer than 2,000 people. There are probably more people on my block here in New York, where I'm living during my internship. Needless to say, where I grew up was pretty country. Farming? Check. Fishing? Check. Camping in the woods? Obviously!
One activity that I gravitated toward early in my life was basketball. My sister had played in high school, and my brother showed some interest in the game earlier, but they are both older—and a lot taller—than me. Sis is 6-foot-2. My brother? 6-foot-5. I'm the runt of the family, listed anywhere from 5-foot-9 to 5-foot-11, depending on how many pairs of socks I have on. And back when I first started taking an interest in the game in third grade, I was probably about 5 feet tall.
The story of my beginnings in basketball is much the same as those of many of my peers in the WNBA—or as any other young woman who sets out to play "a man's sport": nobody would give me a shot. When I went to play in the park, no one picked me. Occasionally, my older brother Joey would take pity on me and put me on his team, allowing me to dribble around a bit. But early on, I got my butt kicked every time.
I knew that I had to do something to get better. So me and my cousin Boo Boo (What's up Boo Boo?!?) started playing ball every single day during and after lunch on the dirt courts near my home. Because I was a runt and couldn't shoot worth a lick, I had to be crafty. Eventually I developed some skill, and soon I was able to hold my own against people who were two or three grades older than me.
The following year, my dad enrolled me in our community league, the Alvin Recreational League. Now that you may have heard of. People come from all over the country to play in it. It's known for producing athletes, mostly football legends. Courtney Brown went to Penn State and was the top pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Pierson Prioleau won a Super Bowl with the Saints. Joe Hamilton was a Heisman Trophy runner-up at Georgia Tech (I am still upset that he lost to Ron Dayne of all people), then went on to earn a Super Bowl ring with Tampa Bay. All of them started out playing basketball in Alvin's rec league.
My passion for hoops blossomed in the recreational league. By the eighth grade, I'd sprouted up a bit, reaching a towering 5-feet-7. That made me second-tallest person on the team when I entered Timberland High School. The team needed me to play power forward and center based on my height, and when a senior got suspended for academic reasons, I was thrust into a starting spot as a freshman.
We made a run at the playoffs but lost early. That summer, at someone's suggestion, I joined an AAU team. This allowed me to play with some really talented players from up and down the East Coast, and within a few years I was getting notice from colleges. It also made me a far better player.
In my sophomore year, Timberland reached the Lower State Championship—the equivalent of our state's semi-finals—but our run ended there. The same thing happened again in my junior year. We couldn't seem to get over the hump.
Then came the rooster.
My teammates and I were on a mission to reach the South Carolina AAA Championship, which is played on the University of South Carolina's home court. We told Coach Touchberry, our coach and a Clemson graduate and avid fan, that if we won the championship, he had to kiss the Gamecock at the center of the floor.
The season flew by and we lost only one game. In the playoffs, we steamrolled through the first two rounds. The third round was tougher, but we made it through. In the Lower-State Championship, we squared off against Dreher High School, the team that had ended our season the past two years. But this time it was in OUR gym, OUR fans. And boy, did we put on a show.
We won pretty handily and went on to win the state championship. One of the greatest moments of my life was seeing our Clemson-fanatic coach kiss the rooster in the middle of the USC arena.
For me, life after that was a whirlwind. I was chosen to participate in a couple of All-State and All-America games, including a WBCA game that pitted me against many of my soon-to-be rivals. (I had signed with UConn that November, before my senior season started.) I never knew all of these accolades existed, and never imagined that a runt who'd grown up playing on dirt courts could earn them.
It was a great way to close out that chapter in my life, but I was ready to begin the next one: college. Which, now that I think about it, was the beginning of an entirely new life. Next stop, Storrs, Connecticut.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock