Kiara Kudron is always taking one for the team.
The Gonzaga senior even takes the right classes. This fall it’s organizational management – all the better to help the Bulldogs through another successful basketball season.
“I just want to be a better leader,” Kudron said.
Giving it up for the team – it’s been that way since Kudron’s freshman year. Arriving in Spokane in the fall of 2012, she was a versatile all-state performer in Michigan, but coach Kelly Graves appreciated her athletic, 6-foot-2 frame and moved her to the frontcourt.
Two years later, new head coach Lisa Fortier asked Kudron to redshirt for the good of the program. The Bulldogs ended up in the NCAA Sweet 16, but Kudron selflessly agreed to sit out.
Last year, with GU wracked by injuries, Kudron came back late in the season despite a wrist injury and helped the Zags reach the second round of the WNIT.
“She’s an unsung hero,” Fortier said. “She’s definitely the glue guy. She can do anything we ask her to do. We just don’t ask her to do them all at the same time.”
Kudron is doing a lot of everything this year. Starting all 14 games, she averages 10.5 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds. Kudron’s 40 assists are second behind point guard Laura Stockton.
Then there’s that leadership thing.
“She’s been working on it,” Fortier said.
Her undergrad degree in physical education already earned – with a 3.66 GPA – Kudron is pursuing a master’s in organizational leadership. She got a head start last summer in a team-building class that forced Kudron to be more outspoken.
“I really enjoyed that,” Kudron said.
Good thing, says Fortier, who hopes to see Kudron “bring a lot of energy and communication” to practices and games.
“We’ve really challenged her with her leadership,” Fortier said.
Kudron has taken it from there. She’s started all 14 games so far, averaging 10.5 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds. Those numbers went up in West Coast Conference play: 15.3 points and 9.3 boards.
But those are hollow numbers, unless you win. After an 0-2 start in conference play, GU beat San Francisco 61-46 behind Kudron’s game-high 14 points and 10 boards.
“It feels good,” Kudron said. “Getting that first game under the belt is really going to help us (going) forward.”
Kudron has been overachieving since high school. Offered a full ride at Michigan State, she “didn’t commit fast enough.” A friend mentioned Gonzaga – which Kudron had never heard of – but it took just one trip to Spokane for Kudron to appreciate the family atmosphere at GU.
After Graves took a hard look and said “you’re a 4,” Kudron altered her game and began on altering opponents’ shots. She saw action as a true freshman as GU won the WCC title.
In the summer of 2014, Fortier took over from Graves, assessed the team and asked Kudron to redshirt.
“I wouldn’t have offered it to anybody, but to the person who would fit it best, who would improve (by redshirting),” Fortier said. “We didn’t want to waste a bunch of 10-minute games on her.”
In the end it was Kudron’s decision, but a tough one, considering the talent on that team.
“I was coming off a good sophomore year, and I thought ‘Man, am I not good enough?’ ” Kudron said.
The self-doubt was assuaged by the coaches, who pushed Kudron to “work on my face-up and shot again” – in other words, her open-court talent.
Back on the court last year, Kudron endured injury and disappointment. After a fifth-place finish in the WCC, the players took time off last summer for some “team-building.”
“We have high goals, and they’re attainable,” said Kudron, who wants to go out with another WCC title.