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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former North Central standout Brianna King shows off high-scoring skill set at Montana Western

Brianna King stood on a slab of old shingles atop her mother’s Hillyard home, caught a pass, and hurled a shot toward a plastic backboard that flanked Nevada Street.

Her first attempt – a trick shot captured on a YouTube video titled “Brianna King best basketball player in Spokane” – soared over relatives, toys and an unoccupied wheelchair before dropping through the net.

The then-North Central senior used every inch of her family’s modest sanctuary, hoisting many of the the same deep, off-balance shots she is today as a high-scoring guard for fourth-ranked Montana Western (22-3).

But King – one of the best small college players in the country at the NAIA school in Dillon, Montana – was relatively unknown in hoops-rich Lilac City, an area that produces Division I women’s basketball players at a steady clip.

She didn’t play for any of the Greater Spokane League powers, winning eight games during her 2 1/2 varsity seasons at NC.

Money was tight, so impressing recruiters on the AAU circuit wasn’t an option.

Compounding those setbacks were below-average grades and a season-ending knee injury midway through her senior year, an ACL tear that came days after she scored 30 and 31 points, respectively, against Central Valley and University.

“She didn’t have the advantages some kids have,” said former CV coach Freddie Rehkow, who guided the Bears to state and national titles last year. “She was a good, self-made player who was quick and tough to guard.”

All but one of the 11 players selected to the All-GSL teams in 2014 earned scholarships to four-year schools, nine with Division I programs.

King wasn’t one of them. She instead stayed home while attending Community Colleges of Spokane.

“She’s as good, guard-wise, as anyone at Gonzaga right now,” longtime CCS coach Bruce Johnson said. “She is killing at the NAIA level, like she did here. Big schools liked her, but they knew the grades weren’t there.”

Johnson would know.

In his 30-plus years as CCS head coach, Johnson has sent several players to Division I schools and has spent thousands of hours in Spokane high school gyms watching the city’s best.

King not only set CCS career scoring records (1,175 points), she helped Johnson earn his first Northwest Athletic Conference title in 2017, a tournament run that saw King average better than 30 points, including a 46-point outburst against Everett in the quarterfinals.

The two-time East Region MVP and NWAC MVP improved her stock in junior college, but Division I schools – including Boise State and Eastern Washington – backed off when they learned King wouldn’t qualify academically.

Character was never an issue for the “soft-spoken” and “ quiet and chill” King, according to coaches. But trouble at home – her mother, Heidi, is disabled and her father isn’t in the picture – made the student-athlete experience harder.

“There was definitely stuff going on with the family and I had to help around the house,” King said. “My mom has custody of my nieces and my brother was messing around. I needed to help out and pay for things.”

NAIA coaches made a late push for King, including Montana Western, a program coming off a national tournament appearance when it contacted her in 2017.

Academic nonqualifiers are often wild cards for coaches, but they can flourish in a small, rural environment like Dillon, Western head coach Lindsay Woolley said.

“We knew she really had no business playing in our conference and should be at a bigger school,” Woolley said. “But this was the route she had to go. We knew she was a good kid, and I think her mom liked how our block schedule worked, so she came here.”

Montana Western’s Brianna King drives to the basket during a game earlier this season. (Montana Western Athletics / Courtesy)
Montana Western’s Brianna King drives to the basket during a game earlier this season. (Montana Western Athletics / Courtesy)

On the court, King took over the Frontier Conference from the start.

She led the Bulldogs to their first NAIA Final Four last season, earning Frontier Conference MVP and NAIA first-team All-American honors in the process.

In a national quarterfinal game against Menlo (California) College, King scored a school-record 40 points.

She’s earned Frontier Conference Player of the Week honor a record six consecutive weeks this season.

“It’s been fun,” said King, whose GPA is hovering around 3.0, according to Woolley. “Most of my teammates are from small towns or farm country. They’ve made it really easy for me fit in.”

Johnson and Woolley aren’t surprised by the play of King, a candidate for NAIA Player of the Year.

“She’s very gifted with her ability to create space,” Johnson said. “She can step back and shoot, cross you over. But she also makes the players around her better.”

“She’s unguardable,” Woolley said. “She can get off a shot whenever she wants. Her ability to create contact and finish that contact is very rare at this level.”

In her only game against a Division I opponent, King scored 25 points in an October exhibition loss to Montana State, a month after her mother was involved in a serious vehicle accident.

Heidi King was en route to Dillon in September when she rolled her minivan, a crash that resulted in the loss of an arm and a few broken ribs.

King, who has 2,426 career points in her two college stops, thought about sitting out her senior season to help her mother recover, Johnson said, but she ultimately decided to finish what she started.

“She wouldn’t let me do that,” King said of her mother.

Instead, she’s now hoping to play professionally in Europe after earning a degree in health and human performance.

“She knows my dream is to finish school and to play and that’s what I am doing to do,” King said.

Here (Courtesy of Montana Western)
Here (Courtesy of Montana Western)