Men's Basketball

Drake shines for struggling Eastern

RICHMOND — In her second college game, Kayla Drake scored 33 points, "a surprise to me," she said.

"I felt I could do anything," added Drake, a 5-foot-4 freshman point guard at Eastern Kentucky. "That made me more aggressive."

The most Drake has scored since was 24 points, but her 15.9-point average is third nationally among freshmen.

Drake leads her team in scoring as the Lady Colonels have struggled through a 6-18 season, 3-12 in the Ohio Valley Conference. They will try to inch closer to a place in the eight-team OVC Tournament when they play host to Morehead State at 4 p.m. Saturday.

"I was hoping we'd at least reach .500," said Drake, a member of the Indiana All-Stars who was a late signee with Eastern. "The record was a big deal with me. I'd never been on a losing team."

First-year head coach and former EKU star Chrissy Roberts had no returning starters. Three players were dismissed before the season. Only one of the five returnees played in every game last season.

"It's frustrating for all of us," Roberts said. "We wanted to see things go differently. I'm proud of Kayla and the team and how they're responding.

"Kayla is a talent. She's been a joy and a treat to coach. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season and the next three years with her on the squad."

Drake has many skills on the court. She is quick on offense and defense and can push the ball up the floor for transition baskets.

She often gets in trouble, she says, when she tries to rebound instead of getting back on defense.

"I'm a beast down there," she said, eyes gleaming. "It's pretty rough in the paint, but I like it when I get a rebound over big people."

What Drake excels at, in her coach's eyes, is her on-the-ball defense.

"She's a great defender," Roberts said. "She creates a lot of problems for the point guard on the opposing team. Her defensive passion says a lot about her as a player. It's just her competitiveness."

A self-admitted gym rat from her days at Kokomo High School in Indiana, Drake spends extra time in McBrayer Arena.

Roberts: "I'll call her, and she'll say, 'I'm heading to the gym,' or 'I just left the gym.' That's what you want in your student-athletes. She's got a lot of fire, which is a good thing. She's very confident. She's my eyes on the court."

Drake wasn't heavily recruited. Purdue had no scholarships available and wanted her to walk on for her first year. But she sought a full scholarship for four years reasonably close to home. Offers from Colorado State and Nevada were rejected because of distance.

Drake was still available after the All-Star series. A former coaching colleague called Roberts about her.

"We needed a point guard, and it was late," Roberts said. "We received film and brought her in to campus. She made us sweat it out for a week. We're fortunate to have a player of Kayla's caliber on our team."

OVC rival Murray State almost won her heart earlier.

"Their coach (Rob Cross) was nice," Drake said. "Their gym is wonderful. I fell in love with their gym. It was hard to split up with Murray's gym.

"I'm used to having my parents (Randy and Julie) at every game, and I tried to stay in driving distance. They've been to every home game except when we had the ice storm, and they've gone to a few away games."

The shorter distance between Richmond and Kokomo has paid off for the Lady Colonels. Drake has been the OVC Player of the Week for the past three weeks, six times for the season.

She is seventh in OVC scoring, third in steals (2.1) and fourth in free-throw percentage (80.7). She leads the team with 70 assists, one more than Sarah Fraser-Jones, and has committed 116 turnovers. She is shooting 33.5 percent from the field, 29.8 percent from beyond the three-point line.

"I thought it would be cool to help build the program from the start," Drake said. "It's OK. We have next year and the year after and the year after."

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