Arguably the best player to come out of White River High’s wildly successful girls’ basketball program, Kendall Bird is now entrenched in the starting lineup at the University of San Diego.
She is making the most of her final season in a Toreros uniform, sharing her time on the court with the same young women who entered the USD program in 2017.
“It’s more than I could have expected,” says Bird, who is now 22 years old, a veteran of the collegiate hoops scene and a student with one eye on the end of a successful scholastic career as well.
Coming from the friendly confines of Buckley and Class 2A competition, Bird admits she was a little apprehensive about shifting her teenage focus roughly 1,200 miles to the south and relocating to sunny Southern California.
It was, she says, “a huge change.”
But all is well for the 22-year-old who is starting the home stretch of her final hoop campaign.
The Toreros currently sit at 9-4 on the season and, due to the ongoing pandemic, finally came off an unfortunate lull in the schedule. The team defeated Texas State on Dec. 21 then saw postponements against Brigham Young, Pacific University and Pepperdine.
The unwanted break, which lasted 18 days, finally snapped when the Torreros hosted San Francisco on Jan. 8 and picked up a 65-56 victory. Bird made three of her five shots from the field, added two free throws to finish with eight points and pulled down six rebounds.
Through the team’s first 13 contests, Bird has been in the starting lineup each time and has averaged almost 19 minutes a night. She’s shooting an impressive .533 from the field (No. 2 on the team) and averaging 6.4 points per outing. Her 50 rebounds are third best on the squad and she leads the team with seven blocked shots.
Statistically, her best outing this year came the afternoon of Nov. 14 against the Idaho Vandals. Playing in the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, she scored 19 points while connecting on eight of nine shots from the field.
Bird’s game has evolved at San Diego, where she’s asked to use her 6-foot-2 frame in a more traditional back-to-the-basket role. That’s a far cry from those who remember her White River days, when Bird’s size and athleticism allowed her to be more aggressive and attack the basket.
“I’m always adding to my game,” she said, noting that she has made a conscious effort to improve on the defensive end of the court. “In the West Coast Conference, we hang our hat on defense,” she explained, adding that defensive pressure is used to spark offensive opportunities.
TWO SEASONS PLAYED, TWO SEASONS LOST
Stepping into the Toreros program in 2017, Bird was able to contribute immediately. As a true freshman, she appeared in 19 games and had a season-high eight points during a late-December game against Pepperdine.
Leaping ahead to the 2020-21 campaign, Bird was more of a factor for San Diego, appearing in the starting lineup 18 times. She scored in double digits on four occasions, had a high of 16 points against San Diego Christian and finished the season averaging 7.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while leading the team in blocks.
So, what about those two full seasons in between? It’s a story of injury, rehabilitation and recovery.
During the second game of her sophomore season Bird suffered a torn ACL, an injury that generally calls for a 12-month rehabilitation period. During the first practice session of the following season, Bird experienced the same injury to the same knee.
“It was super difficult,” she says. “I had to learn to become a cheerleader for the team.”
Through it all, Bird remained a part of the program, attending every practice session and every game, both home and away.
IMPACT ETCHED IN HORNET HISTORY
During her time as a varsity mainstay for Hornet coach Chris Gibson, Bird piled up plenty of honors.
She departed White River in 2017 after averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds a night during her senior season. She was a four-year starter for Gibson, was a four-time all-league pick, twice garnered league MVP honors and was twice honored as an all-state selection. She capped her senior season by being named the Class 2A Player of the Year by both the Associated Press and the Washington State Girls Basketball Coaches Association.
Gibson calls Bird “a generational player,” the type that doesn’t roll around very often. “Her attitude is contagious,” Gibson said. “She’s a great leader, a great teammate.”
Those attributes will be on display for a couple more months as Bird winds down her playing days. Injuries and a world-altering pandemic have put her in position to remain in San Diego for a sixth year, but she says it’s time to move on with her life.
Bird has already earned a bachelor’s degree in English and, by the time the current school year ends, she will possess a master’s degree in leadership studies.