By: Ellis Simon
Nov. 26, 2018
Kayla Wilson, a six-foot forward from East New York, helped lead the Hostos Community College Caimans to the 2018 NJCAA Division III National Championship in women’s basketball. Along the way, she earned Player of the Year and tournament Most Valuable Player honors at the conference, regional and national levels.
On November 20, Kayla signed with St. Bonaventure University, a Division I school in the Atlantic 10 Conference in Olean, N.Y., to play next year on full athletic scholarship.
“I always dreamed of playing for a Division I school, but I never thought I’d get the chance,” she said.
Kayla said she chose St. Bonaventure because it has a good business program. She added that because it is not a huge school, this “will help me stay focused.”
Her journey has been a difficult one, though. She began to play basketball when she was only six but didn’t join a school team until her freshman year at East New York Family Academy High School.
Then, things got rough.
The death of her grandfather that year weighed heavily upon her and her family. She was struggling to find herself, and, with everyone going on in her life, she was unable to play in tenth grade.
Seeking a fresh start, she transferred to Canarsie High School for 11th grade, but she registered too late to be eligible for the team.
The following summer, while playing on a team sponsored by New Heights Youth, a sports-based youth-development and educational non-profit, she tore her ACL and meniscus. That caused her to miss out on playing as a senior.
“Every time I wanted to do something with basketball, something would set me back,” she recalled. Even her plan to spend a post-graduate year at a prep school in North Carolina soured when she discovered the coach was abusive.
Despite her limited high school playing time, Kayla’s athletic talents were getting notice. Among those who knew about her was Hostos' head coach, DeVernie Winston, who wanted her to join the Caimans.
“Coach (Winston) was very persistent. He made me feel important,” she recalled. “Hostos felt right. As soon as I made the team, I knew it was right. This was my home.”
At Hostos, Kayla has worked “extremely hard” both on and off the court. She takes a full 15-credit course load and spends 15 hours a week commuting on the subway to and from Brooklyn.
Her efforts have paid off. She holds a 3.6 GPA.
She admits that at times it has been difficult to manage the time she must commit to practice, games, homework and classes. A mandatory study hall with teammates twice a week for two hours has helped her stay focused, though.
“It gives everyone time to focus on their work,” Coach Winston said.
Comradery has played a big role in the Caimans’ success. “We’re more than teammates. We’re sisters,” Kayla said. “We want to see everyone else succeed and we want to repeat our title.”
Hostos is the first institution in CUNY to win a national title in basketball since the Caimans' men's team won it in 2005.
Coach Winston credited his recruiting staff for doing a “phenomenal job. They found the right types of student-athletes to gel on and off the court.”
Hostos Athletic Director Krishna Dass called Kayla a “great person. She has a great attitude and has shown leadership qualities in leading the team and seeing that they are doing the right thing.”
Coach Winston often tells his players to trust the process. “Everyone’s journey is different,” he said. “Kayla’s journey was not a cakewalk. But, because she trusted the process, she has achieved what she has achieved and gotten to where she’s going now.”
After St. Bonaventure, Kayla plans to “play (basketball) overseas as long as possible.” Then, she wants to go into business for herself and become a model, as well.
“This is just the beginning for me,” she added. “I’m not going to be complacent. I’m going to continue to work hard.”