America Shining On Basketball Court

Basketball runs deep in Zariia America’s family. Her father, who is a big fan of the late Kobe Bryant, played in high school, college and on an Air Force team. Her mother played in high school. Her brother, Kobe, was named after Bryant, and plays for Warhill High School.

Zariia (pronounced Zar-e-uh), whose favorite player is Bryant, is making a name for herself in her first year on the Virginia Peninsula Community College women’s basketball team. She’s the leading scorer for the Gators, coming off a 26-point performance against Frederick Community College. She has at least three other games with 24 or more points, including 32 in a win over the College of Southern Maryland.

“She’s great; attitude, humbleness, coachable. She’s a coach’s dream player,” said VPCC coach Mariah Parker.

Her parents, both 20-year Air Force veterans, made America, 20, and her brother, who is three years younger, try various sports growing up. She also has played soccer, baseball, and volleyball, but basketball caught her attention. She started playing in fifth grade. Her brother started even earlier and provided some motivation.

“He was really good at it, and I was like, you know what, I want to do that,” she said.

America starred at Grafton High School, graduating in spring 2022. She spent a semester at Ferrum College, a Division III school in the western part of Virginia, but participated in only scrimmages and practices. However, the school wasn’t for her, so she transferred to VPCC for the spring 2023 semester and is flourishing on and off the court.

“VPCC is one of the most welcoming schools I’ve been to,” America said, and that includes teachers and students, not just the basketball staff. “I love this school. … It’s just a really good environment, and they’re always trying to get people involved.”

She said during her first semester on campus, when she wasn’t playing basketball, it was the same. Fellow students, faculty and staff would wave to or talk to her.

“It’s really nice,” said America, who is more familiar with the campus than most students because her mother, Latasha, works in the human resources department.

Her time at the school will end in the spring or summer, when she will graduate with a degree in information technology. She’s considering Guilford College (Greensboro, N.C.) and Virginia Wesleyan University (Virginia Beach). She hopes to play basketball at the next level. Her coach has no doubt she’s good enough.

“Absolutely. She will, for sure,” Parker said. “She’s on the right path.”

America has a handful of games left at VPCC, and is looking forward to them, especially since several players have been added to the roster for the second semester.

“I think we’re clicking really well,” America said. “The chemistry is building. So, I’m super excited to see how we all play together and how it feels to actually have subs now.”

Parker said America is tough to guard because she can shoot from the outside and drive to the basket.

“It’s so hard to game plan for that,” Parker said.

America said her aggressiveness sets her apart.

“I think since a young age, that’s the one thing that’s been able to put me over the top because skill-wise, I’ve never seen myself as the best player,” she said. “But I have a very aggressive mindset.”

That comes, she said, from watching clips and being a fan of Bryant.

“I think that's why I'm so aggressive now. Because that’s who I really liked,” said America, who used to wear jersey No.24, just like Bryant.

She wears No.11 for VPCC because jersey No.24 was too big for her.

“But 11 fit just right, so I just switched over,” she said. “It was kind of weird because I always wore 24, but I love wearing No. 11 now. It’s like the new number represents a new start at VPCC.”

Both coach and player said she needs to work on her confidence. When she makes a mistake or is having an off day, she can be her harshest critic.

“She closes herself off. She’s very hard on herself, a perfectionist, I would say,” Parker said.

That can lead to America being timid on the court, which she doesn’t realize.

“You can see it on her face that she’s not as confident,” Parker said. “She doesn’t drive as much, or she won’t take that shot. That is probably the biggest thing. We’ve talked about it. She knows that.”

Some of that stems from America’s personality.

“She’s naturally shy. She’s not the most vocal. She’s naturally an introvert,” Parker said. “But she’s just real good. I can’t wait to see when she breaks out of that shell and really sees how good she really is. That’s going to be awesome to watch.”

America admits she’s not a vocal leader. She’d rather lead by example.

“I'm there to help motivate everybody and keep everyone in good spirits, keep pushing everyone,” she said of her role on the team.

Her route to VPCC wasn’t direct, but she’s enjoying every minute of her time at the College.

“The team is great. I love Coach Parker,” she said. “This is probably one of my favorite teams I’ve played on because even though we’re a small team, it’s good. I like the people. I love my coaches. It’s just a great environment, to be honest.”

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