Because her high school career was such a roller-coaster ride, with some trumpeted success that twice gave way to seasons of suspension, once for a whole year, Kim Demmings had to keep turning her uniform back in.
With no dibs on a number, she wore 31 for a while at Richmond High in Indiana and also 23.
When she got to Wright State University — much to the surprise of some disbelievers in the college basketball world — she said a friend suggested she wear No. 4.
“That was good with me,” recalled Demmings. “I wanted a fresh start.”
With the Raiders, she got that and so much more.
In fact, before Sunday’s women’s game between Wright State and IUPUI at the Nutter Center — a 2 p.m. matchup between Horizon League leaders — Demmings’ No. 4 jersey will be formally retired and a big banner bearing that number and her name will be hung from the top of the arena.
Only one other WSU player, Bill Edwards, who wore No. 42 in the early 1990s and is the men’s all-time career scorer with 2,303 points, has a number hanging above the Nutter Center court.
With 2,677 points, Demmings isn’t just the most prolific scorer to wear a WSU uniform, she’s the Horizon League’s all-time top scorer in women’s basketball and is ranked as the No. 34 all-time scorer in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history.
The 5-foot-8 guard was the Horizon League’s newcomer of the year as a freshman and as a junior she was named the Horizon League’s player of the year, was MVP of the conference tournament and led WSU to its only NCAA Tournament berth.
Coming into her senior season, she was on the watch list for the Naismith Award, which designates the nation’s top player. After breaking her foot in the season opener and missing the entire year, she came back the following season as a medical redshirt and again won HL player of the year.
She holds 10 career records at WSU and that’s gotten her a special title with the current 15-4 team.
“We call her the G.O.A.T. because she is the greatest of all time here,” WSU coach Katrina Merriweather said.
But that’s not just because of her gaudy career numbers. It’s for the way she was, as Merriweather puts it, “able to turn the page. She’s a kid who is a flat out success story. I have just not seen a better story … ever.”
After her WSU career, Demmings played a season of professional basketball in Israel with the Hapoel Zichron/Ma’agan Michael team. That ended last March, and following six months working with disabled adults back home at Benchmark Human Services, she accepted Merriweather’s offer to join her staff.
The 25-year-old Demmings, who now is finishing her master’s degree in sports management at WSU, is officially called an administrative assistant. And while she handles all those chores, from getting players and coaches what they need at practices and games to uploading video and offering insights, she does far more than that, Merriweather said:
“Players go to her because they know how successful she was. Kim clearly is someone who made a lot of good decisions in her career here.
“She can talk about the sacrifices it takes to be a special student-athlete. She’s someone who spent a lot of extra time in the gym to develop her game every year. She can talk to them about being hurt, sitting out and cheering everyone else for a year. And she really stood out in the classroom here, too.”
Merriweather said those lessons aren’t just good for current Raiders, but possible future players, as well:
“She has given us a story to use in recruiting. Kim is the poster child for the type of environment we have. She shows how people can thrive and be successful here.”
Proved skeptics wrong
Kim has a fraternal twin sister, Kelly, who is married and lives in Indianapolis. She has two boys and works as a nurse.
While the sisters both have great pride for each other, they aren’t identical in looks or personality.
“Growing up she liked being Miss Prissy, all dressed up and girlie, and I was a tomboy and liked getting dirty,” Kim once told me. “But I did go to church each Sunday and my mom would have me get all dressed up.
“I’d wear a nice little dress, frilly socks and those little black shoes. But as soon as church ended, I’d change clothes and get over to the park.”
She said she soon became a regular at West Side Lions Park at Northwest J and Ridge streets in Richmond:
“Right from the start, I threw up my shots from the side or overhead, never underhanded Granny style. And once I really got hoopin’ it out there and proved to the older boys that I could hang with them, they started making me one of their first picks in their games.”
Her basketball stature grew, but once in high school her off-court reputation began to diminish. She began to hang out with the wrong crowd and soon she was looking and acting like someone she was not.
“People saw me as young and bad and thuggish,” she has admitted. “I had this attitude — ‘you can’t tell me nothin’ — and it got me in a lot of trouble.”
The other day she explained a little more: “I just wasn’t interested in school and not even in basketball like I’d been.”
She had enough transgressions that she wasn’t allowed to play basketball her entire sophomore season at Richmond. The following year she returned and was a star, only to falter again and get suspended from the team.
Even so, her mom, Yolanda, made her come to every game after that and sit right next to her and cheer for her former teammates.
She returned to the Red Devils as a senior and had a superb season, averaging 19.9 points and 10.2 rebounds. She garnered second team all-state honors, but by then nearly all of the Division I schools that had been interested had washed their hands of her.
Merriweather — an Indiana basketball standout herself as a player and then an AAU and college coach (she’s a former Purdue assistant) — knew Demmings. In fact, she had had her on an AAU team she coached in Fort Wayne.
But near the end of Demmings’ senior season, Merriweather, at the time a WSU assistant, and Mike Bradbury, then the head coach, refocused on her only by chance.
They had come to a game to watch their recruit, Katrina Blackmon, whose Marion High team happened to be playing Richmond.
“Kim got 33 points that night and really put on a show,” Merriweather remembered. “Mike and I looked at each other and said, ‘We need to pick this back up again.’ ”
With renewed interest they soon offered Demmings a scholarship. Immediately Merriweather heard from the skeptics:
“Some of them said, ‘She’s not gonna graduate from high school. She won’t play basketball in college. She doesn’t have the discipline. She doesn’t have this. She doesn’t have that.’ ”
Demmings, though, said she had had an epiphany when WSU first showed her some belief and love.
“When Bradbury came and visited me and offered a scholarship, the light bulb just went on. He saw somebody who was willing to work hard and just wanted another opportunity. And when I got it, I never looked back. With the chance they gave me, I was able to turn it into a fabulous career.”
Bradbury has now moved on to New Mexico, where his Lobos were 16-4 going into Saturday’s game at San Diego State.
“When we first signed her, we had it right on the basketball side. We knew she could play,” he told me when he was here. “But we had no idea she would turn out to be the kind of high character person she was.
“Over her five years she taught me so much about what a person truly can become. She’s what college coaching is all about.
“Kim Demmings is why all of us coach. I just love her to death.”
A future coach?
Demmings averaged 11.6 points per game in her season with Ma’agan Michael in Israel and is contemplating going back into rigorous training, getting to the pro combine this spring and giving her playing career one more shot.
She’s also considering a career in coaching, something her high school coach, Casey Pohlenz, first predicted for her a few years ago:
“I keep telling her she’ll make a heck of a coach one day. She’ll make a difference in other kids’ lives. It’s because she knows firsthand what happens when you make the right decisions.”
Before this season she made the decision to return to WSU, although Lourdes University, a Catholic NAIA school in Sylvania already had offered her a position.
“It was a chance to come back home,” she said. “Wright State has always been my safe haven.”
And just like she did when she first came as a player, Demmings has exceeded expectations.
“She’s a sponge,” Merriweather said. “She sits in all of our meetings, whether it’s on recruiting or Xs and Os. She’s done a great job with scouting reports which, honestly, is a surprise for someone who has never done it before and is as young as she is.
“(NCAA) rules limit what she can do on the court, but the kids all look up to her. They pick her brain as they try to figure out their own life as a student-athlete.”
Demmings relishes that interaction:
“I had my time, my opportunity here. I enjoyed it. It was fabulous. Now I just want to give something back. We have some great young players on this team and if I can do anything to help them be successful, I’m here for them.
“I think they know I have a little bit of a recipe. They know it can help you get somewhere.”
Today it takes her to the top of the Nutter Center.