Herbie Husker waves big Nebraska flag before basketball game to a full crowd
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Kendall Coley’s Road to Nebraska

April 14, 2020

Kendall Coley looked at the college basketball landscape and thought why wait? The transfer portal being what it is now, no one is guaranteed a spot for more than a year. A starter one season wants a new challenge—or a new home—the next. And if a high school prospect has their heart set on a place before their senior season even begins, waiting to pull the trigger could mean there isn’t actually an open scholarship to take by the time you get around to it.

“It really was down to two schools I really enjoyed, and I ended up picking Nebraska because I felt like that was the right place for me,” Coley said of her recent commitment to Amy Williams’ Husker women’s basketball program.

Coley’s senior season hasn’t started yet. She’s a 2021 shooting guard, the 32nd overall prospect in the class and the No. 2 wing player in the country. At 6-foot-2, she can do just about anything you ask on the floor. But Minnesota called recently to tell her with some moving pieces on their board, namely the transfer of Kayla Mershon, they weren’t sure if they’d still have a spot for Coley.

“I kind of want to make a decision now,” she told her dad, Tylor, “because I don’t want anybody to take my scholarship.”

Nebraska will be happy to have her. Within a week of wing Leigha Brown announcing she’d be transferring to Michigan, Coley picked NU.

Kendall and Tylor came on a visit to Nebraska in February. They got to see the gameday atmosphere inside Pinnacle Bank Arena—a major selling point for just about every basketball kid coming through Lincoln—and be around the team.

Kendall has built relationships with assistant coaches Chuck Love and Tom Goehle. Goehle came to Minnesota for a few of Kendall’s team workouts. Head coach Amy Williams and company had actually just landed in the state for a home visit with Kendall when the impact of COVID-19 forced the NCAA to shut down all travel-based recruiting activity.

“Kendall feels real good about her decision,” Tylor said.

Her sister and her favorite player, Chase, played basketball at Iowa. There, Chase was a two-year starter as a forward. Kendall gets told they shoot the same way but she doesn’t see it; she likes to hang around the 3-point line, more of a guard in a stretch-four’s body.

Kendall plays one through four in high school and for her AAU team. Even with a slight frame and a ways to go in terms of post play and physicality, Kendall’s wingspan lets her guard one through five at the other end.

“I think Coach Williams has a lot planned for her,” said Tylor, who coaches her AAU team, FBC North. “I think she can pretty much move that kid around. … And if she’s anything like her mom and myself and her sister, she’s still blooming. Chase grew two inches at Iowa. I grew an inch-and-a-half in college. Mom grew two inches in college.”

Nebraska could have something special.

“She’s been playing in front of coaches since eighth grade,” Tylor said. “She got her first letter from DePaul University as an eighth-grader.”

And that eighth grade season produced one of Tylor’s best memories of Kendall on the court. He remembers the date exactly, February 17. She hit seven 3s and scored 28 points on her mom’s birthday.

“I made a joke with her before the game and said, ‘Now, today is your mom’s birthday and it’s Michael Jordan’s birthday, so you’ve gotta have a good game,’ and she goes, ‘OK don’t put any pressure on me, Dad.’ And I just remember it’s overtime and we’re up two points, and they run an inbounds play and Kendall comes, they throw it in to her, and she pulls up for about a… geez I’ve got to say a 25-footer. And I’m like, ‘Dude, we’re winning, what are you doing?’ And I yell it out as she shoots the ball, and it goes through the net as I’m walking out the gym because I can’t believe she shot the ball.”

Tylor’s coaching side of his brain was working. Hold the ball and they have to foul.

“Dude, I felt it,” Kendall told him after.

One of Nebraska’s road blocks in recent years has been the absence of a truly dominant playmaker. Someone the Huskers can turn to for a guaranteed bucket in the fourth quarter. Brown was becoming that. Coley could very well be that, but both she and her father agree her best attribute is her passing.

“I’m a pretty good facilitator,” she said. “Kind of in a point guard-ish way. I’m not really a point guard, but I can play the point. My whole life I’ve just grown up as a versatile player.”

“Kendall’s a pure shooter, I mean, she can shoot the ball with the best of ‘em, but she passes on taking shots to make sure everybody’s involved in the game,” Tylor added.

Kendall had four triple-doubles just last season. With some bigger rebounding games she could have had more. Though not a rare feat for the Husker women’s program like it is for the men (center Kate Cain had a 22-point, 14-rebound, 11-block triple-double in her freshman season), Coley being able to carry that all-around game to the college level would provide Husker fans with quite the show.

Kennedi Orr will no doubt be watching from the stands. Kendall picked Nebraska for basketball reasons, but a major advantage NU held over schools like Washington and Minnesota was the fact that Orr, Kendall’s best friend since preschool, is coming to play for John Cook’s volleyball program.

Orr, a setter, played with the US youth national team and earned the 2019 Gatorade Minnesota Volleyball Player of the Year award this past season. She committed to Nebraska over two years ago.

They talked about going to the same school when they were growing up, but Kennedi never pressured Kendall to actually follow through once she committed to Nebraska.

“If I brought it up, she’d be like, ‘You should go there, you would like it,’ but it was never anything like pressure,” Kendall said. 

Kendall was at Orr’s house Saturday when she announced her commitment. Orr got the news before Twitter did. She was obviously very excited.

“They have a rich history together,” Tylor said. “They’re connected for life.”

Not just because Kelli Jo Behrens-Coley, Kendall’s mom, worked with Kennedi’s mom. (That’s how the two were introduced.) And not just because Chase’s senior season at Iowa was the first for Brie Orr, Kennedi’s sister, in Iowa’s volleyball program. The two families have been and will always be close.

On Nov. 3, 2010, Kelli Jo passed away from a heart attack. She was 46 years old, and at the family’s home preparing for Kendall's eighth birthday.

“Kendall and Kennedi were on their way home from school to get ready for a birthday party and they found her,” Tylor said. “Chase and I were on our way home to help out with the birthday party, and when we got there, the girls were there with the family dog waiting for me. So they were together when they found out Kendall’s mom passed away.

“To see them go to school together is pretty phenomenal for me,” Tylor said.

Chase carried on a Coley legacy in the Big Ten her mom started. Kelli Jo was a standout at Minnesota in the 1980s before going overseas for a professional career in France and Australia. Soon, Kendall will get to make her own mark in the Big Ten.

She can’t wait.

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