This past season, the UMHB women’s basketball team went deeper than it ever had into the D3 NCAA tournament, reaching the Round of 16. Had Covid-19 not cut the tournament short, who knows how far the Cru might have gone. One of the key players on that team was senior forward Kendall Rollins, a native of Fulshear, Texas, who scored over 1,000 points while playing at UMHB. True To The Cru talked with Rollins this week about her career at UMHB, her favorite memories representing Team USA, and more.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to pursue playing college basketball?
KR: I actually did not want to play in college. I really didn’t even want to play in high school. I never liked going to practice, I hated doing training. But it was my sophomore year of high school, and we moved about five miles from my old house and I was rezoned to the new school in our district. So I came in and was the starting foundation for the new high school. My sophomore year I hit a growth spurt, started gaining some muscle, and I was like, ‘I’m kind of good at this’. I had a good and bad relationship with my coach. Bad on the coaching side, we didn’t get along, we didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. I wouldn’t take anything seriously, I would mess around in practice. Off the court she was my mentor. She would always say, ‘I see a lot in you, I wish you’d put in more time’. One day, I guess it clicked.
Q: How did you end up getting recruited by Mark Morefield and his staff at UMHB?
KR: I was playing AAU my junior year of high school, and Coach Morefield was actually watching my best friend, who was our point guard. His assistant, Rebecca Neuger, came up to me after the game, and asked “Can I get your name? Where are you from?”. I gave her all my information, and she said “We’d love for you to come play for our school. Don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, UMHB”. I felt a rush of adrenaline, feeling wanted. I had always been with the second group of players. I had never felt this appreciated by my coaches. I wanted to go to A&M, but I thought, “God gave me this talent and for whatever reason, I’m being called to play”.
Q: What makes playing at UMHB special? What makes going to UMHB a great experience?
KR: I think at the big schools, it is more of going to the games, you know their numbers, but you don’t know who [the players] are personality-wise, who they hang out with, what they like to do in their free time. At UMHB, I was involved with more than basketball, so I knew about 85% of the campus. Being able to have close relationships since there are not that many students made it all the better. Also, people want to know more about you than just that you play a sport. I definitely think when I would go to my friends’ games, I did not just know them as an athlete, I knew them as a person. I think that is what makes UMHB much different than not only other D3 schools, but big schools.
Q: Do you have a favorite moment playing for the Cru?
KR: The most obvious one, the most recent one was winning the ASC Championship [this past February]. Having played in the championship three years in a row, we knew that we were supposed to win this one and it made it better that we were playing against our rival Hardin-Simmons, especially since they had beat us during the regular season. Another one would be last year , making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, getting to travel and be with the team. We did travel but we didn’t get all the luxury like you do when you’re in the tournament. That was huge. One of the big things, it’s it kind of to say that it is a good memory, but whenever one of our players would get hurt, the way that we would surround them and the way that you could see the team come together as one was really cool. There was no, “I get to be a starter because the girl in front of me got hurt”. Those moments when we would gather together and pray are some of the best moments because you really feel the power of a team and the Lord.
Q: Was there one or two teammates that you really connected with while at UMHB?
KR: I stepped into a starting position three games into my freshman season, and Morefield was always saying, “You’re not a freshman, you’re a leader”. I was shellshocked. So Jonelle Smith would always calm me down, and give me that confidence. Haven Neal, who is now the assistant coach, helped me a lot spiritually. She invited me to be a FCA Leader. I was an FCA leader for two years. She was always willing to pray for me, and encourage me.”
Q: You played with Team USA in 2018 on the D3 Select Team. What are some of your memories from that experience, playing in Brazil?
KR: That was so fun. I mean the best experience besides playing with people from all over the country was the sightseeing. Seeing one of the seven wonders of the world. The best part was the fact that I created relationships with the other girls on the team that I still talk with to this day. I was the only player from the west. We won four out of five games. The one game we lost was to a Brazil G-League-type team. One of the girls on the team from Brazil was from Alabama, and one of the players on our team had actually played with her in Alabama. The most amazing part was that we got to play in the Rio Olympic stadium. We played on the side court but being in that arena, it was so cool. It was set up the same way as it was during the Olympics, with the flags, the court, the emblems. I think about going back all the time.