left, and Kyannah Grant are hoping to play together in college
and show other kids that they "don't have to stay on the reservation."
(photo courtesy Meridian Star)
Kyarrah and Kyannah Grant run about 30 miles each week. Twice
a week, the fraternal twins sprint alongside the glimmering, blue-black
ripples of Lake Pushmataha about 35 miles north of the Mississippi
Band of Choctaw Indians reservation -- the place they call home.
Most people are fishing or boating or admiring the cedar, pine
and cypress trees that guard the lake. But the Grant sisters do
not have time to stop or stare along the trail. When Kyarrah tries
to zip ahead, Kyannah pushes farther. When Kyannah pulls away, Kyarrah
"It would take a lot for me and Kyannah to get tired," Kyarrah
The pair, half Dine of the Navajo Nation and Mississippi Band
of Choctaw Indian, wreak havoc on the basketball court. They led
Choctaw Central High School to the Mississippi Class 3A state championship
last year, defeating Amanda Elzy 75-42 to finish with a 31-3 mark.
Trapping and disrupting nearly every defensive possession, the
twins knew where the other one was to double, to steal and, of course,
Opponents can't tell the rising seniors, both 5-foot-6 and 130
pounds, apart. Look closely, and you'll see that Kyarrah has a scar
on her left eyebrow. One day when she was 3, she dozed off on a
water slide at a park, and as her head tilted to the left, she clipped
a nail on the way down.
Today the sisters lead the break for a team that is the pride
of the reservation. Fans usually arrive at 4:30 to save seats for
6 p.m. games, and about 5,000 traveled to the Mississippi Coliseum
in Jackson for the state final. What the twins lack in size and
strength they more than make up for with spunk.
"If they were 6-foot, they'd have everybody in the country looking
at them," says Bill Smith, Choctaw Central's coach.
They're determined to play college basketball, considering Divisions
I, II and III.
"You don't see a lot of Natives in basketball programs, so being
one of the few that will be in a basketball program -- at a high
level at that -- I feel a lot of pride," Kyarrah says. "Just knowing
that we can be one of those examples where other kids can look up
to us and know they can do it, too. They don't have to stay on the
Queen of the court
Off to the side of the Grant home is a 20-by-30 concrete slab with
a hoop. The sisters' previous court in Arizona (they moved at age
10) was all dirt with a goalpost stuck in the ground. But the sisters
never cared what the court looked like; they just wanted to get
swept up in its magic, dribbling until their hands grew heavy. They'd
sit when their parents played in tournaments; sneaker squeaks were
the soundtrack to their childhood.
That's when the one-on-one games started -- battles to become
queen of the court. Kyannah is the better ball-handler and Kyarrah
the better shooter (they both averaged 11 points a game in 2016-17),
but games are evenly matched.
left, and Kyannah Grant go at it on their home court, but
teammates say there's harmony when they suit up for the same
team. (photo courtesy the Grant family)
"The trash talk is almost nonstop," dad Shaun says. "For the
most part, it's friendly, but there have been times they've almost
come to blows."
Once, they were going at it for nearly an hour, yelling, boxing
out and throwing elbows, with neither willing to back down. Their
mom, Gwynn, pulled them apart and took them inside. "Later we came
back outside to play again," Kyannah says.
Fortunately for Choctaw Central, the twins don't have to go
against each other. They don't even have to say a word, sensing
when the other will cut and where the other needs the ball. "Our
teammates tease that we have telepathic abilities," Kyannah says.
They've even fooled their teachers. One morning in eighth grade,
Kyannah wasn't ready for a geometry test, so she and Kyarrah dressed
identically: black sweatpants, maroon jacket, black sneakers, black
hair tie, slicked-back ponytail. Kyarrah took the test for her sister
and scored 100 percent.
But when Gwynn found out? Both girls got a spanking and were
forced to apologize to their teacher.
"It hasn't happened again," Gwynn says. The girls each boast
a 4.3 GPA now.
A basketball family
Grant (formerly Hobbs) is a frequent entry in the UNLV record
book. She has been instrumental in developing her daughters'
games, insisting on a killer drill called Monsters. (photo
courtesy UNLV Athletics)
Kyarrah and Kyannah were destined to pick up a ball, almost
as if the peach dots awaited their grips.
Gwynn's parents, Raymond and Loretta Hobbs, played at College
of Ganado, as did Gwynn's aunts: Louise Gilmore, Rose Salabiye and
Anna James. Gwynn's sister, Pam Hobbs, played at Pima Community
College, while her cousins Melissa Jones (Northwestern Oklahoma
State University) and Jeremiah Rector (Haskell Indian University)
Gwynn wanted to be like her uncle, Raymond Salabiye, the one
with the smooth handles, the bull's-eye stroke, who played at Yavapai
Community College. They lived together on the Navajo Nation reservation
in Toyei, Arizona. Every morning she grinded through pushups and
situps with him, and every night she dribbled and shot with him.
Even when he wanted to be alone, Gwynn crept behind the house and
watched his swishes disappear into dark sky.
"I wanted to be one of the best to come off the reservation,"
She earned a scholarship to UNLV (1992-95) and dazzled with
a jump shot so pure the rim rarely denied her. She still owns program
records for single-season 3s (71) and career 3-point percentage
(40.6). She ranks 10th in career points (1,504). In May, she was
inducted into the school's Athletics Hall of Fame.
She was a pioneer, as few Native Americans played Division I
at the time (Ryneldi Becenti, also from Navajo Nation, played at
Arizona State and in the WNBA).
"I think it was more of a surprise that there were Native Americans
playing Division I basketball," Gwynn says. "When you tell people
the truth of who I am and where I come from, they ask a lot of questions,
like, Do we still live in teepees or not? No, we live in regular
houses like everybody else. Most of us have electricity and water.
"But it comes as a surprise that there are Native Americans
coming off the reservation to play basketball. Numerous have played
at the juco level, too. They get overlooked."
Gwynn instilled hustle in her daughters through a drill called
Monsters. "Because it'll probably kill us," Kyarrah says. It used
to. The two would sprint baseline to baseline four times, then do
five jump tucks, five side jumps, five pushups and five situps,
all in 45 seconds. They fell short as kids.
"Now, she's pushing the time lower and lower," Kyarrah said.
Shaun, who played at East Central Community College in Decatur,
Mississippi, from 1995-96 would attach a parachute to the girls
to run with back when they were so skinny that the wind threatened
to blow them away. Now, they charge up the field with the parachute,
as if demanding the wind clear out.
Kyarrah and Kyannah hope to play for the same college. Gwynn
often shares stories with them about college ball: going all-out
on defense, having killer instinct. She also tells them about encountering
people who didn't know Native Americans still exist and that reservations
"I was shocked. Like, what? That's crazy," Kyannah said. "It
kind of motivates me to show that, 'Yeah. We're still here, and
we can do anything everybody else can do, and we can do it better
if we need to.'"