When center Brandalyn Rice first showed up to tryouts for the Victoria East basketball team, it was point guard Giani Wimbish-Gay who first approached her.

The two instantly formed a friendship off the court and a strong connection on it.

Skip forward to their senior years and their connection has proved vital for East as the Lady Titans stay in the District 29-5A title hunt.

It is a connection that East head coach, and Wimbish-Gay’s mother, Yulonda Wimbish-North noticed the moment the two stood next to each other in practice.

“I knew they had potential,” Wimbish-North said. “One of my friends, a coach at Southwest Legacy, was like, ‘Coach, you’ve got something special with those two. You’ve got a post and a point guard. They’re going to be able to do something special by the time they’re seniors.’ And that came true.”

Through eight district games, Wimbish-Gay and Rice have helped East to a 12-2 record, 7-1 in district play, and have led the Lady Titans in scoring every night, averaging 22 and 19 points respectively. But both discovered basketball in their own ways.

Rice began playing in little league and enjoyed the excitement of the game and the adrenaline rush it brought.

For Wimbish-Gay, she grew up hanging around her mom coaching basketball — first at Faith Academy and then at East — and dribbling the ball on her own. Often missing, but having fun.

“My mom had these college reunions and I would see videos of her playing and I wanted to be like her,” Wimbish-Gay said. “She inspired me to play basketball.”

Once they got to high school, Wimbish-Gay had a hard time separating her mom from her head coach, but trained with her older sister, Leilani, and studied the game of other players to improve her skills.

Meanwhile, Rice moved to 5A East from 3A Bloomington and had to adjust to the speed of the game at a larger school. But the two became a powerful tandem once they got on the court together.

“If I’m driving and I know she’s open, I’m going to get her the ball,” Wimbish-Gay said. “Or if I see she’s open, I’m going to try my best to get it to her.”

“If we’re on a fast break and we’re the only two down and she’s driving the ball and I’m wide open, she sees me and will make a quick pass,” Rice said. “She always sees when I’m open even if the defense is all over me, even if it’s not according to the playbook.”

Last year the pair were helped by seniors like Leilani Wimbish-Gay — the District 30-5A Offensive Player of the Year — and led the Lady Titans to the Class 5A regional quarterfinals, falling 52-48 to Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial.

With Leilani now graduated, Rice and Wimbish-Gay have taken on the pressure to carry the team their senior year.

“Brandalyn’s improving on her footwork, her ability to finish, she’s improving on her free throws, so I’m happy to see the progress that she’s making,” Wimbish-North said. “Giani has come into her own as a point guard. She is starting to score for us more because we need her to and she’s definitely becoming a floor general for us.”

Wimbish-North has strategized her team to take advantage of Rice’s 6-foot-1 height to cause problems inside, something she says many teams cannot match up with.

Consequently she knows the importance of a player like Wimbish-Gay with a high basketball IQ and who knows where everyone should be.

The Lady Titans sit in second place in district behind Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial.

East’s only district loss so far was to the Eagles, a game where both Rice and Wimbish-Gay got into foul trouble early and were limited to 12 points each.

The Lady Titans know they will have to get past the Eagles to keep their championship hopes alive.

When asked what the goal was for the pair’s final season, Wimbish-North had a simple message.

“We want to win state,” she said. “That’s what we want to do.”

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