MARTINSVILLE – It started in the kitchen. Kayana Traylor wouldn’t stop dribbling.
“My mom would yell at me all the time, ‘Stop dribbling!’ I would be dribbling any time I could,” Traylor said.
She started playing basketball in second grade. By fifth grade, she was better than pretty much all of her peers. By sixth grade, she was beating eighth graders. By eighth grade, she was beating high schoolers. Now, she’s one of the best juniors in a loaded class, and has helped Martinsville reach Saturday’s Class 4A regional at Bedford North Lawrence. Next year, she’s likely to be a top contender for IndyStar Miss Basketball. Then it’s off to Purdue.
But she doesn’t care about any of that.
“I don’t think about the pressure,” she said. “I don’t think about who’s watching. I just go out every single night and give it everything I can. That’s just the way I grew up. Everything you do, you try your hardest.”
Rob Helms just needed players. He was the coach of Martinsville’s junior high basketball team, which didn’t have enough players to field a team with any sort of depth. So sometimes, he’d bring up sixth graders to play with them.
“They were usually just helpers,” Helms said.
He needed depth during Traylor’s sixth-grade year. She and teammate Merideth Deckard started playing up — and were the best players on the court.
Traylor was the team’s leading scorer. And some coaches weren’t happy.
“They never said a word when I didn’t beat them,” Helms said. “When we started winning, that’s when people really started complaining.”
During the summer before her eighth grade season, she played on a team that competed against some high school teams. That group went 40-3 and won 30 games in a row.
It wasn’t that Traylor was bigger than everybody else. She was just quicker. More athletic.
“She had that speed already,” Martinsville coach Vince Cerbone said. “For her, a lot of these things came natural. If she missed a layup, she could outjump somebody and put it back in. Now, she doesn’t miss layups.”
The whole time, Traylor was thinking about high school.
“I liked high school better than having no competition (in middle school),” she said.
She started as a freshman and averaged 18.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists. The team won 15 games, its most since 2008.
She committed to Purdue the September before her sophomore season, saying the coaching staff and proximity to home made it an easy choice. Before the season, she was named to the second-team Indy-area preseason Super Team. She backed up the accolade with her play, averaging 23.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
She also added another element to her game: a jump shot.
For a long time, her game centered around driving through people. But defenses started making adjustments.
“I was so used to going around people, so I didn’t have to shoot,” Traylor said. “When people started stepping off, I started working on my shot.”
She improved her shooting percentage from 46 percent to 49 percent. Her percentage from 3-point range improved from 21 percent to 30 percent.
“Things that maybe weren’t natural for her two years ago are becoming natural now,” said Tony Marlin, Traylor’s AAU coach. “She’s become a very good shooter. She’s still got a lot of upside in that. She was always a scorer. Now she’s becoming a very good shooter, too.”
Despite her improvement, the Artesians were knocked out in last year’s sectional opener.
“(It) was kind of devastating,” Traylor said. “It gave us something to work for.”
This season has been a different one for Traylor. While her numbers aren’t as gaudy as they were a season ago — 23.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists — she has pieces around her. Deckard averages 12.4 points. Two other players average more than five points per game.
“Even if I get shut down, I know my teammates will step up,” she said. “That feels good. It wasn’t like that freshman and sophomore year. If I didn’t have a good game, we usually weren’t winning.”
She can still take over. In the sectional semifinal win against Whiteland, she scored a game-high 27 points. Nine of those came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“She is a far better basketball player and leader and point guard and defender than she was last year, even though you might not see it in some numbers,” Cerbone said.
The Artesians won their first sectional title since 2008 on Saturday. They haven’t won anything more than a sectional since 1998. Before the season, Cerbone said he thought they could be a final four team. Traylor wants more.
“I think people come in and think they can upset us and beat us, but I think we’re going to surprise people,” she said. “I really think we’re a state contender.”
Follow IndyStar high school sports writer Matthew VanTryon on Twitter: @MVanTryon.