BREVARD – When it comes to basketball or life in general, Brevard’s Nijayah Cruell is always striving to make herself and the people around her better.
“I’m very encouraging on the court. I try to be like the motivator. I try to push my team,” Cruell said. “I just try to motivate them to be the best they can be on and off the court.”
Cruell leads the Blue Devils in four statistical categories — scoring (14.0 points per game), rebounding (6.9) and steals (3.7). She is tied with Ashley McBee with 1.5 assists a night.
“(Cruell) is a leader first and foremost. She brings a full package when she comes to the game. She’s a junior and she has played varsity for her entire time. She just has that captain mentality,” Brevard coach Chad Owenby said.
Owenby tends to be a very hands-on coach, but he knows with Cruell steering the ship he can trust her to make the right decisions.
“She knows what we are in and what we’re supposed to be running and when we’re supposed to be doing it. She doesn’t typically have to look to me,” Owenby said. “I might be turned around talking to another kid and she knows what needs to be done. She brings it all.”
Scottie Pippen is who Cruell looks to emulate the most as far as someone in the basketball world, mostly because of his attitude.
“Scottie Pippen never let his ego overcome. He just had a love for the game, and he strived to be the best he could be every single game,” Cruell said. “Even though he played with the best, Michael Jordan, he didn’t let his ego overcome. He was a genuine basketball player.”
Cruell is involved in other sports at Brevard, but she said basketball is by far her favorite.
“When I was little, my grandfather actually inspired me to play basketball. He was a big sports fanatic, so when he passed away, I kind of wanted to continue for him,” Cruell said.
Lots of players are superstitious or have routines to get ready for a game, but Cruell said she only has one thing she does before tip-off.
“I always pray before every game,” Cruell said.
When Cruell isn’t playing basketball, which isn’t often, she spends her time hanging out with friends, she said.
“Everything I do is basically basketball. I play travel ball. I hang out with friends mostly if I’m not doing anything, but if I’m not then it’s mostly just basketball,” Cruell said.
Cruell also takes a lot of time out to support her teammates.
“She’s active in a number of things at school. She comes to a lot of the other sporting events in the fall and supports her teammates who play other sports,” Owenby said. “She’s just the consummate teammate is the best way to put it. A lot of kids will play the sport they play and not worry about the rest of them until it’s time, but you’ll see her frequent the talent show just to see what’s going on. She’s an all-around great kid. She’s never in trouble. She’s very active with the other kids in the community.”
North Carolina has sent letters to Cruell opening up talks of her possibly playing there.
“That’s why I play travel ball. I try to play with the best team, so I can get looked at by the best colleges and play at the next level if possible,” Cruell said.
Overall, Cruell is an ideal student-athlete, always willing to help wherever is needed.
“Hand’s down, she has great character in everything she does,” Owenby said.
“I have been involved with her quite a bit and have never had any issues with her. She’s not the one you’re going to get the phone call about that’s been in trouble or anything like that. She doesn’t mind to help anyone that needs it. She will jump in wherever she is needed.”