Cana Marriott, the all-time leading scorer for girls basketball at Knightdale High School, didn’t receive a single college scholarship offer after graduating in June 2011.
But fast-forward four years, and Marriott is now a scholarship player at Virginia State University. She scored 11 points on Wednesday to lead the Trojans to a Senior Night win over Bowie State (Md.).
“Sometimes I look back and I’m surprised at how much growth I’ve seen within myself – how far I’ve come, the struggle I’ve overcome,” said a reflective Marriott on Thursday. “But I’ve always thought I would be here, playing college basketball.”
Marriott’s path changed dramatically over a weekend in 2012 when her father, Randy Marriott, took her to a basketball tournament and University of North Carolina football game in Chapel Hill.
At the time, she was in her sophomore year playing basketball at Lenoir Community College in Kinston. By the end of the weekend, Virginia State coach James Hill had offered her a two-year scholarship to play Division II women’s basketball.
The rest is history.
Marriott scored about five points per game last season as VSU won the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association title with a 15-1 conference record and finished 25-3 overall.
As a starter this season, she has averaged 25 minutes and 9.8 points per game and leads regular players in free-throw percentage (.857). As of Thursday’s win over Virginia Union, the Trojans boasted a 16-9 overall record and 8-7 accord in the CIAA. In games where Marriott hit double-digit points, however, the Trojans are 9-3.
“This being my senior year, it was quite an experience,” she said. “I had to learn my role as a student as well as a player and teammate. I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve learned a lot. I’m very thankful to be in this position.”
Randy Marriott swelled with pride over his daughter’s accomplishments before Wednesday’s Senior Night.
“If I were to go through that gym door right now, I couldn’t get in because my head is too big and my chest is sticking out,” he said. “I love her and (I am) very proud of her accomplishments and the adversity she went through.”
Cana Marriott is set to graduate early in May as a Dean’s List student majoring in health and physical education. She plans to continue her education to receive a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate.
Looking back, she credits her time at Lenoir C.C. and the encouragement of Lenoir women’s basketball coach Tad Parson as a major factor in her personal growth and journey as a player.
“Lenoir helped me (build) a strong foundation for me to keep striving toward my goals,” she said. “They were always there to tell me not to quit, to keep working hard and I’ve never stopped doing that since I left. It pays off.”
Seeing Marriott refuse to quit didn’t come as much of a surprise to Anthony Byrd, current Knightdale boys basketball coach. Byrd coached Marriott for half of her 993-point career with the Knightdale girls team.
“She is a great competitor (who) had a will to win that’s second to none,” said Byrd, who played college basketball at Georgia Tech. “Cana is a very talented player and had to be accounted for any time she was on the floor.”
Randy Marriott, a former wide receiver for UNC football, calls his daughter the best athlete he’s ever seen in the Marriott family. He hopes her story can motivate other young athletes to stay steadfast and determined through their own hardships.
“When somebody says, ‘No,’ there will be somebody that says, ‘Yes,’ ” he says. “Take care of yourself, take care of your body, do the right thing and good things will come to you.”