CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Paris Kea’s first made field goal in front of the baby blue-donning Carmichael Arena crowd came in the form of a two-point jumper in the opening minutes of a meaningless 2016 game against Alabama State, a game that the North Carolina women’s basketball team would win by a healthy margin.
Paris Kea’s final made field goal in front of that very same raucous arena would find the bottom of the net with 2:08 remaining on the game clock in a contentious Senior Day matchup with №9 NC State (24–3, 11–2 ACC) on Sunday.
Receiving the ball on the left wing, Kea faked a shot, got her defender off-balance and out of her stance momentarily, and drove hard toward the baseline before stopping on a dime to release a soft mid-range jumper that would fall, with a foul being whistled all on the same play. Carmichael Arena erupted; Paris Kea pointed down, signaling count it, and proudly flexed to the 5,000-plus fans who’ve witnessed her patented shot-making time and time again throughout her three years performing in that venue.
Yet, this would be the last shot she would make in that back-and-forth affair against one of the NCAA’s toughest teams, the last shot she would make in what ultimately became a sour 74–69 loss that would drop North Carolina to 17–12 (8–7 ACC) on the season.
It is fair to believe that, if it were up to her, that jumper wouldn’t have been her last make. If it were up to her, one would think, the 10 total misses (six field goals, four free throws) that wound up on her otherwise impressive stat sheet—32 points (11/17 from the field, 3/7 from three, 7/11 from the line), two rebounds, five assists, four steals—would be dramatically reduced if not totally expunged, especially considering the missed opportunities that piled up in the loss.
“I was just trying to put my team in a position where we could win the game,” Kea said of her 15-point outburst in the final quarter of play. Despite her attempts at hardwood heroism, the redshirt senior with over 1,500 points to her name couldn’t will her team to its second victory over NC State on the season, much to the delight of State fans, players, and coaches.
“I think I’ll probably drive over here for graduation and cheer and shake her hand,” NC State women’s basketball coach Wes Moore joked. “[I’ll] be glad to see her leaving because she’s given us fits.”
Which, she has. In her three years as a Tar Heel, Kea has gone on to post averages of 21.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.0 steals in seven games against Moore’s Wolfpack squad, presenting his players with the tough task of containing her and forcing her to defer to her teammates. Earlier this month, Kea and company handed State its first loss of the season, snapping a 21-game winning streak in what was considered a shocking upset.
“She’s special,” said UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell, showing appreciation for the senior guard’s play ever since she entered the program as a Vanderbilt transfer in 2016. “She’s great with the ball in her hands and she can take it in there … She’s just so versatile and can do a lot of really, really good things out there.”
It was on the final two plays of the game in which Hatchell hoped to utilize Kea’s ball skills to knot up the game once more in regulation. Following a pair of made free throws from NC State sophomore Kayla Jones that put UNC down 72–69 with 13.7 seconds left, Hatchell brought the team together to draw up a play, with Kea at the center of the huddle.
Out of the timeout, Kea curled around a stagger screen set by Janelle Bailey and Jocelyn Jones, flairing out to the top of the key. Instead of receving the ball, though, she left the play empty-handed, with the defense denying entry and forcing the ball to Shayla Bennett, who would miss a contested layup in traffic. State recovered the ball, made two free throws, and UNC wouldn’t score again.
Unfortunate outcome aside, Kea’s story is incomplete. UNC has a regular season visit to Cameron Indoor on remaining on the docket, with the ACC and NCAA Tournaments still to be played before season’s end. Kea will once more have a chance to add to her story, to score against and put on more electrifying performances, the stapled performances that have become her calling card—they just won’t be in front of the homely stands of Carmichael Arena.
The three years at UNC were not taken for granted, she says. Each and every opportunity to don that particular shade of blue—a blue that she’ll miss seeing at home games—was a precious one, one that she appreciated and was thankful for.
As the lone graduating senior on UNC’s Senior Day, Feb. 24, 2019 was treated as a holiday for her. Bobbleheads sporting her “Golden Girl” hairdo, as Hatchell refers to it, were passed out to fans. Kea’s family who were in attendance were adorned with custom T-shirts emblazoned with “Major ‘Kea’ Alert.” And, a sea of Carolina blue cheered her on with every step she took that day.
“Today was kinda emotional. Playing at UNC has been great but it’s not over yet,” Kea said. “The fans were absolutely amazing tonight. A lot of my family came out and it’s great seeing— a lot of them I haven’t seen them in a while.
“At Vanderbilt, my family couldn’t make a lot of games,” Kea continued. “So definitely having my family at the games, all the games, here an hour before the games, that will be one of the things I will miss the most.”
In an evening post to her Instagram account, Kea shared an image of her holding her framed jersey, with her family and Carolina crowd standing proudly behind her, with the following caption: “Wouldn’t be me without the ppl (sic) behind me.”
She doesn’t need to express this verbally for anyone to understand this. She makes it known, in everything she does, that she appreciates those who have followed and supported her along her journey.
In the pre-game introduction line, Kea high-fived every teammates before performing a signature handshake with one of the team’s reserves—two low-fives and a flex. Throughout the game, every positive play made by her teammates was met with her own cheers and excitement. Following the game’s conclusion, she wandered from the court and embraced several members of her family before leaving the court for one last time. In the post-game press conference, she smiled and laughed at Hatchell’s comments and lighthearted jokes. Exiting the presser and entering the corridors of the arena, Kea briefly stopped to embrace a member of the security staff before expressing kind parting words.
Paris Kea understands what North Carolina means to her, and the feeling is mutual.
Future shots from her won’t fall within the confines of Carmichael Arena, but wherever they take place, her supporters will follow.