Osseo girls’ basketball senior guard Kiara Russell started playing basketball in second grade. She has been on the Orioles’ varsity team for three years now, but she truly refined her skills at home competing against her two brothers.

Russell, who signed to play for Arizona State last November after receiving 10 scholarship offers from college programs, said growing up playing against her older brother, Anthony Gulyard Jr., and her twin brother, Kordell, fostered her tough mentality on the court.

Russell ranks 10th in the state in points scored this season with 522 as of Tuesday. She scored her 1,500th career point in Osseo’s loss to Park Center on Jan. 26.

She said she still goes to the gym with her brothers to keep improving her game.

“I do it to make myself better,” Russell said. “To make myself tough, my mentality tough.”

Russell’s mother, Leah Hicks, said she always knew her daughter was athletic, but that Russell’s brothers helped nurture their sister’s competitive spirit.

“A lot of people say she plays like a dude … they never really played with her like a girl, she was always kind of tomboyish. So I think that helped,” Hicks said. “[But] she had a natural athleticism, it’s something that you can’t teach.”

Gulyard said he’s proud of the way his sister is ending her high school career, especially because he’s seen her grow ever since she started playing basketball.

“Us being boys, being rough and tough, that kind of sculpted her toward the way that she plays because when she steps out on the court, she kind of has a physical attitude about her,” Gulyard said. “It’s just amazing to watch her develop and get better and better every year. And then for her to capitalize this year with getting 1,500 points and taking her team on an 11-game win streak at one point, I’m sure that’s going to have her motivated for next year.”

The Orioles (17-6) started the season 1-2, but then went on that streak. They are in second place in the West Division of the Northwest Suburban Conference.

Russell is averaging a team-high 22.7 points and 3.9 rebounds and 4.3 steals per game for the Orioles as of Tuesday.

Orioles first-year coach Jen Moen said she’s enjoying every moment she has coaching such an elite player.

“It’s probably a once in a lifetime chance to coach a player of her caliber,” Moen said. “She’s pretty much unstoppable. She’s tough to defend, and she’s got so many weapons. She can shoot the ball, she’s quicker than just about anybody I’ve seen, and she does things with the ball sometimes that even amaze me after three years of watching her play.”

 

Selfless, humble star

Beyond her talent and her toughness on the court, Moen said, Russell is also the most selfless player on the team.

“She’s a great leader. Everybody does notice Kiara’s scoring and that’s what they think about, but Kiara is an all-around player and she’s just a competitor,” Moen said. “All she wants to do is win and she doesn’t care who gets the points, she’ll give the ball up, she just wants to win.”

Hicks said she’s proud of the humility that her daughter displays on the court.

“Kiara has really good court vision. She knows she can score, she knows she can pass, and she likes to make other people around her just as good,” Hicks said. “She’s very humble about the way she plays and humble about who she is. She doesn’t show a lot of emotion, she never has, and I kind of like that in her because God can give and God can take away.”

Now in the final games of her high school career, Russell again looks to one of her brothers for inspiration.

Kiara’s twin, Kordell, was a senior captain on the state-champion Osseo football team this season. Kiara said she, too, wants to cap off her senior year with a playoff berth.

“It’s kind of competitive. Kordell’s like, ‘I’m better than you,’ and I’m like, ‘No you’re not,’ so we have that type of duel against each other,” Russell said. “[But I’m] really excited … hopefully I can push myself harder.”

Kordell Russell said no matter how the season ends, he’s proud of his sister after seeing the work she’s put in since second grade.

“Watching her play, I see what she does behind closed doors,’’ he said. “She’s hardworking, she’s motivated, and she’s dedicated to the sport, so it’s very fun and cool to watch my twin sister be the star she is today.”

 

Kaitlin Merkel is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.