By JOHN SMITHSON
Riley Vincent has played on the North Myrtle Beach High School varsity basketball team since she was in the eighth grade. Each year that she played, she progressed in her abilities and eventually became a point guard for the team. She, like most varsity players, had a goal of playing for and winning a state championship.
Two years ago the Lady Chiefs and Vincent almost realized their dream. You can still google a photo on the WMBF web site from March 2021 of the North Myrtle Beach Lady Chiefs basketball team. It’s a photo of some sad players and a coach that had lost a S.C. 4A championship game to a team from Westside by a 44-30 score.
Daveona Hatchell holds the state runner up trophy, while the rest of her teammates fight off tears, or vainly try to smile for the photo. On the far left of that photo stands Riley Vincent, point guard on that team. She is next to her coach, Brooke Smith-Vereen, who is also trying to process how the Chiefs, who had not won a championship in girls basketball since 1986, lost this opportunity, after getting to the title game with an upset of expected champ North Augusta in the semifinal game at North Augusta.
In February of last year the Lady Chiefs were back in the playoffs, with a third round game against North Augusta and they led 24-12 in the third period of that game, but lost 35-32. Vincent and her teammates had to wait another year to climb that playoff ladder.
This year Vincent was set to be the point guard on a team that was rated by the S.C. Coaches Association as the 9th best in Region 4A, and she and fellow Chief Destinee Vereen, were expected to play a key role in the Lady Chiefs season and another shot at playing for a State 4A championship.
On Nov. 11, at the team’s last practice before they began scrimmages, Vincent went up for a layup, and the result ended her championship dream.
“I just came down on my leg wrong. I just sat there. Usually I’ll just pop right back up. But I just sat there. I asked for help and I knew something was really bad. I tried to straighten out my leg but I thought it was my ACL. It had happened to my brother twice and to my aunt. I knew the signs of it, so I said this must be it,” Vincent said. That injury ended her dream of playing for a state championship in basketball.
I talked to Riley on senior night about her personal quest for a championship. I talked about that runner up photo and what was going through her mind as she stood there.
“I guess I wasn’t as sad as some of the players because I thought, hey, I have two more years. I’ll be just fine. But obviously things don’t always work out the way I want them to. But we had another two years. I still had most of the girls I was playing with for the next couple of years. I thought everything will be all right.”
Then last year Vincent saw her championship dream end in the third round. “Last year we got knocked out in the third round of the playoffs. Everybody just kind of got nervous because North Augusta kind of ruined it for us.”
As she prepared for her senior season Vincent felt this was maybe the year. “Obviously the dream is to be the state champion. We came close in volleyball. We had also come close the year we lost to Westside. It would be another year, and this one had to be the best one yet, because I did well last year. But I wanted to do better this year. Then the injury, and I knew I wouldn’t start or play. That was tough.”
Since the injury to her knee, Vincent and Destinee Vereen, who also had a season-ending ACL injury, attend games, stand and watch warmups and sit on the bench with the rest of the team, but that still hurts, as Vincent stated. “It really sucks that I have to sit on the sidelines when I am there. But, I am really glad that coach has made me feel like I am part of the team. I still have my banner and came to the gym for senior night.”
On senior night Vincent had one more chance to be on the court. I looked at the bench during a timeout late in the Chiefs game against Myrtle Beach and noticed Vincent in her uniform standing in the huddle. When the team came back on the floor, Vincent walked over to the side of the Chiefs foul lane across from the team’s bench, turned and looked down the court.
“I knew coach was going to put me in near the end of the game, as long as we were winning. We told Myrtle Beach about it.”
As the two teams went down the court and Myrtle Beach was on offense, Vincent kept her eyes on play there. As soon as the play was over, the Chiefs brought the ball down and passed to Vincent. She went up to shoot, but one of the Seahawks players raced in, blocked the shot away. “The girl blocked me. We talked to their coach because I was more worried about getting hurt again. I don’t care, make it or not, be blocked. I’ve been blocked before, but that player came in really fast, and I thought what’s going on? It just surprised me. My mouth just dropped. I couldn’t believe it happened that way.” After the play and the ball went out of bounds, Vincent was replaced and walked slowly back to the bench.
I asked Vincent about missing the shot, even if she had actually gotten the opportunity. “On my gosh, everybody was teasing me before the game. What if you miss it? Okay, it’s a layup. My original idea was to shoot a three, because that’s what I’ve been known for. But a layup was safe. But not safe enough I guess.”
I asked Smith-Vereen about putting Vincent into the game on senior night. “We did try to get Riley in there and get a quick shot to celebrate her one last time. Unfortunately it didn’t happen the way we wanted it to. But, she was out there for senior night, getting her last goodbyes with all the seniors for all the hard work they have given. All of them have been together for a very long time. I am super excited for Riley and the memories of the state tournament that she will never forget,” Smith-Vereen said.
As Vincent walked off the court on senior night, she knew her basketball career was over at North Myrtle Beach High School, but she has more to accomplish. “I plan to attend Coastal Carolina. I went back and forth about going to college for basketball, because it would be nice. But it’s a lot of work to juggle a sport and school. Now the option is out. That’s fine. But it would have been nice to have the option. It’s a six month recovery from the injury and I am a month and a half post-op, so I’ve got a ways to go,” Vincent said.
Riley Vincent plans to major in Criminal Justice and study to be a Crime Scene Investigator. We laughed when I said she could use those talents to figure out why that last shot happened the way it did.