Former Tanque Verde High School forward Nikya Orange will join the array of Southern Arizona talent at Pima College in 2020-21 after recently completing her freshman season at Cochise College.
She was released from her scholarship at Cochise on Wednesday and signed a letter of intent with Pima later in the day.
Orange, a 5-foot-11 forward, averaged 6.6 points and 6.0 rebounds a game at Cochise this season. In her senior season at Tanque Verde in 2018-19, she averaged a double-double — 14.6 points and 13.2 rebounds.
“She’s always been a hard worker and a great personality,” Pima coach Todd Holthaus said. “Tons of potential and will fit perfectly into what we do. She’s mobile, strong, can run up and down well.”
Orange will join five incoming freshmen from Southern Arizona on Pima’s roster next season.
They are Palo Verde guard Angel Addleman, Rio Rico guard Luisa Chavez, Pueblo forward Mariah Clark and Buena guard Lydia Griffith and forward Jaslyn Booker.
Add to them sophomore Aaliyah Ortiz of Palo Verde, and that gives Holthaus seven local players on his 2020-21 roster.
“If we can find the talent here in order to maintain our winning tradition that we’ve had, we’ll do it,” said Holthaus, who has coached six teams to the NJCAA Division II natinoal tournament in his 13 years at Pima, including this year’s team that was unable to compete because the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the event.
“We are pretty selective of the talent that we want. This year’s group of seniors is really good in terms of great players, but then they also happen to match up with the needs that we have for next year.”
Orange, for example, will be a “great compliment,” Holthaus said, to sophomore post player Sierra Mich’l, who is from Las Vegas.
“Mix in Booker from Buena and (incoming forward) Victoria Malaki from (Mesa) Dobson, and we should have a special group of posts. Now, we just need to get in a gym.”
Holthaus said the improvement of local girls hoops talent happens in cycles and the Tucson area is on the upswing.
“It’s gotten better over the years in terms of it seems each year there’s more and more opportunity to get quality players here in town,” he said. “I just think it is attributed to a lot of the high schools that are doing good stuff, club ball, and it’s been a good run in terms of being able to stay consistent and producing talent every year.
“Some years it used to be there wasn’t much Tucson talent. Now, you see a lot of these kids getting D1 offers. We usually don’t get a shot at those kids. We have to kind of look for the second-tier kids that aren’t going to get that luxury, maybe they are coming off an injury or didn’t get noticed the way they should. That’s where you have to have a good eye in recruiting and kind of pick those kids out.”
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Similar to Arizona coach Adia Barnes, Holthaus believes the hire of former Wildcat standout Dee-Dee Wheeler as the Tucson Unified School District Director of Interscholastics will enhance girls basketball locally even more.
“I think if anything, obviously the girls basketball is part of the equation, but just being a female role model for what she’s doing in terms of being the AD and someone in charge of youth sports in TUSD is tremendous,” Holthaus said. “Now you have a female in that leadership role. I think that is something promising happening too because now kids have someone to aspire to be besides just a basketball player.
“I know Dee-Dee was a also pretty driven athlete herself, and I think she will use that drive to help kids. That’s the cool part about it.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.