ERHS standout overcomes long odds to fulfill college hoops dream

Monday, July 30, 2018 - 23:22
  • Eagle River’s Chyna Finley drives between a pair of Palmer defenders during Palmer’s 55-32 girls basketball win on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017 at Eagle River High. (Photo for the Star by Michael Dinneen)
  • Eagle River High School graduate Chyna Finley gets a hug from Mark Limb during the ERHS graduation ceremony on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Star file photo/Matt Tunseth
  • Chugiak’s Nicole Pinckney, left and Ashlynn Burgess, right, defend against the drive of Eagle River’s Chyna Finley during Chugiak’s 70-30 win on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. The Wolves and Mustangs will play at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8 at Chugiak in the first round of the Cook Inlet Conference basketball tournament. (Photo for the Star by Michael Dinneen)

When Chyna Finley moved to Eagle River in 2016, she needed a fresh start. As a teen from Chicago with a tough past, she feared she would fulfill others’ predictions and become just another statistic of a troubled youth whose life was cut short. She certainly didn’t expect to play college basketball, but she’ll do just that after signing to play for NAIA school Central Methodist University at a ceremony held last month on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Finley used basketball for years to clear her mind from stresses and channel her energy. It also helped her focus her pain on something besides wondering why her father was not more involved in her life.

“When I really started playing basketball, I realized that nothing was on my mind,” she said. “I wasn’t worried about ‘Does my dad want me? Is he thinking about me?’ He wasn’t even on my mind.”

Despite the outlet, she increasingly found herself getting into trouble to get her father’s attention.

“I started going down the wrong path with a lot of things,” she said. “I was making the wrong decisions and I was kinda acting out, in a way, to get my dad’s attention.”

She needed a change.

Her brother-in-law, Matthew Morales, and her older sister became her legal guardians in 2013, moving to Maryland and then Alaska in 2016. Finley joined the girls basketball team at Eagle River High School and quickly found an advocate in head coach Rashard Boston.

“The first thing I told her when she left for registration on the first day was that I would do everything in my power to make sure that she would go on to college to play basketball,” Boston said.

Finley recalled Coach Boston telling her early in her career at ERHS, “‘As long as you’re doing what you need to do and you’re growing as a person, I promise you I’ll get you there.’”

Those dreams seemed distant when Finley suffered a season-ending injury this past season when she tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus. The injury required surgery and ended her contributions for the Lady Wolves, for which she was an integral piece.

Even with this setback, she didn’t give up on her goal of playing at the university level, though she feared her injury would deter coaches from seriously considering her.

She could hardly believe her ears when Central Methodist coach Greg Ray called from Missouri for an interview. The university’s women’s basketball team has made numerous NAIA national tournament appearances.

People advised Finley against mentioning her injuries, but she decided she needed to disclose them in their first discussion. Instead of dismissing her, Ray encouraged her to apply, which Finley did within 30 minutes. She officially signed on June 20 and is doing everything possible to rehab.

She has aspirations of playing overseas after college.

Off the court, she will be fulfilling a bigger dream: helping troubled youth by pursuing a degree in criminal justice and psychology. Her experience as a teen sparked a desire to help others.

“Through all that, I never felt like I had a serious person to talk to who really understood me,” she said. “Having that feeling made me realize that I want to help kids, especially from minority areas in Chicago, Baltimore, places like that. I feel I can relate to a lot of things kids these days are going through.”

She continued, “I want to work anywhere I can make an impact. I don’t care how much money I make if I’m a therapist or a psychologist as long as I’m helping someone.”

Coach Boston said he’s proud of Finley and her ability to overcome adversity.

“It’s just awesome to see someone with such bad circumstances to come up and turn her life around,” he said.

Regardless what her future holds, she will continue applying the lessons that her coaches taught her about life in Eagle River.

“The stuff they (coaches at ERHS) have taught me on the court has helped me become who I am today,” Finley said.

Jamin Goecker is a freelance writer from Eagle River. To reach him, email [email protected]

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