That’s probably the only thing the gifted Cartersville point guard hasn’t seen coming on the basketball court in some time.
Irby, like most of her teammates, has been focused on her team’s play this season and the number of points she accumulated was not nearly as important as the Lady Canes winning their region outright and ending a string of second-place finishes.
“I was surprised because I really didn’t know,” Irby said. “I really don’t focus on the points.”
She did get a little notice, though, as her coach, Cindy Moore, does keep track of such things.
“When she was six [points] away, I told her and told them,” Moore, her coach the past two years, said. “I really didn’t want that to be a focus for her. I just wanted her to play her game. If we’d gotten down to needing a 3, I might have run a play for her or something, but for it to happen just in the flow of the game like that, I thought it was more indicative of her career. I thought it was a good compliment.”
Scoring so many points wasn’t the only surprise awaiting Irby since she became a starter as a ninth grader in her first game for the Lady Canes.
Her expectations had more to do with just playing the game with a purple uniform for as long as possible.
“I just wanted to make it far,” Irby said.
Irby started playing basketball at a young age. “I’ve been playing since I was 5. I’ve played with the [Cartersville Parks and] Recreation Department.”
She said her father, Mondreco Blair, used to take her to the gym when he played and that gave her an early start to a successful basketball career. “He used to teach me how to dribble and I started liking the sport.”
Irby said her game has improved through the years. But even now it’s not the scoring that gives her the most satisfaction.
“My favorite would be making assists,” she said.
Irby, who likes to run a fast-paced game, said at Cartersville the assists have gotten easier.
Still, she sees an appreciation from her teammates when she whips the ball over and it finds them in scoring position.
“Their eyes get big,” she smiled. “It has gotten better over the years, though sometimes they’re still surprised.”
She said at Cartersville she gets the support of not just the fans but also her family, something she enjoys.
“My family is just happy for me having my success,” she said.
One reason Irby has had such success is she focuses on her overall goal.
“I want to win it all,” she said. “I want to get a ring.”
That’s a ring as in state championship and that’s where she hopes her team’s hard work is taking it.
So far this season, the team is on track. Cartersville is 17-3 overall and 10-0 in Region 5B-AAA, with four remaining region games to play.
Another goal she has is to continue playing basketball after leaving Cartersville.
“I’m not sure where, but I want to play college ball,” she said. “I love basketball and I want to play.”
Irby, who is just a shade under 5 feet, 5 inches tall, said she is being recruited as a point guard by a mixture of Division I and II colleges.
One person who expects her to play at the next level is her coach, who also knows a lot about complimenting Irby’s play — she’s been doing that a lot during the two years she has coached girls basketball at Cartersville, inheriting a point guard whose ball distribution rivals the best she’s seen in her years of coaching basketball.
The coach said Irby is the total package at her position, mastering all of its aspects and using them to help the Lady Canes on the court.
“Kae would be much happier making a great pass,” Moore said. “It obviously tells a story that she was able to do something like that, though, and not know about the milestone.”
It is Irby’s focus on the team that Moore believes has helped its players grow into their roles this season. She said the more they grow, the better the chance they’ll be able to extend their season into the playoffs.
Irby clearly is at the center of those hopes because of the many things she does well as a point guard.
The senior has grabbed 440 rebounds, dished out 687 assists, stolen 403 balls and buried 137 treys during her years at Cartersville. Those numbers will bump up before she has completed her last pass.
Moore sees Irby as a complete player who brings up the level of play of her teammates.
“I’m so fortunate to have a chance to work with a player like Kaelyn,” Moore said. “She’s gifted in so many areas. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better distributor of the basketball. I think that’s what separates her from other players. She’s obviously a great athlete and can shoot the ball and has such quickness.
“But the way she finds the open person is probably her best talent. A lot of the time they don’t even know they’re open. That is just a gift. I’ve said to a lot of people some people are singers. Some people are painters. Some people are writers. Kae has that gift. She has the gift of being able to run the floor and it’s a work of art and it’s fun to watch.”
She sees Irby as an artist with a basketball.
“I once saw a shirt in college that said ‘Not all artists need a canvas.’ Maybe this court is her canvas,” Moore said. “I know she has brought a lot of good things as far as attention. The fans really love watching her play. She can get a crowd going. She feeds off that. I think when there’s a good crowd with good energy, Kae gets a little more energized. She obviously has the ability at any given moment to take over a game with her quickness and her intensity.”
Still, Moore said, scoring 1,500 points is one of the rarer accomplishments for high school basketball players.
“I have had one other player in 24 years that got to 1,500,” she said. “I had a few thousand point ones. You know, 1,500, career-wise, shows you how consistent somebody is. A lot of times you get 1,000 points, especially on the guys’ side. You get a guy the last two years who just comes on. When you get into the 1,500s, that’s rarer.”
Moore said assists have been rising rapidly for Irby, too.
“I think this year she’s probably going to have more assists than in any of her other years,” she said. “We’re to that point where she’s played with her teammates enough now they know to get your hands up, the ball’s coming to you.”
Another coach who has been watching Irby’s career closely is Donna Enis, the former Cartersville coach who gave the point guard her starting role.
Enis, who now coaches at Pickens County High, said she has not been surprised at all by Irby’s success hitting the hoop.
She said she watched Irby growing up and recognized her gifts early during basketball practice.
“I noticed going down the court she was putting the ball about four steps ahead of our players,” Enis recalled. “I told the girls I didn’t want Kae to change her passes. I wanted them to catch up to her game.”
She noted that team was able to make the adjustment and Cartersville went to the Elite 8 round of the state playoffs that year.
“She’s a special player,” Enis said. “My best memories are of other coaches we were playing would tell me that was a great pass she made. I’ve had coaches tell me at halftime, ‘That play was unbelievable.’”
She added Irby’s scoring could easily be higher.
“She probably could have gone well past 2,000 if she was not so unselfish,” Enis added.
Coach Moore paid Irby the ultimate compliment by saying she sometimes forgets her role when she’s watching her play.
“Sometimes as a coach, I’ll be honest with you, I have to realize, ‘Wait a minute, I’m coaching. I’m not here as her fan.”