Honesty Scott-Grayson, left, poses for a portrait with her mother, Kiesha Scott, in the gym at Riverdale Baptist Church in August. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

As soon as Honesty Scott-Grayson stepped off the floor for a water break, the Riverdale Baptist gym was overrun by dozens of small children and the cacophony of a youth basketball practice.

That left Scott-Grayson with no basket to shoot on, so she slowly dribbled around the edges of the court and scooped layups into the side hoops. She paused between dribbles to snap her fingers and shake her hips. She mouthed the lyrics to a song, even though she wasn’t wearing headphones and there was no music on in the gym.

And then, out of nowhere, she started pounding the ball against the hardwood. And all the kids, who were shrieking and skipping just seconds before, migrated to one end of the court and stared, wide-eyed and hushed now, as the ball appeared magnetically connected to Scott-Grayson’s hands. And Scott-Grayson, in the one place that’s always felt like home, was left playing alone.

“I’ve moved around a lot, but I could always count on feeling comfortable and normal on the basketball court,” Scott-Grayson said while sitting in the weight room off the gym in late July. “It’s just me, the ball, the two nets. And all the outside noise shuts off.”

Scott-Grayson’s basketball career has included three high schools in four years, and two middle schools before that. The New Jersey native attended Riverdale Baptist, in Upper Marlboro, as a freshman; Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J., as a sophomore; Paul VI in Fairfax last season, and is back at Riverdale Baptist, near her family’s new home in Maryland, for her senior year. She is a 5-foot-10 guard, regarded as one of the country’s top college prospects and is considering offers from North Carolina, Baylor, Texas, Louisville, Ohio State, West Virginia and other power-conference schools.

Transferring is both a fixture of the basketball ecosystem and a perpetual hot-button issue, with hundreds of players transferring at the high school and college levels each spring and summer. In the Washington area alone, dozens of boys’ and girls’ players transfer each year in search of more exposure, playing time, being closer to home, or for what they think is an all-around better situation than where they are coming from. The players almost always have college potential and move with that in mind. Loose recruiting regulations for many area private schools make transferring even more prevalent.

The practice, which in many cases involves the sport’s most talented young players, often draws criticism. Some think players have the right to seek the right situation, just as coaches, teachers or non-student-athletes can do without much skepticism. Others see transferring for athletic reasons as a slight to the academic side of high school and college sports and attach a negative stigma to the players who do it.

Scott-Grayson has heard the labels placed on her and other players who have transferred frequently: A “problem.” Unstable. Hard to coach. But many past coaches and teammates described her as the opposite of those things. She and her mother, Makiesha Scott, who goes by Kiesha, have spent the last seven years decoding the path to a full college scholarship and future success. No one process is the same as another, and some players start trekking toward college basketball in middle school, if not sooner.

Honesty Scott-Grayson is being recruited by many of the nation’s top college basketball programs. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Kiesha has navigated this tangled, exacting culture with maternal instincts. The journey has positioned Honesty to chase her dreams to the next level. It’s also offered Kiesha lessons in basketball parenting.

“I would have taken it all a little slower,” Kiesha said. “I would have done a lot of things differently, did my homework a little more, figure out the right timing for our family and our health, because I’m a big advocate that if it’s going to happen, it will happen.

“I think ideally kids should stay at one high school for four years. You learn the same system for four years, you get comfortable, and that’s how you get better. But this is our situation, and Honesty has gone through a lot of adversity and become stronger because of it. I’m 41 years old, and I look up to that kid.”

Kiesha was a basketball player herself, a 5-foot-11 deadeye shooter who attracted interest from a host of colleges. She was also the second-oldest of 10 children — and the oldest girl — so she went to Ocean County College near her home in Toms River, N.J., and helped her mother raise her younger siblings.

She started her own family at 22 years old, first with her son, Tyreek, and then Honesty a year and a half later. Kiesha, a single mother, didn’t force them into basketball. She actually did the opposite, envisioning Tyreek as a star football player and Honesty as a cheerleader at his games. But on the morning of their first football and cheerleading practices, the kids woke their mother up and told her they weren’t going.

They wanted to play basketball, and the game has been at the center of their lives ever since.

“I kind of beat myself up for it a lot, the way my career went,” Kiesha said. “But I didn’t want to make my kids play basketball because of that, like a lot of parents would. They chose it on their own.”

When Honesty was in sixth grade, she filled in on her brother’s team at a tournament in New York. She shined in a victory over the New York Gauchos AAU program, and Kiesha remembers the coach screaming at his seventh-grade boys for letting a younger girl carve them up. The director of the Gauchos’ girls’ program convinced Kiesha to drive her daughter into the Bronx, a long trip from their home in Brick, N.J., for workouts, and soon Honesty was placed on their top team in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League.

Her teammates were 16 and 17-year-old girls. She was a 12-year-old seventh grader, and coaches from Ohio State and a bunch of ACC programs were already calling.

“That was my childhood,” Honesty said, smiling and shaking her head. “I was never allowed to play with kids my age. It all happened pretty fast.”

As an eighth grader, Honesty started at point guard for Life Center Academy’s high school varsity team. Life Center, a prep school in Burlington, N.J., is in the same league as Riverdale Baptist and played the Crusaders twice that season. Honesty and Kiesha liked the way Sam Caldwell, then the head coach at Riverdale Baptist, developed the team’s guards, and Caldwell was equally interested in coaching a middle schooler with a polished pull-up jumper.

After a few conversations with Caldwell, Honesty moved in with one of Kiesha’s friends near Riverdale Baptist. Honesty became the first freshman starting point guard in school history and developed her game while traveling to tournaments across the United States. But she felt alone and often called Kiesha late at night to ask when she was coming home next.


Scott-Grayson (3) helped lead Paul VI to a 32-2 record last season. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

“Looking back, I wouldn’t have sent my daughter to go play in another state at such a young age,” Kiesha said. “That forced her to grow up quickly, and we could have taken more time. It’s tough out here, and everything we have done since has been an effort to maintain her home structure.”

That led her back to New Jersey and to Blair Academy, where the competition wasn’t as challenging as the Washington area. She wanted to go back to D.C., but not without her mom. So Keisha agreed to move south and re-enroll Honesty at Riverdale Baptist, a plan that was foiled when Caldwell had a full roster, Kiesha and Caldwell said.

Honesty instead went to Paul VI and helped the Panthers to a 32-2 record. But it took two hours to get from Maryland to Paul VI most mornings, and often two and a half hours to get home. Some days Honesty and Kiesha didn’t get in the door until 11 p.m., and then were up again at 5 a.m. to start their commute. So Honesty made the move she always wanted to, back to where high school began.

“From a college coach’s recruiting perspective, a situation like this, from the outside, would be a stability concern because you only have so much time to develop your program,” said Mike Bozeman, who was hired in March as Riverdale Baptist’s coach and coached George Washington University’s women’s basketball team from 2008 to 2012.

“But if you look at Honesty closely you see that there are unique circumstances of someone who was very talented at a young age and had to make some tough choices,” Bozeman continued. “She is a great and coachable kid and the kind of talent that would make you want to look into it a lot more. She would be like a one-and-done on the boys’ side — talent-wise, she is that good. And with a player like that, it is worth learning their story more.”

Honesty is far from the only transfer among top players in the Washington area, or even her own team. Riverdale Baptist is also bringing in Jayla James from Paul VI and Elizabeth Martino from National Christian Academy. On the boys’ side, DeMatha, a perennial powerhouse on the local hoops scene, is welcoming three new guards with Division I offers.

Kiesha feels that those who define Honesty by her transfers paint an incomplete portrait of her daughter. She said they have never left a school because of playing time or results, and multiple people with knowledge of the situation agree.


Scott-Grayson will play for Riverdale Baptist as a senior, the same school she played for as a freshman. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

She sees Honesty as the shy kid who loves to sing but will only show her mother through texted recordings. While at Blair, Honesty saw a teammate struggling through a fitness test and had the girl hold onto her shirt as she carried her across the finish line. Honesty mentors a middle school basketball player in New Jersey and will FaceTime her with encouragement and advice after games. If Honesty isn’t in the gym, she is likely watching YouTube clips of Candace Parker or Kobe Bryant and committing their moves to memory.

“I’m a homebody, and I like it that way. I would love to get out and spend some time with friends, but unfortunately I don’t really have time for that right now,” Honesty said. “You know, with basketball and stuff like that.”

In late July, Honesty stepped onto the floor at the U.S. Junior Nationals and looked at the chaos around her. Her Boo Williams AAU team was in pool play at the National Harbor in Maryland, and there were 20 courts laid out in the first-floor event space. Thousands of people hustled in and out of the warehouse to catch this game or that one. Waves of college coaches were among them, making it feel like a job fair met a music festival and decided to stage a basketball tournament.

In one corner was Kiesha, leaning forward with her face resting on her right hand. In the opposite corner were college coaches holding notebooks and smart phones, coming from Maryland and Baylor and West Virginia and North Carolina and so on. The AAU coaches talked from the bench and fans yelled from the stands, but it was impossible to hear anything over the hum of chatter and whistles from nearby courts.

Then the ref threw the ball into the air, Boo Williams’s center tipped it back and Honesty, with a slight smile on her face, dropped her head and chased after it.

“The next decision to make is college, and it’s coming up really fast,” Kiesha said. “But I tell you right now, the transferring is not happening in college. She is staying for four years, and I want her to find somewhere that feels like home.”