The trajectory of Kyra Lambert’s Duke career changed on March 18, 2017.
That evening, the Blue Devils’ then-sophomore starting point guard suffered a devastating knee injury against Hampton in the NCAA tournament, leaving Duke without a key leader in its upset loss against Oregon in the next game. Lambert’s torn left ACL was the first major injury of her career, aside from minor pulled muscles or ankle tweaks.
“I miss her love of the game. I miss her intensity. I miss being able to push her because she’s so intense and passionate about the game,” Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I certainly miss her ability to make calls, make plays, get people in defenses and do what she’s capable of doing.”
Fast forward to Dec. 4, when Lambert made the difficult decision not to step back on the court with her teammates this year and instead take a medical redshirt. The junior now will have two years of eligibility remaining when she is expected to make her return in November 2018.
“I had a feeling that she wasn’t going to come back just because of the type of person she was because if she can’t do something 150 percent, she’s not going to do it, so I planned on probably not being able to finish my time here with Kyra,” graduate student Lexie Brown said. “For her to actually say it, that kind of hit us all in the heart.
“But she’s still around. She has this huge presence, so that’s been really fun and I’m going to take advantage of this time.”
Although Lambert will never take the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium again alongside her senior teammates, the captain is still making an impact. Every day, the junior participates in practice and leads the team in a multitude of different fashions.
“The one thing that I focused on since this injury is ways that I can be more involved with the team, especially when I’m not physically out there on the floor with them playing in the games,” Lambert said. “Yes, I want to get better. Yes, I’m working hard in physical therapy and all that, but I’m giving everything that I can to the team in different ways now.”
These different ways provide a glimpse into the individual behind the player fans see running the point for the team. During timeouts, Lambert can be found in the middle of the huddle talking to her teammates, and during the action, she also talks to the reserves on the bench.
“I definitely talk to every single player, especially our younger players…. Of course, Lexie and Becca [Greenwell] pretty much know how it goes,” Lambert said. “I just try to be as vocal as possible, being encouraging. I’ve had a lot of experience on the court so I know a lot of stuff that they’re going through.”
Brown, Greenwell and Lambert’s leadership and communication as co-captains is only one of the many similarities that they share. Like her teammates in the Fuqua School of Business, Lambert puts a lot of emphasis in the classroom as an undergraduate. Education is something that has been ingrained into her mind for a long time.
“Putting a high priority on academics has always been something that my family has done, my parents have always told me to do and I think it just builds discipline,” Lambert said. “Just like sports build discipline, academics build discipline.”
The junior’s academic mindset has helped her adjust to game preparation on the sidelines as well, when McCallie and the coaching staff reveal scouting reports for upcoming games. Similar to a classroom setting, the professor or coach discusses a game plan, and the more the players prepare, the better they perform during a game or test.
“Studying for a class is just like studying for [an opponent],” Lambert said. “Watching videos or whatever to learn more about something in class is just like watching film on your favorite player and trying to translate that onto the court.”
‘A pure point guard’
Lambert has already displayed her prowess and skill on the hardwood the past two years, setting an example that every current player can look back to.
From day one, Lambert—the ninth-ranked recruit in her class—became a focal point of McCallie’s offense. She started 23 games as a freshman, averaging 6.2 points and 2.5 assists per contest. As a sophomore, those numbers increased to 7.8 points and 3.5 assists per game while she started all 33 contests.
“She’s a pure point guard, but she can score like a two because she’s got a great shot,” McCallie said. “But without question, she has the ability to dictate a game and definitely make a coach’s job a lot easier.”
This year, her role is quite different. Although Lambert says that it is indeed different to lead from the sidelines, her work ethic has remained strong in the weight room, and she has inspired others to work hard in team conditioning sessions.
Indeed, there are many components of a successful college basketball program that often go unnoticed. For a player like Lambert to attend a school like Duke, the process consists of more than just conversations between coaches and a recruited athlete. High school prospects often want to hear from the perspective of someone who is more relatable. Once again, Lambert is at the forefront of this area for the team.
“Whenever we have recruits that come and visit the campus, they put a current player with the recruit to just host, walk them around, tell them how it is from a student-athlete experience. I’ve done a lot of the girls that have come on recruiting visits,” Lambert said. “I’m just myself, tell them total honesty what goes on, how it works, how school is, basketball, balancing the two.”
‘She could run for president at Duke’
Lambert currently serves as an ambassador for the Duke program as a result of her personality and leadership, which was on full display in a preseason survey of the team that included the question: “Who is most likely to become the first female President?” Lambert received 11 out of 14 votes, earning the honor in convincing fashion.
“It’s an honor. I’m definitely a people person. I love talking to people. I could talk to a wall and have a great conversation. But I just try to be genuine in everything. I try to be polite to everybody and just myself. It’s just how I was raised,” Lambert said. “I love all of my teammates to death, so they’re great.”
When the point guard’s days playing the sport she loves dwindle down in the future after a potential professional career, Lambert holds a dream job near to her heart. It is something she has already demonstrated during timeouts before McCallie enters the huddle, or in practice where assistance is required.
“I would love to be a coach, especially at the college level,” Lambert said. “It’s something that I say all the time: Being able to be somewhere and have an impact on somebody.... Especially from a coach’s perspective, you have so much opportunity to influence young players. I would love to do that.”
With her work on and off the floor this season and beyond, Lambert will continue to serve as a role model for the younger players on the team, just like Amber Henson did for her two years ago.
“She could run for president at Duke,” Duke associate head coach Hernando Planells told team radio broadcaster Chris Edwards on McCallie’s radio show Monday night. “Vincent Price better be careful because Kyra Lambert can go in there and do a good job.”
Although the junior will be seen wearing a “Bench Mob” shirt on the bench for the rest of the season, Lambert serves a greater role behind closed doors. Her teammates and coaches rave about her leadership. It is in a role that Lambert never envisioned, but will help her arrive next season a better basketball player and a more accomplished leader off the floor.
“She just does it all. Great student athlete. Devoted to her academics, devoted to being a great person, a basketball player,” McCallie said. “She’s just the epitome of the Duke student-athlete in every sense of the word, and we’re very fortunate she chose Duke. But at the same time, Duke might have chosen her relative to her strengths that she offers.”