Kiara Palmer is hoping blondes have more fun this Wednesday night.
Then again, she has had a blast this season while wearing her closely cropped hair in various colors, including lavender, gray, pink and purple.
Wednesday is when Palmer’s Barry University Buccaneers women’s basketball team hosts Tampa in a Sunshine State Conference quarterfinal playoff game.
The Bucs (18-10) have made an amazing turnaround from last season’s injury-plagued 5-22 season, and one of the biggest factors has been the play of Palmer, who ranks ninth in the nation with 16 double-doubles in NCAA Division II.
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What also sets Palmer apart is her hair, which is currently blonde. Her changing colors is something she asked Bucs coach Bill Sullivan about before she transferred from the University of Rhode Island to Barry.
“She said, ‘Coach, do you mind if I change my hair color?’” said Sullivan, who is in his 41st season as a coach in Miami. “I said ‘no.’ But I didn’t know she was going to go purple on me.
“Probably in my younger years, it would’ve bothered me. But now I say, ‘whatever works.’ As long she keeps scoring, rebounding and playing defense, her hair color doesn’t matter to me. I know she’s very artistic, and I guess that’s one way she expresses it.”
Palmer, who has a 3.5 grade-point average and is set to graduate in December with a degree in business, said she changes her hair color whenever the mood strikes her, usually once a month.
The shock value, however, is gone, at least with her teammates.
“They are so used to it,” Palmer said. “They just say, ‘Here’s another color.’”
That’s fine with Sullivan, who would prefer to focus on what Palmer can do on the court. At 6-foot powerfully built center, Palmer is a presence in the paint.
Sullivan likes to surround her with four three-point shooters and let her do damage inside. Entering Wednesday, Palmer leads the SSC in rebounds (10.8) and ranks fourth in scoring (16.2).
She’s also Barry’s all-time leader in career blocked shots with 112.
Palmer learned basketball from her parents, both of whom played for Panama’s national team. Her mother, Colette, also played for Xavier University.
But her father, Gabriel, died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack, just a short time after she graduated high school at Lourdes Academy.
Palmer went ahead with her basketball scholarship to NCAA Division I Rhode Island, but it was hard to focus given the tragedy that had befallen her family.
“My heart was heavy,” Palmer said. “I was thinking, ‘Am I too far from home?’ I had a certain expectation of how my life was going to go, and [her father’s passing] was a lot. I did what I could, but it was hard to function.”
Palmer finally made the decision to transfer back home after her sophomore season, and she chose Barry because she had known Sullivan since she was 7. He had coached her older sister, Kia.
Last season — her first at Barry — Palmer averaged 15.2 points and 8.6 rebounds. But she missed eight games while still dealing with an Achilles tendon injury she sustained at Rhode Island.
“Not too make excuses, but we had a lot of injured players last season,” Sullivan said. “This year, we’re healthy.”
One of those players who has come back from injury is 5-10 senior guard Barbara Cousino, who hit a three-pointer at the buzzer on Saturday to beat Tampa.
That gave Barry home court this Wednesday and put the Buccaneers three wins from a conference title and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
And if the Bucs qualify, it’s possible Palmer will wear a different hair color.
“Baby blue,” Palmer said. “I think that’s my next hair color.”