Ralph Kitley never made the NCAA Tournament in his four years on the men's basketball team at Wake Forest University. On Friday evening, he will watch his daughter Elizabeth lead the Virginia Tech Hokies into the 2023 women's basketball Final Four for the first time in program history.
The father-daughter duo have plenty of basketball history in common. Both led their high school programs to state championships, and both were named MVP of the championship game. When college coaches came calling, each of them chose a path through the ACC; but while Ralph never experienced a winning season at Wake Forest, Elizabeth and the Hokies are 31-4 and one of two remaining No. 1 seeds left in the tournament.
Ralph Kitley Had an Up-and-Down Career at Wake Forest
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Ralph grew up as a Duke fan but ended up as the first recruit of Bob Staak, who became the Wake Forest coach in 1985 after a successful stint with Xavier. After leading the North Rowan Cavaliers to a 29-2 record and a 2A state championship, he played sparingly in his freshman year on a team that included senior guard Muggsy Bogues.
Kitley earned the starting center spot his sophomore year — his best season by far — but was a rotational piece for most of his Wake Forest career, hampered by back issues. He started just 42 of 108 games and averaged 3.3 points in 16.5 minutes per contest.
After his career at Wake Forest, Ralph played professionally in Germany and Brazil but eventually returned home to Guilford County, got his master's degree at Gardner-Webb University, and spent 2009-2020 as the principal of Northwest Guilford.
Elizabeth Nearly Chose Softball Over Basketball
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Elizabeth, the daughter of Ralph and Loretta Kitley, grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, with her sister Raven, who was diagnosed with autism. She was a talented three-sport athlete, playing volleyball and softball in addition to hoops. And Ralph coached her rec ball teams, with Elizabeth actually showing the most interest in softball as she approached middle school age.
As a freshman in high school, she was recruited by Amateur Athletic Union basketball coach Tom King, who expressed that she had a future in basketball. After initially refusing because her closest friends were her softball teammates, Elizabeth made the commitment to King and his daughter Cayla. Together Cayla and Elizabeth would lead Northwest Guilford High School to a 4A state tournament championship in their sophomore seasons.
Summerfield, North Carolina is also the home of Elissa Cunane, who starred for the North Carolina State women's basketball team from 2018-2022 and now plays for the Seattle Storm of the WNBA. Cunane led Northern Guilford to a pair of 3A state championships while Elizabeth was doing the same at Northwest Guilford, and the two played AAU together and are close friends.
More Than 40 Colleges Came Recruiting for Kitley
Kitley and Cayla decided to stay together in college, both accepting scholarships to Virginia Tech. Elizabeth took the time to call back all 40-plus coaches who had recruited her personally to deliver her decision, including an emotional call with Jen Hoover, Wake Forest's head coach.
Part of her decision came down to the way Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks went out of his way to recruit Elizabeth's autistic sister Raven as hard as he recruited her.
Things seem to have worked out pretty well with that decision — and Virginia Tech is no doubt pleased to have Kitley, who scored 27 points in her collegiate debut on her way to earning ACC Freshman of the Year honors. She earned First-Team All-ACC honors in her sophomore and junior seasons, and was named ACC Player of the Year as a junior after averaging 18.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
As Kitley strives to finish out her amazing career with a national championship, she is shooting a career-best 55.7% from the field and averaging a career-high 10.7 rebounds per contest.
She will lead the Hokies into their matchup with No. 3-seeded LSU in the national semifinals, with the winner facing either undefeated South Carolina or the incredible Caitlin Clark and Iowa in the championship game.
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