Walking around the Sacred Heart campus, Ny’Ceara Pryor greets everyone she meets with a bright smile. The sophomore has established herself as a major presence far beyond the Fairfield, Connecticut, campus of more than 10,000 students.
The education major organized Ny’Ceara’s First Inaugural Free Backpack Giveaway last month. She orchestrated the distribution of over 300 backpacks and other school supplies to underprivileged families. The event also included face painting and featured various food vendors from the community.
“I saw my mom change a lot of people’s lives,” Pyror said. “People still nowadays are like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I loved your mom. She’s like a second mom to me.’ So, I kind of want to change people’s lives, and I want to put the fun back in education.”
Before she enters the classroom as a teacher, the Baltimore native has a lot more history to write on the basketball court.
As a freshman, she became the first player in NEC history to take home the Player, Rookie and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the same season while she led the Pioneers to a league crown and the NCAA Tournament.
Upon joining Sacred Heart last season, she welcomed the opportunity to contribute right away. The 5-foot-3-inch guard started all 33 games for the Pioneers and scored in double figures in every game on her way to averaging conference-best marks in points (17.8), assists (4.3) and steals (3.7) — which led the nation.
“We knew she was going to be able to come in as a freshman and play a lot of minutes,” Sacred Heart head coach Jessica Mannetti said. “Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined she would have 16 postseason accolades. We saw how special she was in the summer. And then as she continued on throughout the season, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ She really was playing with something to prove big time every single day, and she just never took her foot off the gas.”
Pryor guided a team that was picked sixth in the NEC preseason poll to the program’s first conference title and trip to the NCAA Tournament in 11 years.
Over the three games in the NEC Tournament, the rookie poured in 21.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.3 steals per game on her way to being named tourney MVP. In the semifinal win over Merrimack and championship game against Fairleigh Dickinson, she tallied double-doubles with 11 boards in each contest.
“Coming from Baltimore, we always have that mentality to go get it,” she said. “Nothing is handed to you. That’s where my mentality comes from. A lot of people already overlook me because I’m 5-foot-3. They don’t think I’ll do certain things because I’m 5-foot-3, but I’ve always been that type to just go and get a rebound. … I’m just a hustle player.”
That hustle was consistent throughout the season. On top of claiming a pair of Player of the Week honors, she was named the NEC Rookie of the Week 13 times, which tied a conference record. Those accolades led to receiving the trio of awards from the conference at season’s end, among other recognition such as MET Rookie of the Year and All-ECAC First Team honors.
“That just spoke volumes to how much work I put in,” Pryor said. “I tell people all the time that true hard work never goes unnoticed. … I always feel like when it’s true hard work and putting in time in the gym and everything, I feel like that’s when the results show.”
The guard was the catalyst for the Pios’ improvements on the defensive end of the floor. SHU was a middle-of-the-pack defensive team in 2022. In Pryor’s rookie season, they allowed four fewer points per game, which jumped their defensive rank in the conference from seventh to second. They also tallied 9.5 steals per contest, the most in the NEC and three a game more than the previous year.
Sacred Heart pressed more in 2023 than it did prior because of her ability at the top of the defense. Mannetti characterized the guard as the fastest she has ever coached at getting into passing lanes for steals.
But the whole season was not smooth sailing for the Maryland product. In a late-season game at Merrimack, the Warriors forced her out of her rhythm as she took a season-high 30 shot attempts and converted 11 of them in a seven-point loss. The freshmen put the loss on herself and swore it would not happen again.
When SHU met Merrimack in the NEC semifinals, Pryor played with an additional purpose as she poured in 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in a seven-point victory.
“Her response to that failure was unbelievable,” Mannetti said. “I could not have written a better story for her to have redemption against a team that really, really disrupted her… I always think about that story of resilience with her because some people would shut down when there’s fear. And I think with her, it lights her up. That’s a really special quality about her that people don’t realize.”
As Pryor gears up for her second season at Sacred Heart, the arrow is pointing up for an even stronger sophomore campaign.