Since its inception in 1997, six athletes from Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been drafted into the WNBA. The most recent selection, Jackson State University’s Ameshya Williams-Holiday, broke a 20-year drought of HBCU representation in the draft between 2002 and 2022. Of the six athletes, all of them played either in the Southwestern Athletic Conference or Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Virginia Union’s Ny Langley aspires to break that mold. Originally from Greenville, NC, Langley set out to become the first player drafted from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in WNBA history when she declared for the draft. She joined Jackson State’s Angel Jackson and Savannah State’s Amari Heard as the only HBCU players in the 2024 WNBA draft class.

The task, albeit daunting, is just another obstacle in Langley’s way. She’s not one for conforming to the norm.

“I was about three when I picked up a basketball for the first time and I just fell in love with it,” she said in an exclusive interview with ClutchPoints. “I always thought only boys could play basketball. I thought it was a boy sport. When I found out that girls could play basketball, I was like, ‘Okay.’ I just took off from there.”

She took off indeed, becoming a four-year varsity player at North Pitt High School in Bethel, NC. After averaging around 14 points her first two seasons, Langley exploded her junior year, reaching 22.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.3 steals per game, according to MaxPreps. Her senior year, she improved to ludicrous averages of 27.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 4.1 steals per game.

Many score-first basketball players are often labeled ball hogs as they only look out for themselves. Langley is not that type of player.

“She was one of the only ones on the team that I trusted, besides two or three other people, that first year,” said Taniah Johnson, one of Langley's teammates at Virginia Union. “Going into the second and third year, we were basically like best friends on and off the court. She was never selfish about anything… She never had an attitude. I'm not gonna say she was never frustrated. Everyone gets frustrated in the game of basketball, but she always kept a level head. She always kept it real, even if I had a bad game or if something happened in practice and it was my fault, she would tell me, “T, that's your fault.” She's just an all around good person, on and off the court.”

In both her junior and senior years, Langley won the MaxPreps Player of the Year award. Langley’s senior year in particular was filled with success as she powered North Pitt to the 2018 Women’s Basketball 2A state championship, their second in three years. In the tournament semifinal round, she lit up the top-seeded Kinston High School with 41 points, beating them in a 20-point blowout. Against North Wilkes in the state championship, Langley went off again, scoring 33 points in a 63-42 victory. Her jersey is now retired at North Pitt.

Coming out of high school with that resume, Langley had college recruiters knocking on her door. How, then, did one of the best recruits in North Carolina enroll at a local community college?

“Out of high school, I had almost any school you could name,” she said. “It was just, I was just about basketball. So, my grades got in the way. I verbally committed to [North Carolina] Central, I actually signed there. And then they told me that I would have to sit out a year because of my grades. I wanted to play right then and there. So, coach [Lori] Drake, the coach at Cape Fear at the time, she reached out to me and was like, ‘Hey, you could play JUCO and then you can go do what you have to do.’”

Langley took Drake up on her offer. From 2018-2020, she played at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, NC. Although she remained sidelined with an ACL tear in 2019-2020, Langley carried the Sea Devils as a freshman. She led them to a conference championship and a semifinal appearance in the NJCAA Division II Women’s National Championship. She holds university records as a single-season leader in assists and steals, and she placed third in points in a single season.

“Going to Cape Fear was probably one of the best decisions I ever made in my life,” Langley said. “For sure. I had a chance to play. I met people [who] genuinely are caring. It was a great experience. Being that I was a freshman, I got help from a lot of sophomores.”

Langley’s freshman campaign placed her ninth among JUCO players in the Collegiate Basketball Report. Although she couldn’t play her sophomore year due to injury, she still ended up transferring to Duquesne University.

The change of scenery, however, was not what Langley expected. Due to rehab from a major injury and long distance from home, she struggled a bit at Duquesne. In the offseason, she rejuvenated her search in the transfer portal. She had a friend at Virginia Union and immediately made the connection.

“I had heard of Virginia Union, but I never really heard of it, if that makes sense,” she said. “I knew that was a winning program, especially the ladies. They got championships after championships. Cape Fear was a PWI, Duquesne was a PWI, so with an HBCU, I’m like, ‘Okay, this might be a great experience.”

The phrase “great experience” was probably the biggest understatement of the conversation.

“I ended up coming on my visit. When I come, everybody was like family, everybody was no nice. It just felt like I was, it was, just the right place to be. I just fell in love with it, with everybody. School, my coaches, my teammates, faculty: everybody’s just so nice. Everybody is like family here. You see somebody you’ve never seen before? They still wave, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ It’s just love. Everybody has your back. The teachers want to see you succeed. All you gotta do is talk to them, and they’ll understand you. I haven’t had a teacher yet who doesn’t understand me or just put me on the back burner.”

The positive environment at Virginia Union more than rubbed off on Langley’s game. She led the Panthers in points and rebounds all three seasons at VUU. The last two seasons, she also led in steals, a stat indicative of her commitment on the defensive end.

“My defense was kind of sketchy, so I worked my butt off,” she said. “This summer, I was working on that perimeter defense, and it definitely showed this season, for sure.”

Compared to some of her previous stops, Langley’s tenure at Virginia Union wasn’t the most successful. The Panthers only had one year above .500 by going 17-12 in the 2023-24 season. During her time, they were unable to make it out of the first round of the CIAA tournament. They came closest last season with an overtime loss to Shaw University, 65-64.

Despite that lack of “success,” however that is defined, Langley clearly had an overwhelmingly positive experience at Virginia Union. She had difficulty trying to name her favorite moment of the past three seasons. Eventually, she landed on VUU’s 75-57 win at Augusta University. Langley recorded her Virginia Union career high during that game with 27 points and six rebounds. She was also incredibly efficient that game, making nine of her 12 field goal attempts and sinking eight of nine free throws.

“I’ll say the Augusta game, definitely because they were ranked in the country and I really kind of took that,” she said. “I took pride in that and I kind of took that to the heart because beating a ranked team is a pretty good job. Not even only because I was scoring, it was just because we beat a team that was ranked, and that’s a big thing. You got people who doubt you, but I’m saying, ‘I’m in this game,’ and then you prove them wrong. That’s the best feeling ever.”

One of Langley’s assistant coaches, Jessica Freeman, picked out a different moment for her star player.

“The most highlighted moment for me was during the Millersville game in our 2022-23 season,” she said. “Ny told the huddle, ‘Let me guard her’ [their best player] and did just that. What’s important about that moment is that if you ask Ny, defense isn’t her favorite, but she will play it. She just had this umph about herself that proved she is one of the best in the CIAA.”

Freeman is not alone in her belief. Langley earned All-CIAA honors in both 2023 and 2024 as a frontcourt player. Langley referred to herself multiple times as a “big guard,” which she believes can give her an edge at the next level. Her skills as a “big guard” earned her an opportunity to participate in the WNBA Combine in Cleveland, OH.

“It was a nice little experience,” she said. “We played against each other. The coaches were real nice. We met some people who played in the WNBA before our time. They talked to us about different stuff, like what they had to go through to get where they’re at. Some of them played overseas. Hearing stories from other people who have experience what you’re trying to do… it was a blessing for sure.”

Despite having dreamt about making the WNBA all her life, Langley refused to specify a certain destination. She wants to share the court with W greats such as A’ja Wilson, Diana Taurasi, and Britnney Griner, but she couldn’t care less about the specific team. Langley’s unselfish nature echoed in a response from another Virginia Union assistant coach, Dexter Price.

“Ny Langley is a great player and will continue to get better in time,” Price said. “She steps up during big moments always willing to guard the best player on the opposing team. She continues to be out front in condition and going over players and strategies. Ny is a team player always willing to help out her teammate.”

History is not on Ny Langley’s side. Less than a handful of drafted WNBA players have come from an HBCU, and none of them came from her school, let alone her conference. During an influx of national attention on women’s basketball, Langley is up against elite talent from all over the world.

She’s dealt with adversity before, though, and is willing to do it again. Basketball is only for boys? Whatever. Grades aren’t good enough to play right away? Fine, she’ll just take a Junior College to a national semifinal while her peers warm the bench. ACL tear? Okay, she’ll just make back-to-back All-CIAA teams and get invited to the WNBA Combine. At every turn, Ny Langley has beaten the odds.

And she’ll do it again.