Mia Hennen / The Sunflower
Wichita native comes back home to finish playing out childhood dream
Mariah McKinney, junior guard and Wichita native, spent a semester playing basketball in Washington before she decided to come back home because she missed Kansas and wanted to give her family the chance to watch her play division one basketball. Prior to playing a semester in Washington, McKinney played one season at Fort Scott Community College in Fort Scott, Kansas.
“I didn’t like the fact that I was thinking about playing at a higher division and my family not being able to watch,” McKinney said. “I have a lot of younger siblings and cousins, and I really want them to be able to see someone, physically know someone that can inspire them, so that’s kind of the reason that I decided to stay here and play.”
McKinney said that her life-long dream has been to play division one college basketball, and getting to do it in the place she grew up is both honoring and humbling.
“I’ve played basketball all my life, I’ve worked really hard, and played summer ball,” McKinney said. “My dad spent a lot of money being able to put me in the position where I could make it to this point in life so my family is really proud of me. I can say I’m really proud of myself.”
McKinney joined WSU as a walk-on last year a week before the first game, and while the adjustment was difficult, she said the hard times brought the team closer together.
“When I came into the team there was a lot of different things changing, a lot of different things going on within the organization itself,” McKinney said. “So it was definitely hard but my teammates are all amazing, the coaching staff is amazing … That stress brought us all together and it really turned us into a family, like it’s so unimaginable.”
McKinney said that she is blessed by her parents, who always supported her dreams of playing basketball at a high level.
“My parents definitely went above and beyond to make sure that I was in the position to be here today,” McKinney said. “There would be times where we wouldn’t have it, or we would have to struggle to make things go my way, but they always made sure that I was on the court, if anything.”
Leaving Kansas also gave McKinney a new appreciation for her home state and the “loving” environment that she came from.
So I was in the Seattle Washington area and I felt like the people there were so weird because everyone here is so down to earth,” McKinney said. “You could see a stranger and have a full on conversation about anything here, and feel like you know them … So I just love the whole environment of Kansas. We’re just so loving, and full of hope and full of happiness.”
In preparation for the upcoming season, McKinney said that she did a lot of running and ladder work to get ready for the adjustment from a junior college to a division one school. She said she also enjoyed her time outside of the gym.
“I’m looking forward to winning,” McKinney said. “Shoot, we have an amazing team that’s been putting so much work in and I know we are going to shock some people. We’re definitely the underdogs of the conference so that’s what I’m looking forward to, just playing and competing.”
Along with winning, McKinney hopes to send a message to her younger siblings that they can accomplish big dreams.
“I just really want my brothers and sisters to know they can really do anything they put their minds to, put their effort towards, work towards, they can have it,” McKinney said. “This has been my dream, playing division oen basketball my whole life. They can have a dream, anything, and they can know that it can happen.”