The more you’re being obedient to the one who matters most, the less anything else matters at all.
After our final game this season against a talented Ohio State team, a reporter looked at me and asked something I’ve been getting asked a lot lately, something along the lines of, “Makenzie, how can you explain your situation with basketball, coming to Kentucky, and how it ended up?” I looked at him with an even bigger smile despite the tough loss because I was able to tell him this. I answered, “You just can’t tell me their isn’t a God. You can’t tell me he isn’t faithful.”
….but let me back up a little.
Being born and raised in Kentucky, basketball was basically in my blood from day one. I mean really, I think the hospitals around here first mark on the birth certificate is “will he/she be a Kentucky or Louisville fan? Pick wisely.” (Obviously my parents made the right choice…. haha) I grew up 20 miles from Lexington in a town called Lawrenceburg. My older brother and sister went to Kentucky for undergraduate, so I literally grew up a wildcat. Ill have to be honest, though. I was a HUGE football fan. My family has had season tickets since I was in 6th grade. I still sit with my parents in those same seats even though I’m a student here. It just doesn’t feel right anywhere else. My favorite player was Rafeal Little who also wore the jersey number 22. The number I wear today and I have since 6th grade. I never actually started playing basketball until then. Before then I was a soccer player. Funny story, I decided to quit playing soccer because one time I had a conflict with one of my games and the #1LSUvsKentucky 07′ football game. I was already upset about missing the game, I mean furious. I would have quit right then if my parents would have let me. (P.s. If anyone of my Lexington Futbol Club teammates are reading this I really did love y’all, but this was a HUGE football game we’re talking about here.) After the game was over, I ran to the nearest T.V. The only play I got to see all game was the very last one. Braxton Kelley stops Charles Scott on 4th and 2 in the 3rd OT to give #17 Kentucky a 43-37 win over #1 LSU. It’s UK’s first win over a top-ranked team since 1964 when we beat Ole Miss. Wow, I actually think I am still mad I missed that. So that was it. If my soccer games were going to conflict with Kentucky football games then I wasn’t playing. I finished out the season and did not play again until high school.
SO, I started playing basketball. Those didn’t conflict with Kentucky football games, after all. How I started playing basketball was a God thing. I never intended on it. I had planned to go to college to play soccer. I loved soccer, until one day I got a feeling this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing anymore. (OKAY, it wasn’t totally the football games, lol.) I was only 11 and God was working in me even at that age. I started a new middle school and somehow got invited to try out for basketball. I actually missed the tryouts and the middle school coach at the time called my brother and said he guessed it wouldn’t be a problem doing a late try out since I was new. I thought, why not? Middle school is a time to start finding out a little about who you are. So I did. I had a #22 Patrick Sparks jersey that I wore all the time. One day in 7th grade two of my best friends and I decided to dress up in as much Kentucky gear as we could and take photos. Why? Who wants to begin to pick the brains of three middle school girls? Not me. BUT, I do have the picture attached at the end to get the visual. It even has a fun edit. Anyway, I chose my #22 jersey to wear, of course. I thought in my head. “Im going to play for Kentucky one day, This is going to be my jersey.” The moment I got a taste of what basketball is like in Kentucky, even on such a small scale as middle school basketball, I fell in love with the game and never looked back.
In the summer of 2013 I committed to the University of Cincinnati to continue my basketball career. It wasn’t exactly what middle school me planned, but hey, a lot of middle school plans don’t work out. Once I got older I decided my goal was to play Division one basketball at a school I felt led to. I did a lot of praying with my family and I knew this was the college for me. Even to this day I will tell you that. That was 100% the choice I was supposed to make. I know you’re thinking, wait, didn’t you just say Kentucky was in your blood? Stick with me here. God wouldn’t open those doors until later.
In June 2014 I graduated and moved to Ohio. 2014-2015 was single handily the toughest year of my life. It wasn’t because of the college I was at, either. I was getting free school at a high division one school. I was where I was supposed to be at that time. I was successful on the court. I never knew why I felt the way I did until afterwards. I was at a constant fight with myself. I saw afterwards that year was because God was preparing me for the plans he had for my life. The Bible tells us that even Jesus needed time to grow and increase in wisdom, stature before He was ready to make a global impact through His three-year ministry (Luke 2:52). For me, it was a year of being completely lost and confused about everything, after I thought I had always known who I was. I talked more about my experience at Cincinnati in my older blog posts. If you want to know more about that. Im trying to attach it to my new blog. (This one!) Once the end of the semester hit, I decided everything God had for me in Ohio I had experienced. It was my time to discover what was next.
I spent a month visiting schools. Kentucky was first. I already knew it was where I wanted to go. I knew it was where God wanted me to be. On my tour of campus I was brought into the locker room. I looked at the 13 other numbers on the lockers. 22 was open. I remeber thinking, no way. This has to be a joke. Ketucky has always been my heart and this time it felt right, but the circumstances weren’t ideal. Choosing Kentucky meant I would be the 7th guard on a 14 man roster. Choosing Kentucky meant I would be having to put my pride aside and ask my dad to pay for college, after him planning for 4 years of free college. Choosing Kentucky also meant following God. My whole life I have always been a big contributor on the teams I played for. My dad always jokes, “Cann’s don’t do benches.” Haha. This decision was potentially going to have me sacrifice the way I had always known basketball. I had no idea what my role would look like. I am one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet, so this was tough. They weren’t the perfect circumstances we as humans sometimes wait for. I spent the whole month wrestling with myself. I knew in my heart it was the right place, but logically not so much. Thats the thing I learned, however. God is greater than logic. I eventually decided if following God meant making these sacrifices then I would do it. The decision wasn’t as easy for me as it should have been. Luckily, I have the absolute best dad ever who always encouraged me to follow my dreams and a family who supported me. Then, I did it. I made a huge leap of faith. I walked on at the University of Kentucky with absolutely no idea what would happen next. I mean, I was jumping into something that appeared impossible to do. I kept asking God, You sure this is right? I was given great advice: the more you follow the one who matters the most, the less anyone else matters at all. Most people thought I was a crazy person. Maybe I was.
My redshirt year was everything I could have hoped. The first summer I got here my goal was to be able to call my dad and tell him he didn’t have to pay for school anymore. Im already a competitive person, but this was farther than that. I wanted to be the best I could. Of course, don’t we all? But, I had to prove myself for not only me, but I had to do it for family who made sacrifices for me to make this crazy move. My dad has provided me with so much my whole life, this was the one thing I could give back. After the summer it happened. I cried. I called my dad and told him the news. “Coach gave me a scholarship, dad. You don’t have to pay anymore. Im on scholarship to play basketball at Kentucky..” Coach and I did not know each other extremely well just a few months before this, so it was a huge moment for me. I made sure he knew how thankful I was that he had given me the opportunity and now this. Now we obviously know each other pretty well. It’s cool to reflect on that moment. People ask me about my recruiting process both times pretty often. To be honest, I do not know why things happened the way they did. I do know it was all part of a bigger plan. I have never been happier to call my dad. A scholarship didn’t guarantee playing time so I still had things to achieve and goals to work towards. It did mean, however, that I was finally able to do that for my family. It was also God’s way of showing his faithfulness by reminding me that I had made the right choice in choosing to follow him. “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalms 37:4. The rest of the year I spent doing whatever the team needed. I was mostly on the scout team. My role was seemly small, but everyone in the program made it feel big. Even though I didn’t get to play in a game during the 2015-2016 season due to NCAA transfer rules, I grew immensely.
After the season our team saw our roster fall from 14 to 6. In bizarre fashion, others decided this was not the place for them. I Can’t speak for coach, but I’m sure he would agree it was a difficult time. I have nothing but respect for coach and this program, and it didn’t make sense. I guess sometimes, things just don’t make sense. In May of last year the upcoming season(the one we just finished) had a lot of question about what would happen. I honestly had no idea either. But this wouldn’t be the first time I was going into something that appeared impossible. I had already seen God be faithful in my life. I told coach I was behind him 100%. “I like being the underdog.” I told him.
By october of 2016, we had a staff of four incredily great coaches and a roster of 12 teammates who would grow to be like my sisters. I texted my brother the night before the first game and said I was sick to my stomach so nervous. I said “What if I don’t hit a three all year.” He replied, “LOL you’re being ridiculous.” valid. The next night I went 3-5 from the three point line, so at least my biggest fear was over! haha. Putting on the Kentucky jersey for the first time was a very surreal moment. For the first time it was finally all coming together. It all made sense. They illogical decision I had made a year and a half before suddenly became the best decision i had ever made it my life. I got my first start when we played the University of Louisville, Which we all knew is a very special to any Kentucky kid. A year and a half before if you would have told me I would be starting in the biggest rivalry game in the country I maybe would have called bull. We had a great year this past year. We obviously didn’t want it to end when it did, but we overcame so much more. So to the people ask me how i can sum all this up, I say what I said before. You can’t tell me that wasn’t God. You can’t tell me he isn’t faithful.
I share all of this not to toot my own horn in the least bit. I know none of this was accomplished by me. God only used me to show others him. So thats what I’m doing. Im just a regular kid from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky who God uses to show others how great he is and will continue to be. I was a three star recruit who only had 5 offers, coming from a high school who had never seen a division one girls basketball player come through the school. As Charles Barkely said, I ate at Mcdonald’s rather than was a Mcdonald’s All American. (HA) But hey, David in the Bible was out tending the sheep while his brothers were getting looked at to be the next King. His OWN biological Father didnt see him fit to be a King and didnt think it mattered. We all see how that turned out. He went on to be apart of one of the most legendary stories (David and Goliath) and become a great King. In a way we all can relate to David in some way. So if tending the sheep for awhile, while others are getting royal treatment is what you or I have to do to serve our God then let’s ask for the staff to do so. It doesn’t make you any less, in a way, only that more special. If my path wouldn’t have been exactly how it was I wouldn’t be able to share this story.
Of course this only a small part of what God has for me and theres still work to be done. Gladly, I know someone who has my back. Thank you for reading and getting to know a small part of my life! Middle school plans don’t always work out, but Gods plans always do.