January 1, 2015

McKinney changed himself and a program

Kevin McCarthy

Mikh McKinney, the Sacramento State standout guard, confesses that he didn't always make good decisions in his younger days. “I had a lot of growing up to do,” he offered. Yet, the two individuals he chose to work with in the perilous world of college basketball were spot-on selections, imperative to him getting to where he is today.

photo of Mikh McKinney

Coming out of Fremont's Washington High in 2009-11, McKinney displayed the ability to get and make his own shot. There was a degree of flamboyance in his game and he always appeared to be having a good time as if the court was his sweet spot in life. As a senior, he averaged 21.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game and was named first team all-Mission Valley Athletic League.

However “bites” from college coaches were lacking. It was surprising at the time but not now as McKinney reflected. “Coming out of high school, I wanted to play [collegiately]. I knew I could play. But I lacked the discipline, the all around work ethic. I had a lot of maturing to do.”

Rather than pout or curse the unfairness of the basketball gods, McKinney mapped out another route. “My Dad had this plan for me to grayshirt a year [at a community college] and then play a year before transferring. I wanted to have three seasons of eligibility in order to maximize my potential.”

For background, McKinney's father comes from the coaching fraternity. “My Pops coached at Los Medanos College when I was in elementary school and then at Cal State Monterey Bay when I was an eighth grader and freshman.” Phranklin McKinney was also the head coach of the Richmond Rockets of the American Basketball Association for the 2011-2012 season.

The family got together with then Ohlone College Coach John Peterson and matters clicked. McKinney recalled, “Coach P was okay with the plan, he wasn't about just using me to get his team better. I definitely got a good feeling when he was recruiting me. He didn't do anything special for me. He knew what I needed and told me to listen and work hard and I would be great.”

That was the beginning of a transformation.

“Coach P held me responsible for my actions on and off the court. I hadn't played in a structured environment and he coached me hard on the court. There was no sliding, no getting away with anything. What I got from him is life lessons.”

After sitting out a season, McKinney then officially got back on the court in 2011-12. Putting up 14.0 points, 3.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds a contest while shooting 53%, 41% and 80% respectively, he earned first team all-state and first team all-Coast Conference honors.

“The funny thing is I wasn't getting [recruiting] calls. No one from the WAC, the WCC or the Big West. No one was heavily recruiting me. The coaches could see my stats but I didn't pass the look test. I was 6-foot-1, 150 at the time.”

What he was hearing from a few schools was the opportunity to come to campus for an evaluation. “It was to see if they wanted me.”

That process didn't sit well because it made McKinney feel more like an afterthought. Then Sacramento State and Coach Brian Katz came into the picture.

“Coach K and I had a real good talk before he ever offered me. I built a relationship with him. There was no BS, no lines, just straight up this is how we run things. He made me feel wanted, I got a good vibe from that. I felt I could trust him. Coach P also felt Sacramento State would be a good fit for me.”

McKinney became a Hornet.

The original thinking was that McKinney's 2012-13 role would be providing relief at the point since Dylan Garrity was averaging over 35 minutes a game. However, a pact of sorts was made. “Coach K said if I proved to be one of the best players then I would play more. I worked hard and he stuck to his word.” To the tune of 29 starts and just under 31 minutes a game, he provided 12.2 points, 3.3 boards and 2.6 assists alongside Garrity.

Then in 2013-14, McKinney made history as the very first Sacramento State basketball player named unanimously to the Big Sky Conference's first team, based on his output of 16.6 points, 4.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds an outing.

Now as a senior, he recently put together a line of 21 points, three assists and six steals in a victory over Cal State Fullerton followed by 32 points, eight assists, seven rebounds plus seven steals in a loss to Portland.

“I've grown as a leader—a lot has changed in my game. Coach K gave me the opportunity to learn how to run a team. I wasn't much of a leader in my first year, just pretty much a scorer with not too many assists. Now I'm able to read screens and be more of a maestro. My talent was always there but it was raw talent.”

McKinney continued, “Dylan [Garrity] leads by example. He's quiet and calm, very poised. I'm vocal and passionate. He calms me down so I don't get drunk with emotion. We're completely different people but we can't do it without each other. He does it his way, I do it my way.”

“It's a blessing to get school paid for,” McKinney said. “A lot of people aren't as fortunate I might not have gone to college without basketball.” Now, he'll be graduating in the spring with a degree in sociology.

Especially eloquent in describing his connection to hoops, McKinney explained, “Basketball is like a form of expression, it takes me away so I'm not thinking about homework and teachers. All that matters when I step on the court is the next two hours. It's my passion and it has always been the best time. It's my craft and I'm trying to perfect it—I kind of got addicted to it. I want to play until my legs fall off.”

Both his personal and basketball transformation were critical components to the metamorphosis of Sacramento State basketball. Program changers are few and far between but that is the honor McKinney has earned.