Unable to play, McKenzie impacts team from the bench

Retired senior guard voted team captain before start of season


DES MARKS | Daily Evergreen File

WSU senior Guard Krystle McKenzie looks to pass the ball while avoiding a Boise State University defender.

RYAN BLAKE, Evergreen reporter

WSU women’s basketball senior guard Krystle McKenzie saw an end to her basketball career when she was medically retired by doctors over the summer. It was not the first time.

McKenzie sustained several concussions throughout her early life. She was first medically retired after suffering one at the beginning of her freshman year. However, a second opinion from a specialist gave her another shot, with the caveat that after one more concussion, she would be done for good.

Another concussion in August spelled the end of McKenzie’s on-court career, and she was officially medically retired following advisement from her doctor.

“Telling my team was probably the hardest part,” McKenzie said.

A native of Gold Coast, Australia, McKenzie said she first got in contact with WSU through a former coach who happened to be a former assistant for the men’s team.

She said she was looking for a change of pace from the big-city beach setting, and she embraced the climate and rural atmosphere of Pullman. But what ultimately sold her, she said, was the unitedness and family aspect of the team.

McKenzie redshirted her freshman season with the team and played in just 10 games during her second. Despite limited time on the court, her teammates voted her one of three team captains heading into her third season.

“When I was named team captain it was such a big honor,” McKenzie said. “That is something I don’t take lightly at all. It gave me a whole new responsibility.”

And despite her medical retirement on the court, her teammates voted her captain again heading into the 2017-18 season.

Head Coach June Daugherty said the nomination was well deserved and the correct choice.

“The respect that she has earned from her teammates voting her captain, even though she is not going to play, says volumes about who she is as a person,” Daugherty said.

Not being able to play is especially tough, McKenzie said, as she prefers to lead by example. But she still plans to be a leader for the program off the court. She said her knowledge of the system inside and out allows her to help coaches correct mistakes during practices and games.

McKenzie said her contributions go beyond assisting in the tangible aspect of the game. She said she can keep her teammates accountable in ways that her coaches are not necessarily able to, doing things like making sure they are watching film and asking how they are doing outside of basketball.

She said she has especially taken to helping the freshmen acclimate to their new environment.

Daugherty said McKenzie has “a coach’s eye for the game.” Despite the praise from her coach, McKenzie said she doesn’t plan on pursuing a career in basketball.

Instead, the genetics and cell biology major, with an emphasis on pre-med, plans to take the Australian version of the Medical College Admission Test after graduation this year, and hopes to one day become a surgeon — another reason she and her doctor agreed it was best for McKenzie to retire from the game, she said.

Although it was disappointing to hear she would no longer be able to play, Daugherty said McKenzie will still contribute tremendously from the bench. She said her passion for the game and the team is hard to replicate.

“She’s the ultimate teammate,” Daugherty said. “She’s the ultimate Coug.”