By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Talent made Macy Keen a high school star, but hard work is what she needs to make a successful transition to college basketball.
A two-time state champion at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Keen was rated as high as the 37th-best player in the country as a senior. She was recruited by Florida State, South Florida and Tulsa before deciding to stay close to home and play for the Hurricanes, but her brief time at Miami has not gone the way most top recruits would expect.
Keen has played in just five of Miami's first nine games this season, averaging only 7.2 minutes per game.
"It's been tough on me," Keen said. "But I've just got to keep my head up and keep fighting to reach my goal."
That goal is to be a contributor, and eventually a star, for the Hurricanes. But Keen has a lot of work to do before she can fulfill her goal.
"I think it's a matter of getting to know so many plays," Keen said. "In high school, you get like six plays and here we have like 100 plays."
Assistant coach Octavia Blue can see the frustration in Keen at times, but she knows the 6-foot-6 center will fight through the tough transition and be better for it.
"I think every freshman is having that tough transition from high school to college," Blue said. "It's just a matter of Macy working on her skills, getting stronger and being able to process a lot. Sometimes it's hard for a student-athlete to come in and remember so many plays and defensive schemes. "
Keen acknowledges that she is behind when it comes to learning Miami's large playbook. But she is putting in extra time with Blue to make sure she is ready when head coach Katie Meier calls her name.
"I do a lot of film study with her and stuff on the court," Blue said. "When she's not in, I have her stand next to me and talk her through different schemes. It's a learning process, but she's handling it."
Beyond working with a Miami legend like Blue, Keen is very close to team captain Shawnice "Pepper" Wilson.
"Pepper helps me out a lot," Keen said. "She helps me learn the plays and in practice. I look up to her for everything."
The two forged a strong bond when Keen committed to the Hurricanes and now they consider themselves sisters.
"I didn't know her prior to her committing here, but once she got here, she and I became close," Wilson said. "She calls me her 'big sister.' We just developed a really good relationship off the court. I look at her like a sister, too."
Wilson is the perfect role model for Keen because she was in a similar situation as a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. She was a highly-rated recruit who struggled to adjust to the college game just like Keen is experiencing now.
"I told her that it's not going to be an easy transition to come from high school into college," Wilson said. "I tell her to relax and not stress too much. She looks at me now and thinks I was always a big player, but I wasn't. I let her know that when I first came into college, my freshman and sophomore years weren't like the last two. She is not the only person who is going through this and I tell her that it will get better. I like to show her that we've all gone through it, but it gets better with time."
Blue, who was a two-time All-American and Miami's first WNBA draft pick, believes Wilson is the perfect player for Keen to follow.
"Pepper's work ethic is right where it needs to be," Blue said. "You take her in an individual workout and she is excellent. She has really good fundamental skills in terms of footwork and things like that. When I run post drills, I'll have Macy come in with Pepper so Macy can follow her lead. It's one thing for me to say something, but it's easier sometimes when you can see it run properly, you can understand it easier."
Beyond learning what to do on the court, Blue believes Wilson can be beneficial to Keen's development off the court, as well.
"I talk to Pepper quite a bit about being a mentor to Macy," Blue said. "I'm a coach and you don't always want to hear things from a coach. With Pepper being mature and a senior, I think she is a great mentor for her."
Keen is always around Wilson. Like any big sister, Wilson is aware that Keen looks up to her and she is always careful to set a good example for the freshman.
"Macy hangs on to almost every word I say," Wilson said. "I make sure that I am particular about what I tell her and make sure that I give her the right information to take in. Gradually, she is understanding it. She's a student of the game that wants to learn. She takes any type of coaching, whether it's from one of the coaches or from the players. She is very motivated and works hard. She gives us a lot of energy on and off the court."
Keen hopes to follow in Wilson's footsteps and become the Canes' starting center next season. As much as she is excited for the opportunity, she admits that she will miss one of her closest friends after Wilson graduates.
"I like playing with Pepper because I'm going to run into taller girls as my career goes on," Keen said. "Playing with Pepper in practice is making me better. I'm really looking forward to playing next year but I'm going to miss her."
Wilson is confident that Keen has the potential to be a great player. She just needs to continue to work on improving her game.
"I tell Macy all the time that she can have a great career here," Wilson said. "She can be way more successful than I have the past couple of years just because of her athletic ability and her quickness for her size. I can see her being very successful as long as she continues to work hard and put in the extra work with our coaches like she is doing now. She's just got to stay committed."
Commitment to excellence is something Keen is adamant about. She is putting in extra work outside of practice with Blue and Wilson to make sure she continues to develop as a player.
"I feel like I just need to keep working," Keen said. "I'm getting some minutes now and I've been working hard. I've just got to get better."
Blue has seen Keen progress in their individual workouts. She hopes that will translate to the practice court and eventually to games.
"It's just a matter of confidence," Blue said. "I've seen Macy do things in the individual workouts that she doesn't bring every day in practice. I tell her all the time that she will get her confidence from coming in and doing extra work because if you know what you're doing behind the scenes then you'll feel comfortable on the floor knowing that you put the work in. I see glimpses all the time of what she can be. I know her schedule is full, but I tell her to get in the gym whenever she can because it is only going to help her."
While most recognize that Keen is going through a trying time in her basketball career, Blue believes Keen's personal struggles have not affected her willingness to help the team. In fact, Blue feels Keen's positive attitude during a difficult time is what will ultimately help her succeed and become a great player.
"Macy's intensity and energy are special," Blue said. "One thing about that kid is she's a great teammate. She cheers everyone on. She has a motor. She has the tools. She can run and she plays with a lot of energy. She has a chance to be a player for us."