By Jon Garrett
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE "This is the payoff of four years of lots of hard work and dedication."
Those were the words of Copperas Cove basketball coach Kevin Baker on Wednesday morning as he introduced Brittany McKinney to a small gathering of friends, family, coaches and media on hand to watch McKinney sign a letter of intent to continue her career this fall on the Division I level at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.
A three-year member of the Lady Dawgs varsity squad she was a call-up for the playoffs in her freshman year the 6-foot-1 post averaged a double-double in District 13-5A play this season with around 17 points per game and 10 rebounds.
It was that dominant play in the middle, combined with an unbending will that helped the three-sport letterman draw the attention of several colleges this season just two years removed from what could have been a career-ending ACL injury.
The toughness of mind and tenacity it took to rehab from that injury helped set her apart from the pack according to coaches.
"The neat thing about her is that the first time I ever met her, before I even knew who she was, she was in the weight room rehabbing her knee," Baker said. "I could tell she had tremendous drive and commitment."
Varsity assistant John Avritt seconded the observation.
"How hard she works," responded Avritt, when asked what stood out most about McKinney. "She's up here everyday in the summer."
All that extra time in the gym translated to better health and endurance. Over the past two seasons the 17-year-old helped lead the Lady Dawgs to a 48-20 record and back-to-back playoff appearances.
McKinney, a huge Baylor fan, qualified academically for her favorite school but with scholarship opportunities and playing time not likely, considering the loaded roster of the national champs, she chose the Bearkats from a trio of suitors that included North Florida and Northwestern State (La.).
"When I first went down there (to Sam Houston) I didn't think I was going to like it," said McKinney of her eventual choice. "All the girls are really close... I just had a feeling this is where I'm supposed to be.
"I could tell that the team showed an interest in me, not just the coaches. The coaches called me. The girls called. When I went down there I spent 95 percent of my time with the team."
For her parents John and Kimela McKinney it was an emotional scene.
"It was an extremely good feeling (watching her sign)," John, a Fort Hood police officer said.
He added that he knew she might be able to play in college when he saw her transition from junior high basketball to high school under coach Marsha Hammond. For her part, Hammond, a former Lady Dawgs head coach who currently teaches physical education at Ledger Intermediate, said that McKinney had the intangibles down and just needed time to mature.
"When she was a freshman she already knew things our varsity girls didn't know, her fundamentals didn't have to grow but she was immature," she said. "She's probably emotionally the strongest kid they have at the high school now."
One of six siblings, McKinney becomes the second to attend college on an athletic scholarship. Big brother John McKinney Jr. is currently a linebacker for Arizona.
Contact Jon Garrett at firstname.lastname@example.org