Morgan McKinney is Privileged to be Pressured at Bushnell
Ask many student-athletes about their experience at the college level and they’ll mention the pressures they manage through. For Bushnell University’s Morgan McKinney, she’ll remind them that “pressure is a privilege.”
Billie Jean King is the originator of the line, but through the time traveling power of the Internet, it’s been adopted by countless others, including Canadian body builder Chris Bumstead, who first introduced it to McKinney.
A Hockey Family
In her apartment adorned with led lights and hockey sticks, Bushnell University’s Morgan McKinney takes an emotional journey through how she entered the college basketball arena and where she is venturing upon graduation this May.
Before McKinney was even a name on the Lake Oswego, Oregon basketball scene, she began her journey on the ice, decked out in pads, skates and a helmet. Towering over most of the players in the Portland Junior Hockey Association’s boys league, McKinney was a presence in the seventh-grade division and was not afraid to let the boys know she came to play.
“I remember being checked from behind and falling on my face. I got up and we fought,” McKinney said.
“She was pretty big and then you add the pads, and you don’t know the difference between boys and girls with a helmet on,” said David McKinney, her father who also coached her at the time.
“I’ve always been closer to my guy friends and being bigger than most of them at that age, I’d compete against guys in the street and spent a lot of time at the hockey arena,” McKinney said.
When not on the ice, McKinney could often be found playing basketball with the men in the neighborhood.
“She played basketball in the street with the neighborhood guys, and someone suggested it was time for her to get into organized basketball,” David McKinney said.
David enrolled her into a local program and asked the director if she could play with the boys, knowing how aggressive she played. The request was refused, insisting she play with the girls’ league. McKinney found herself having to tone it down because she was too aggressive. The next season, when her dad reached out to the coach to see if McKinney could return, it was made clear that she needed to head into AAU at a more competitive level.
“She blossomed there with girls who were of the same caliber and passion,” David McKinney said.
For several years McKinney carefully balanced both winter sports simultaneously, often putting in long days with 6 a.m. ice time and later practices for basketball. She was often found dozing in the locker room before her 7 a.m. games on the weekends and began to question if she could juggle both much longer.
“Hockey was taxing on my body, when I got to puberty, I realized I couldn’t hold onto both. I was overthinking and it was causing stress on my body as well,” she said, though she knew it was going to be a tough conversation.
“My heart was broken because we’re a hockey family, but he got over it quick,” Morgan McKinney said, remembering her dad pulling over to the side of the highway to have this heart to heart with her.
As McKinney was used to embracing challenges as the only girl in an all-boys hockey league, she would find herself again facing challenges as she entered Lake Oswego High School. She was very different from most of the kids, as the black population in the Portland suburb is almost non-existent.
“I didn’t look like most of the girls in Lake Oswego. I’ve always been a bit more masculine, have always worn men’s clothes and just never fit the female stereotype,” McKinney said.
The college preparatory high school academics were rigorous and McKinney struggled academically as she also questioned if she really belonged in what appeared to be a community that lacked much of anybody who looked like her.
“Anytime families have mixed races, it can be difficult. It took a little bit of time for the community to understand all walks of life, culture and race,” David McKinney said.
“I just kept thinking about how I’m here to help my community and help this program get better and hopefully bring more girls into it,” Morgan McKinney said.
As she entered her senior year, incorporating tutors into her demanding schedule for her SAT’s and some of her core subjects, she was discouraged by quite a few advisers. She was often told that she wouldn’t play ball in the future or be able to attend college because of her struggles with academics.
Despite the trials over her teen years, she stayed true to herself and battled through the adversity, using the old-school grit instilled in her by her dad, finishing out at Lake Oswego. There was more than one steady presence in McKinney’s life to see her through the stormy path of high school.
“My dad is a very good, active listener. He made me feel he was always providing me with wisdom. Also, I was thankful to have such a great coach and teammates who helped my transition,” Morgan McKinney said.
The Diversity She Craved
After listing pros and cons of programs and speaking to multiple coaches, it was time to decide on where to play college basketball and further her education. As programs and coaches reached out, her academic challenges narrowed her options.
“We tried to play it down the middle and manage it from there,” her dad said.
“There was a lot of pressure trying to figure out the right fit for me but pressure is privilege,” Morgan McKinney said.
Meeting the coaches from Bushnell University — the former Northwest Christian University — immediately shifted her focus to the NAIA as she realized it would be a great fit.
“Eugene has more diversity. It was very exciting while also intimidating for me being gay, coming from an all-white family, being adopted, and from a middle-class community. You see more psychological diversity and a different way of experiences I had never seen or had to endure but I craved the difference so much,” Morgan McKinney said.
But college also comes with its growing pains as she adjusted to the demands of college level sports on her body and mind.
“That’s what is so cool about those tough times of adversity that we go through, there’s no basketball practice or game as hard as what I had to endure when I was younger,” Morgan McKinney said.
Bushnell fosters a Tri-Athlete model: student-athletes transform in sports, in the classroom and as Champions of Character. She has shattered records at Bushnell and has set the standard for many future female athletes.
“I’m glad I got to be the first to set the standard and I hope it was enough,” Morgan McKinney said.
McKinney’s career accolades are too long to list and are housed at her childhood home. Yet, the one award that she allows to decorate her apartment is her NAIA All-American Award from her 2019-20 season. During the same season, that honor was also accompanied by WBCA All-America Honor, First-Team All-CCC, CCC Conference Player of the Year and she became Bushnell’s all-time leading scorer with 1,325 career points at that time. The All-American Award is dedicated to her late grandmother who passed earlier that season and the struggle of the loss gave her the motivation to push herself harder than ever before.
Photo Credit - Ty Boespflug
Transparency Leads to Peace
“There’s something powerful about being a woman in sports and you feel your impact significantly,” said Morgan McKinney, reflecting on how much of a voice her sport has given her.
McKinney lives by Billie Jean King’s quote. To be under pressure in anything means that something great is expected of you and that not everyone is given such opportunities. She also recognizes the roads that had to be paved for women’s equality and for LGBTQ+ athletes by trailblazers like King. She learned that being different from others is something to embrace and be open about.
“Whatever sexuality you have within the sports world, just know how powerful your platform is. It’s been a cool experience being a gay athlete because I’ve been able to touch the lives of others,” she said.
After settling into Bushnell, McKinney often had peers knocking on her door or approaching her asking her about how she handled being part of the LGBTQ+ community and how she learned to be comfortable with who she is. The once-insecure teenager, McKinney had now grown to be confident as a gay woman of color and it reflected to others.
“There’s something different about a woman in sports that has the ability to take over and be this dominant presence of a leader with a go mentality and having the same chip on your shoulder as men,” Morgan McKinney said.
The Key to Success
She attributes much of her success to being part of an amazing program of teammates, staff, and professors and of course, her biggest fan, her father. McKinney recognizes the importance of relationships which is modeled by head coach, Chad Meadors, who has been named Cascade Collegiate Conference Coach of the Year two seasons in a row.
“I care about our players, I want to see them improve, I want to see them do well and model the hard work that we put in,” Meadors said.
He said his staff takes pride in knowing that they are demonstrating the expectations of the team by working hard and being well prepared for practices and games. It trickles down through the players, especially McKinney.
“Coach Meadors is a very genuine human being that cares so deeply for others, is so dedicated and puts everything he has into it and that’s why we have so much success,” McKinney said.
Originally, Meadors was interested in recruiting McKinney during his time as head coach at Lower Columbia College. McKinney and Meadors were later reunited at Bushnell when he arrived as head coach in 2018.
“It worked out, I’m glad I didn’t get her (at LCC),” Meadors said.
McKinney brings leadership to her team by her rooted belief in the program. Even though she has set records and racked up honors and awards, she is focused on another conference tournament championship with her team this season and going out with a bang. She is concentrating on assists, her defense and being a good teammate.
“She’s not about the accolades, even though I tell her she should hang onto them and feel proud,” David McKinney said. It’s at these moments McKinney tells him: “Look, those are outcomes. At tip-off, I just go to work and at the final buzzer, it’s the end of the workday.”
McKinney was initially hungry to be the best, chasing records. But as she has matured into her fifth season, has become more comfortable with who she is and the decisions she is making on and off the court.
“I’ve really had to step up defensively this season and I’ve really learned to enjoy it a lot,” McKinney said. “I love passes, especially the crazy no-looker. When I’m on the right block and I’m in a Barkley, they come and double-team me, and I just hook pass to Aspen (Slifka) or Bella (Pedrojetti) because I know they’re going to knock it down.”
“I’m comfortable with the decisions Morgan makes. We win because we have good players who work hard, are coachable, are willing to grow and get out of their comfort zone and they allow coaching,” Meadors said.
Beacons of Light
The Beacons shine a bright light in their relationships not only in their program but also in the community. At every home game, you will hear the cheers from their biggest fans from the Eugene-Springfield Special Olympics who enjoy their own section behind the bench.
“Those are my people who get fist bumps before every game. They shoot free-throws for free popcorn during half-time and come do a clinic with us yearly with both the men’s and women's basketball teams,” McKinney said.
“They’ve adopted us, and we’ve adopted them. We get to spend time together and we support them, and they return it by coming to all of our games,” Meadors said.
McKinney smiles and becomes teary-eyed as she reminisces of her last five years at Bushnell and in her choice to play in the NAIA over other options. Meadors prides himself in putting relationships first.
“I tell all of my players that at the end of your four years and down the road you should be able to invite me to your wedding. If I haven’t done my job correctly, and I haven’t gotten an invite, then I haven’t developed that relationship in the right way.”
“At this level all we have is each other, what we have is the same passion for the same goals,” McKinney said.
McKinney credits the structure of the NAIA and Beacons program with giving her more opportunities to grow as a player and person that she couldn’t have achieved in a different division. The ability to play from the beginning of her freshman year allotted her the experience she needed and helped build her confidence in herself and her program. Many talented teammates from McKinney’s high school and AAU teams who went a different route never touched the court in their college programs.
“I think it was the best decision Morgan made in aligning with the CCC. If we had to do it all over again, we wouldn’t change a thing,” David McKinney said.
“The NAIA allows you time to find yourself, you just want to go somewhere that you’re wanted, and you feel appreciated. Trust me, you’ll know that feeling when you get there,” Morgan McKinney said.
A Winning Program
Bushnell’s Beacons are rattling things up in the CCC this season again after taking the last two conference titles. Currently 17-11 overall and focused on ball-pressure, they create chaos in opponents to make quick decisions. Defensively-oriented, their offense matches with a deep bench of nine compared to many other leagues that may have four deep and the remaining bench as role players.
“The defense flows the offense,” said Meadors, “If we press the way we need to, get the stops and trap the way we need to, our offense will come.”
The Beacons are currently ranked fourth in the CCC and have clinched a playoff berth for the upcoming tournament in just a few short weeks after splitting between their two recent encounters with rivals Eastern Oregon University and Southern Oregon University. They are statistically first in blocking with an average of 4.5 shots per game, and unsurprisingly second in field goal percentages (42%) and third in three pointers made averaging 7.3 per game.
Leaders like Aspen Slifka, who averages 15.2 ppg and their top 3-point shooter, Bella Pedrojetti who is 43% from the arc are joined by the strength of Morgan Mckinney leading the Beacons in field goals averaging 50% per game as well as leading in rebounds with an average of 6.7 per game. Up-and-coming sophomore Aly Mirabele has led in assists averaging four per game. However, with the strength of this team, these stats swap weekly among much of the talent in their program.
Putting the Ball Down
McKinney took advantage of her fifth year in a unique way by challenging herself to complete her Master’s in Leadership in one year. She graduated with her Bachelor’s in criminal psychology with a minor in criminal justice in May of 2021, then two days later headed to classes to tackle her master’s program.
“I’m a pretty productive person and I enjoy the fast pace. To be able to graduate and end my athletic career at the same time and not have to go back feels great,” she said.
McKinney has decided that it is time to put the ball down and move on to the next chapter. She has turned down multiple offers to play professionally and to become part of a coaching staff. She is open to any possibility in the future, thinking about returning to her roots in hockey in a managerial role or even taking on the corporate world.
McKinney said she will miss the weekend sleepovers with her dad after college. They spend many home game weekends bonding at her apartment and enjoying Eugene. As she is approaching the end of her college basketball career, she knows it will be difficult on her and especially her dad, as she sees the joy in his face courtside.
“His favorite thing is to watch me play and to move on is hard for me, but as much as I love this game, I haven’t found my favorite thing yet,” she said.
Passing on the Torch
McKinney recognizes that being a college athlete has a different level of work ethic and that it translates well into the workforce and other aspects of life. She has overcome challenges and as she believes that pressure is privilege, she is looking forward to embracing whatever privilege may come her way next.
“I’m just trying to be present and take advantage of these opportunities as they are presented to me,” she said.
After leading the Beacons in every statistical category and being a leader to teammates and peers, she leaves behind a legacy at Bushnell and in Eugene. As she departs her college career, Mckinney speaks out loud to her 14-year-old self.
“To all the young female athletes, work hard. Have that mentality to work hard and appreciate the game, what it means to be disciplined and have a grind mentality, even on the days you think you didn’t get better, but you worked hard and you did,” Morgan McKinney said
“Morgan is ready for the world and I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s going to do next. She’s well-rounded and ready to take on the next challenge outside of basketball,” Meadors said.
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