Kyla one

Second year head coach Rebecca Tillett gives instruction to freshman guard Kyla McMakin in the Lancers' November 16 victory over Brown University. She had 16 points that night and has been a constant scoring threat for the team all season long. 

In her career at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, Kyla McMakin scored nearly 2,000 points (1,990 to be exact) and grabbed over 1,000 rebounds, but there was only one problem, it was starting to get late in the recruiting process and she had yet to commit to a school to continue her playing career. Sure, she had offers, and even ones from other schools in the Commonwealth, but she was still on the search for that perfect fit.

“I thought of going closer near home, like ODU (Old Dominion University). I had one from JMU (James Madison University), like that…” said McMakin. 

Now enter Longwood and second year head coach Rebecca Tillett, who, alongside her coaching staff and returning players, were looking to rebuild a struggling program and find players who fit the mold of what the new regime expected to form a championship-winning culture.

Tillett tells the story of how the two became connected with a smile on her face to this very day, because, simply, fate is a crazy thing. 

“She (Associate Head Coach and Recruiting Coordinator, Tiffany Sardin) was calling about other players. She wasn’t calling about Kyla McMakin. And great recruiters ask the question to coaches of ‘is there anyone else I should know about?’, and that coach said ‘there’s this kid at Ocean Lakes, Kyla McMakin, (I’m) really not sure why she’s not signed yet’,” said Tillett.

After the outside recommendation, an assistant coach was sent to see one of McMakin’s games, adding to the team's interest. Impressed by the information relayed, Tillett made the decision to drive up to Virginia Beach to see the star player in action. 

It was McMakin’s senior night, and after the festivities, it only took six minutes of game time for Tillett to ask nearly the same question which the recommender had asked, “How is Kyla McMakin still available this late in the season?”

“You could feel the love of her game, already. Her rebounding in that game was special. And her versatility, just what she could do with the ball in her hands,” Tillett added. 

She mentioned calling Sardin after nearly eight minutes of the game to say she would be offering that night, over the phone and that she felt McMakin could do “great things” at Longwood. 

The feeling was mutual for Kyla, and she said she was attracted to Longwood from the first visit, coupled with the “empowering” demeanor from Tillett. 

“When she talked to me, she didn’t talk to me scared to say ‘championship’ or stuff like that,” said McMakin. “She talked to me with so much confidence, and everyone had so much confidence.”

McMakin felt the program was moving toward a championship mindset, due to the pieces who had been recruited newly to the team, along with the players already in place inside of the program, and therefore decided to join the team.

After she moved to Farmville in the summer time, the real work began for the freshman. She said playing pickup games with her teammates outside of practice was the first real indicator of the change of skill level in Division I. 

“In high school you come from being ‘you can take this whole team on by yourself’  to ‘you need to watch everyone, because anyone will take you to the basket’, so that’s when I was like ‘Wow, this is Division I basketball’, it felt good and I loved playing with other great players,” said McMakin. 

One of those players whom she joined in this journey, and met over the summer is junior transfer point guard Tra’Dayja Smith, who was also new to the team. Smith said those summer days were crucial to the development of team chemistry. 

“We spent so many days in the gym just getting up shots and then practicing,” said Smith. “I just knew she was good because she had 1,000 rebounds and almost 2,000 points in high school. So I knew she was an elite scorer for us and I want to give her the ball at any time.”

Through the preseason, Tillett said she saw a player with “an innate, competitive, fire that’s always burning.” She said there are only certain players that never want to lose anything they do, and McMakin is one of those players.

McMakin said while she is on the court, there is an all-business approach and exchanging pleasantries can come after the game. She added that she in-part modeled her basketball mindset after the late Kobe Bryant, who recently passed away in a tragic helicopter crash. 

"When we're on the court, you're my enemy. Afterwards I'll shake your hand and tell you 'good game, you played a great game', but on the court we're about near ready to fight," said McMakin.

But at the end of the day, practice repetitions are not game repetitions, and it was finally time for McMakin to show off her skills for all to see in the team’s opening contest against a daunting James Madison (JMU) team, all the way back in November 2019. 

When receiving the Dukes’ scouting report beforehand, McMakin admitted there were butterflies.

“I look at it and I see senior, senior senior {sic} and I was so scared and nervous,” she said. “And I was like ‘who am I?’ as a freshman to go out and guard a top kid senior.”

Now looking back, she said she can barely remember the game due to the fast nature of play, but despite this, she led the team in scoring with 17 points. 

Fast forward to today, it’s no longer a surprise to hear the freshman leading the team in scoring in a particular game, as she’s accomplished the feat in seven of the team’s 19 games to this point. For greater measure, she currently is second in the Big South Conference in points per game, averaging 17.1.

This statistic, along with McMakin being near the top of the league in many other areas has led to her being named Big South Freshman of the Week on five different occasions.

A stellar feat which is almost becoming commonplace each time the award recipient is announced. 

Tillett appreciates the constant effort given for the accomplishments and said it’s “incredible” that McMakin is able to maintain the play to receive the recognition. However, she knows the freshman has bigger plans for the team as a whole. 

“She would way rather win a game than get a Player of the Week honor, and when you’re around people like that, they are going to help elevate everybody around them because they care so much about the team,” said Tillett. 

Moving throughout the rest of the season, McMakin still said she has room for growth in a few areas to make herself a more well-rounded player. 

“Probably defensively and internally. I’ve sort of been able to bounce back after a poor performance shooting, but I want to be able to bounce back after getting shot on, or bounce back after (asking) ‘why didn’t I get a foul call?’ and I still struggle with that,” said McMakin. “Defensively, just moving (and) being faster. One of my biggest things that I want to be is an all-around player. I want to be able to score on one end and then come down and get a stop on the other. That’s a big deal for me.” 

As the team moves into the second half of Big South Conference play, Tillett said seeing every team a second time around will be a challenge for McMakin. 

“Teams prep for you, and you see that in conference play. So when you go from non-conference to conference, generally, player’s numbers don’t stay as high, their percentages, because conference teams prep better,” said Tillett. “Now everybody knows her, and they are going to game plan for her.”

As a student-athlete, the college experience isn’t solely about athletics, and when McMakin isn’t under the bright lights of Willett Hall, she loves to spend time working with computers, as she is a Computer Science major here at Longwood. 

“I actually want to build a computer. I love computers and it’s kind of like a big part of me,” said McMakin. I just like the technology part of it and how everything could be connected through technology.” 

Tillett said she feels McMakin will have a professional career one day if she wants one, but knows the freshman is 100 percent focused on the here and now and, along with her teammates, is chasing the goal of a Big South Conference championship.

The next contest for Kyla and the Lancers will come on February 4, as they travel to Asheville, North Carolina to take the Bulldogs from UNC Asheville. 

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