Owyhee’s Macee McKinney-Cota (Shoshone-Paiute) primed to shine at Benedictine University Mesa
First Nation's Focus
In 2005, a 3-year-old ball of energy named Macee first picked up a basketball on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee, a dot of a town tucked in northeastern Nevada near the Idaho border. Not much bigger than the orange sphere cradled in her hands, Macee was getting her first taste of competition during a local youth tournament.
Fifteen years later, that young Shoshone-Paiute girl, Macee McKinney-Cota, has yet to put the basketball down.
The only difference: The soon-to-be 18-year-old is no longer starring on courts in the Silver State. She’s now on the hardwoods of Arizona, putting in preseason work for the Benedictine University at Mesa women’s basketball team.
“I’m sad to leave home, but there are greater things outside of the reservation that will help me,” McKinney-Cota said in a phone interview with First Nation’s Focus. “It’s a new start, a new chapter in my life, and I’ve been preparing for it.”
Making her mark
Indeed, playing college basketball is a dream McKinney-Cota began reaching for since her freshman season at Owyhee. Playing point guard, McKinney-Cota averaged 10 points and two assists in her debut for the Braves. What’s more, the standout freshman helped lead Owyhee to the 2016 state championship, scoring 12 points in a 61-54 wins over rival McDermitt.
“It really just opened my eyes to how much I could accomplish and do as long as I put my heart and mind into it,” McKinney-Cota said. “My freshman year is when I decided I wanted to take further steps in pursuing basketball and my education after high school.”
It showed. A year later, as a sophomore, McKinney-Cota poured in 19.5 points per game and dished out 2.6 assists a night, helping steer the Braves to their second straight state title.
Despite being a two-time state champ after two years in high school, McKinney-Cota wasn’t satisfied. From dribbling outside of her house at all hours of the day to playing in offseason tournaments with older women from her tribe, the Owyhee could almost always be found with a basketball in her hands.
Just ask her mother, Terri Ann Cota.
“We live off of a dirt road and at the end of it is pavement,” Ann Cota told First Nation’s Focus. “This girl, during the offseason, even during the summers, you’d find her down there, running and dribbling. She did that as young as I can remember, practicing her skills. She’s a pretty dedicated young lady.”
As a junior, McKinney-Cota, already an explosive scorer, had a breakout defensive campaign. Though often the smallest player on the court, she averaged 7.1 rebounds per game, which ranked fifth in the league, to go along with 1.9 steals.
Additionally, she continued to be a handful for opposing defenses, posting 18.6 points and 2.6 assists an outing. Her sophomore and junior outings earned the point guard consecutive all-league first-team selections.
Moreover, she garnered the attention of a few college basketball teams, including Benedictine University at Mesa, which competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
After one visit to BenU’s campus, McKinney-Cota was sold.
“The first time I went there I just loved it,” she said. “Not only because of the town of Mesa, which is right by Phoenix, but the team and the coaches were really helpful there, too. They really liked my attitude on and off the court.
“I got to practice with them and watch one of their games. Their style of play is like how I like to play — it’s really fast-paced.”
McKinney made her decision to attend BenU official in December 2018 when she signed a national letter of intent to play for the Redhawks.
“I am completely excited,” said McKinney-Cota, who plans to study psychology while at BenU.
Adding to her excitement: McKinney-Cota’s former teammate and cousin, Kaylani Smartt, a 2018 Owyhee graduate, is a rising sophomore on the team. Smartt appeared in one game as a freshman for the Lady Redhawks, who finished with a 10-13 overall record and a 6-8 mark in the California Pacific Conference last year.
“We’ve been playing basketball since elementary school,” McKinney-Cota said of Smartt. “We always talked about wanting to win a state title for high school. But, I don’t think we ever thought we’d be going to college still playing basketball.”
Breaking the mold
Quite simply, prior to turning the heads of BenU’s coaches, McKinney-Cota didn’t think play college basketball was an option.
Growing up on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, which population hovers around 1,000, McKinney-Cota was accustomed to being part of a small Native community amid family and friends. It was a comfort zone she saw many people stay settled in through college and beyond. In fact, outside of her elder cousin, Smartt, she had never heard of anybody from her Shoshone-Paiute Tribe playing basketball after high school.
“The reservation really kind of humbled me, especially as I started getting older,” she said. “It just shaped me to really focus on myself and believe in myself whether people believe in you or not. Because it doesn’t matter what others think of you — it’s just what you think of yourself and how you want to be better for yourself.”
All the while, she received heaps of support and encouragement from her family members, none more than her mother, Terri Ann Cota, her father, Manfred McKinney, and brother, Chance McKinney.
“Not a lot of kids have a good support system at home, so my family is really encouraging both on my mom and my dad’s side,” she said.
Added Teri Ann Cota: “She’s had a lot of good influences in her life, so I’m hoping that she does well (in college).”
McKinney-Cota is already planning to give back to her hometown and be a positive influence for young girls like she once was — even the 3-year-old balls of energy hitting the court for the first time. Following her freshman year at BenU, the former Owyhee Brave said she plans to hold a youth basketball camp next summer.
“I know I need to have more experience to do better as a role model,” she said. “Because a lot of the younger kids, they’re always like, ‘Macee! Macee! Macee!’ And they always want to play basketball with me. Even though they’re really young, I always still help them out and encourage them.”
On Oct. 15, Hung A Lel Ti Chairman Irvin Jim Jr. spoke at the dedication of a five-mile stretch of Highway 88 from the California state line in Alpine County to veterans of the Vietnam War.