When discussing great Auburn women, especially in the game of basketball, names such as Vickie Orr, Ruthie Bolton, Chantel Tremitiere and Alli Smalley are top of many people’s lists. These women exemplified not only stellar performances on the court but also were natural born leaders, gaining respect from their coaches and teammates. Today, point guard Janiah McKay is following the footsteps of these greats to extend the legacy of Auburn women’s basketball.
McKay was introduced to basketball at an early age.
“I started at three or four," McKay said. "It was just me interrupting my cousin and my brother playing basketball at our grandparent’s house.”
What started out as a backyard activity during family time paved a road for something McKay could seriously pursue. McKay was good, and she soon took Florida high school women’s basketball by storm.
During her junior year at Gainesville High School, she averaged 23.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, leading her team to a 27-3 record and a spot in the regional finals. That year, she was named second team All-State, Player of the Year in Alachua County, and Gainesville Sun Player of the Year.
During her senior year, McKay averaged 24.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game, and was named Florida Class 6A Player of the Year. ESPN ranked McKay as the No. 31 point guard in the country. Recruiters started to take notice, and McKay’s goal of furthering her basketball career was becoming a reality. It was just a matter of where.
“The process was a lot once I started getting recruited,” McKay said. “My parents let me make my own decision, and figure out what school fit me the best.”
From the pool of offers McKay received, she knew where she wanted her next home would be.
“Being from Gainesville, a small college town, Auburn feels just like I am home," McKay said. "I love the family aspect, and you just feel it in the atmosphere anytime you’re walking around campus.”
McKay made an immediate impact her first year on the Plains. As a freshman, she played in all 33 games, 19 of them as a starter at the point guard position. McKay averaged 9.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game while playing 27.1 minutes per night.
She scored double-digit points 13 times during the 2015-2016 season and helped the Tigers land a spot in the postseason NCAA tournament. In the first round of the tournament, McKay scored 24 points along with four assists and three steals, in a 68-57 victory by the Tigers over St. John's.
As a sophomore last season, McKay started all 32 games. She was the Tigers’ third-leading scorer averaging 12.9 points per game along with 3.4 assists, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.3 steals. In an impressive season, she had six 25+ point performances.
She enters her junior year with 185 assists, just two away from Auburn’s top 30.
Even with her impressive resume, Auburn is allowing McKay to continue learning about basketball.
“I’ve learned so much about defense,” McKay said. “I definitely chose Auburn to challenge myself defensively, and paying attention to the small details, defensively and offensively, has definitely made me a better point guard. I have learned so much from my freshman year to junior year.”
Being a point guard for the team, there is always a spotlight on McKay to be a leader on the court. Helping the team keep its structure is a job required for all guards to succeed.
“The most important skill to have as a point guard is knowing and understanding your personnel,” said McKay. “I think it’s my job to understand what all of my teammates’ strengths and weaknesses are, and making sure they are getting the ball where they feel the most comfortable and be the most effective.
McKay is an on-court coach, communicating plays between head coach Terry Williams-Flournoy and her teammates.
“[My job] is to be an extension of Coach Flo,” McKay said. “We have a really good relationship, and I know that when I’m out there on the court, she trusts that I’m going to make the best decision. Whether it’s the beginning of the shot clock or at the end, she trusts to have the ball in my hand, and that I am thinking like her."
As McKay and the rest of the Auburn women are preparing to start the new season, they recognize that their team is much different than the season before. However, the mentality of the team still remains the same.
“This team is obviously different," McKay said. “Losing Brandy [Montgomery] and Khady [Dieng] were definitely huge for us, but I think this year we just have to constantly play together and perform in our individual roles the best way that we can, staying composed and knowing that what we do will never change. We are always going to be defensive, and we are always going to be aggressive.”
McKay, as an upperclassman, could definitely feel the pressure on her shoulders, but McKay and Coach Flo are not focused on record-breaking numbers.
“She’s a point guard,” Flournoy said. “A point guard is very selfless. Whether she had a good game, bad game, her job is to lead and motivate the team, run the team. Her role really hasn’t changed."
“Coach Flo has told me that she didn’t want me to take all this pressure like I have to average 30 points per game," McKay said. "If I put my teammates in the best position and just do my job, we are going to win games."
Auburn women’s basketball is made up of closely bound players that all share the Auburn spirit.
“Our culture is definitely effort and energy,” McKay said. “Every time we step on the court, we are going to play with high energy and leave everything we have on the court. We take pride in what we do.
“We’ve been building around ‘A Team of Excellence’, Flournoy said. “If fans see ‘TOE’ that’s what it is. You’re always going to see us play hard, that’s a given. But there’s a certain swag we’re trying to build upon and that’s being excellent, on and off the court.”
The women’s basketball seasons starts on Monday, Nov. 13 in Blacksburg, Virginia as the Tigers face Virginia Tech.