By Tom Bone
For The Register-Herald
McKenzie Akers is a very popular basketball player. The most recent evidence:
— The Princeton Senior High School senior chose from among 13 colleges and universities that wanted her to play for them.
— Forty-two people stopped by the school’s media center on Friday morning to witness her signing to play for Marshall University.
“It’s crazy,” she said. “I got a little teared up with this many people here. It makes me feel very good, because I guess they’re happy for me. And I feel happy, too.
“It feels awesome to know where I’m going to go. It’s kind of overwhelming, to sign a piece of paper (that determines) the next four years of my life, but I’m very excited. I’m blessed, that I know where I’m going to go.
“I feel like a hundred-pound weight is lifted off my shoulders.” she said.
Now, she said she will be able “to play free, and play with my team, and hopefully go upstate this year.”
Akers is a first-team all-state guard who coolly directs the Tigers on the floor, and fires them up with her no-holds-barred competitiveness. She has already passed 1,000 points in her high school career.
Her head coach at Princeton, Debbie Ball, said proudly, “It takes hard work to get where you’re going. ... I think this was a good pick for McKenzie.”
Akers is in the first recruiting class of the new women’s basketball coach at Marshall, Matt Daniel.
He said in a press release on Friday, “McKenzie Akers was so excited that she wanted her mom to send the letter-of-intent in early so that she could be the first one. Those are the types of student-athletes that we want at Marshall.”
He said his initial recruiting class “is the start of a foundation that we will be able to hang our hat on for years to come, provided that they handle everything that they are supposed to do academically and in accordance to NCAA.”
Akers’ father, Ernie, said, “I know she’s worked hard to be ready for this day.” He said, “There were 13 schools we were interested in, and they were making offers. Marshall was just the right fit.”
Akers’ mother, Lori, said, “The coach is awesome, he’s wonderful. ... When we first heard about Marshall, (McKenzie) said, ‘Oh, my gosh, Mom, that would be my dream.’ ”
McKenzie’s older sister, Tesla Akers, is in her senior year as a basketball player for Ferrum College in Virginia. She helped her sister evaluate her playing options.
“This new coach seems to really know what he’s doing,” Tesla Akers said.
McKenzie Akers said that a key factor in choosing a college was the chance to play right away. “I told them (at Marshall) I didn’t want to come if I didn’t get to play,” she said. “They said that they expected me to shoot the ball more, so to be practicing my shot.”
Asked about Daniel, she said, “I really like his energy, and how excited he is about it.”
Also present on Friday were two of her AAU coaches, Gale Moore of the Roanoke Star and Kyle Sheffield Sr. of the D-1 Greyhounds based in Huntington.
Sheffield said that when Akers joined his team last year, “She already had a high IQ. What we concentrated on was more focused on elevating her confidence and letting her know she can play at this level.”
“She’s going to be super,” Sheffield predicted.
Moore said that she played “a year up,” with students about a year older than she was. He said, “When you’ve got great God-given talent, and a great work ethic, it goes hand-in-hand to become someone special.”
He said Akers was “like a sponge. She wanted to know everything. She of course learned about the guard position, but she was very interested in knowing what the post players were doing and why.”
Akers said about the contributions of her coaches past and present, “Oh, gosh, without them I wouldn’t be sitting in here and signing with Marshall. My high school coaches push me every day, and they expect so much out of me. My AAU (coaches) put up with me all summer.”
Last season, Akers averaged 20.5 points per game, 4.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 3.3 steals. She made first-team all-state and All-Mountain State Athletic Conference, and was runner-up in West Virginia Player of the Year balloting.
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