Kayla McBride has battle scars of an All-American

McBride had to fight for respect on the court and learn from her mistakes off of it

Curt Rallo
South Bend Tribune

Kayla McBride still has the scars on her knees from the basketball battles of her youth on the blacktop courts of Burton Park, along 38th Street in Erie, Pa.

McBride, a 5-foot-11 senior guard who has helped Notre Dame forge a 34-0 record, would be the only girl bold enough to take on Burton's best on those steamy summer days.

Still carrying some baby fat when she was 12 years old, McBride wasn't taken seriously.

"I had two pigtails ... I'm not sure why my mom did that," McBride said. "To this day, my teammates from then make fun of me."

Laughter soon turned to respectful silence on the Burton blacktop.

"I was a little chubby, but I could shoot the ball," McBride said. "I had a mean crossover and a jump shot, and that's all that mattered."

What matters now to McBride is a national championship. The Irish, who have been to three consecutive Final Fours, continue their attempt to climb to the NCAA mountaintop on Saturday when they take their No. 1 seed up against fifth-seeded Oklahoma State (25-8) at 2:30 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

McBride's Erie roots honed her skills.

"Burton Park gave Kayla the jumper she has, and it took the girl part of her game out of her," said her father, LaMont McBride. "She learned that pull-up jumper in order to survive there."

McBride suffered bumps, bruises and scrapes at Burton but kept coming back.

"Her mom doesn't like that too much, but Kayla still gets out on the blacktop," LaMont said. "That's where you learn how to take the game from a regular structure and mix it in with the street ball that's being played there."

McBride was introduced to basketball by her father, who officiated high school games and worked the summer camp circuit. When she was 4 years old, McBride would spend the entire day at a basketball camp with her father. He would have her shooting the ball or working on drills during timeouts, halftime or between games.

When McBride was 12, her father was working the all-boys Charlie Ward basketball camp in Erie, and she was sneaking in as much basketball action against the boys as she could.

"We realized that she seemed as good as or better than most of the boys, so we decided to let her do the camp," LaMont said. "Charlie started watching her, and then he started playing with her, and pretty soon, he was like, 'We've got to let her be in the camp.'"

Ward's influence had a major impact on McBride. She wears No. 21 as a tribute to the former Knicks guard and Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State. She took the skills she learned from the Ward camp and applied them in games against boys.

"That was the moment I felt like I could play," McBride said. "It was something I always loved, playing against guys who were bigger and better."

Never scared or intimidated, reluctant to take time out to bandage her knees, infuriated if a boy started to take it easy on her because she was a girl, McBride developed a fierce competitiveness to go along with her blossoming basketball artistry.

"I think she has the absolutely prettiest jump shot in America," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw.

All-America status

McBride's talents have already earned her All-America praise. She is averaging 17.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists. She hits 47 percent of her shots, and 88 percent of her free throws. Against Top 25 teams, McBride's game elevates. She is averaging 19.5 points against ranked teams, and in six games against Top 10 teams, McBride is averaging 22.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists.

McBride, who took up running the point to help out freshman point guard Lindsay Allen this season, earned first-team All-America status from espnW. She is also under consideration for various national player of the year awards and was named the ACC Player of the Year by the league coaches.

"I think Kayla really impacts everything Notre Dame does, offensive and defensively," said espnW writer Michelle Voepel on why she voted for McBride as a first-team All-American. "She may not have always the biggest numbers compared to some All-American candidates, but I feel that she is the heart and soul of that Notre Dame team."

According to Voepel, McBride is the catalyst for the Irish attack. She can pass, she can hit the deep 3, she can run the transition, she can hit a mid-range jumper, and she can play defense.

Voepel marvels at McBride's decision-making as a point guard and shooter.

"I heard from three or four WNBA coaches and GMs who were so impressed with her at the (USA Basketball) training camp," Voepel said. "A lot of them felt that she was as good as any college player out there."

McGraw said that McBride's competitiveness is what stood out when she was recruiting her. This season, her poise under pressure stands out.

"Kayla has an amazing ability to make the big shot," McGraw said. "She proved that last year in so many games, and then this year at Maryland, we had to have that basket at the end of the game, and there was no question that she was going to be the one to shoot it."

McBride credits McGraw with pushing her beyond being a role player.

"Coach McGraw challenged me after my sophomore year, and she never let me settle," McBride said. "There was a certain point where I thought I was good enough, but coach McGraw pushed me over that line."

Finding her way

McBride's path to All-America status wasn't easy. She averaged 8.7 points in 19 games as a freshman, when she was sidelined by academics. She lost her work ethic for basketball and school.

"I don't think I would be an All-American without sitting out the second half of that freshman season," McBride said. "It was hard, it was terrible. I didn't know if I was supposed to be here. I didn't know if this was what I wanted to do."

Having the game taken away from her, McBride soon ached to play basketball. When the team was away on road trips, she would go to Purcell Pavilion and shoot baskets. When she wore herself out, she would go into the team room and go to sleep there.

"That was as close as I could get to my team," McBride said. "I wanted it back so bad."

McGraw said that McBride's parents played a key role in giving her strength and encouragement, but that it was self-realization on McBride's part that triggered her ascent to the player she is today.

Rededicated to school and basketball, McBride worked her way into a starting role her sophomore season, averaging 11.6 points. As a junior, her numbers jumped to 15.9 points a game. Her assists jumped from 88 last season in 37 games, to 133 in 34 games so far.

"When you look at your lowest point, you realize what means the most to you; and for me, it was basketball," McBride said. "That's why I'm here, and that's why I'm working hard."

CRallo@SBTinfo.com; Twitter: @rallo_NDInsider

Notre Dame's Kayla McBride (21) celebrates a big run in the second half during the championship game of the ACC women's basketball tournament on Sunday, March 9, 2014, at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame's Kayla McBride (21) takes a shot over Arizona State's Elisha Davis, left, during the second round NCAA women's basketball tournament game on Monday, March 24, 2014, inside Savage Arena at the University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame's Kayla McBride (21) chases down a ball on a fast break during the second round NCAA women's basketball tournament game on Monday, March 24, 2014, inside Savage Arena at the University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN