By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
As promised, McKenzie Akers is getting her minutes at Marshall University.
Last spring’s Pocahontas Coal Association-Bluefield Daily Tele-graph girls basketball player of the year, Akers signed with the Thunder-ing Herd with a clear understanding that she would be able to play as a true freshman, starting this month.
It went without saying that the self-described “gym rat” would put in the work, and study the game at the Division I level, in order to be ready when called.
Coach Matt Daniel brought the Princeton resident in off the bench for 23 minutes of action in the team’s season debut, an 78-29 exhibition win over Kentucky Christian on Monday evening.
Akers saw 27 minutes of playing time on Friday in a tougher-than-expected 63-41 win against Bluefield College. She recorded nine points, four rebounds and three assists, making half of her six 3-point tries.
Akers was named captain of the Class AAA all-state first-team after concluding her senior season at Princeton Senior High last March.
The lightning-quick point guard averaged 24.9 points, seven assists, three rebounds, and one turnover per game for the Tigers, leading them to a state tournament appearance.
Since fall practice began, Akers said, “It’s been going great. It’s a lot different from high school, totally different. It’s a different pace. It’s better competition.”
She admitted to being a little nervous, at the age of 19, on the first day of practice in Huntington.
“All of us are good players,” she said about this edition of the Herd, which includes four other freshmen. “In high school, I was a go-to player. ... It’s like, I never came out.”
“I went into practice, like all of us, having to earn some playing time. It was a big change, but I was able to get the hang of things.”
Akers is adapting to her new task with the Thundering Herd.
“In my role, coming in as a spark off the bench, I don’t have the pressure that I had in high school,” she said. “We have such a talented team. I’m just happy to contribute.”
She added, “We have 10 new people, and only a few returners, but Coach (Daniel) is amazed at how much chemistry we have already.”
Another of the “new people” is Akers’ roommate at MU, Kiana Evans, also a first-team all-state selection while at Huntington High School. The two played AAU ball together in recent years, and the friendship they began has continued.
“We spend a lot of time together,” Akers said, “helping each other through the transition. ... She’s one of the best players on our team.”
Daniel, beginning his second season as MU coach, said about this season’s squad, “We’re inexperienced. It’s going to be a grind. I don’t know how many wins we’re going to have, but this is my favorite team that I’ve ever coached.”
Following the game with Bluefield College, he added, “I like this group. I think we need to do a better job of preparing them and that is not just our player personnel, I think that’s also on our coaching staff.”
Daniel is “like my second dad,” Akers said. “He cares about all of us. He’s so fired up about the team, and he gets us fired up for every game. I’m looking forward to what the season holds.”
She referred to a preseason poll that predicted Marshall to finish last in Conference USA this season. “I think it’s crazy,” she said. “It really provides us with a lot of motivation. Coach put some stickers on our shoes, that read ‘1 out of 16.’ ”
She said, “Coach has told us it’s up to you whether we finish last or first. We’re out to prove the prediction wrong.”
She said that living in Huntington is “definitely different from (Princeton). It’s a little bigger. I love the area. The people are great. And we get awesome fan support for our program, just like we have in Princeton.”
She added that she doesn’t get a lot of time to explore the Tri-State area “because I’m in the gym all the time.”
Asked about her reaction to taking the floor in the Cam Henderson Center on the Marshall campus, she said, “Omigosh. It was just awesome.”
“It makes me thankful for the opportunity to play. I just thank God that I have this opportunity.”
— Contact Tom Bone at