Following a player camp she attended in the eighth-grade, University of Dayton women’s basketball senior guard Sam MacKay opened her first piece of mail from a college women’s basketball program.
It was a standard questionnaire sent to dozens of players just like her. Nine years later, MacKay plays point guard for the same man who sent that first questionnaire: UD head coach Jim Jabir.
“At the time, I didn’t think much of it,” MacKay said. “But looking back it’s pretty neat to think I am playing at [Dayton] now.”
Even more incredible, she said, are the relationship dynamics at play between Jabir and herself.
“He’s really hard on me,” she said. “I hear from him a lot whenever I mess up. This season I have a much bigger role. I think he is really the reason why I’m able to take it on.”
Jabir said he agrees.
“When she came in, she was a great player,” he said. “But she was very irresponsible with her ball handling. She would try to throw the fancy passes and turned it over all the time.”
Jabir saw MacKay’s high school career flourish at Dublin Coffman High School near Columbus, Ohio. Her ability to take over a game helped propel her team to the regional championship game in the state tournament her senior year.
The talent alone wasn’t enough, Jabir said.
He added, “She made bad decisions a lot in her first few years.”
MacKay finished her freshman season with 33 assists and 39 turnovers, which according to Jabir was, “totally unacceptable for a player with her talent.”
Despite a rough first year, MacKay said she looks back and remembers the milestones well she was part of — wins over nationally-ranked Michigan State University at home, at Purdue University and the program’s first NCAA tournament berth.
Those moments put a smile on her face.
“Beating DePaul [University] and Arizona State University this season were incredible, too,” she said. “I have seen so many great things happen, but to be able to be part of that and play a role in the game is so much more breathtaking.”
Even so, her success hasn’t come without some growing pains, especially when Jabir notices a problem first.
He said he spent the first three years of MacKay’s career screaming at her, and her resilience has been almost miraculous.
“I’ve been tougher on [Sam] than I’ve been on any other player I’ve had in my coaching career,” Jabir said. “She keeps coming back and now she’s becoming that player we need her to be.”
Following a 65-40 loss at Bowling Green State University on Dec. 30, 2012, the resilience Jabir spoke of was tested. The blemish ended a 12-game win streak for Dayton to open the season, and MacKay had one of her worst games statistically in scoring only eight points while producing three assists.
According to MacKay, it was the best thing that could have happened.
“It helped me see what I need to do to be a leader and brought us all closer to figuring out who we are,” she said.
MacKay was named team captain before the season began, along with her two senior teammates, forwards Brittney Wilson and Olivia Applewhite.
For Applewhite, seeing the way her teammate and head coach interact is remarkable.
“She gets her drive to succeed from Jabir, I think … as a player and as a person,” Applewhite said. “He doesn’t scream at her so much now, but he still makes it clear that she is a leader.”
Both Jabir and Applewhite agree that MacKay has been integral in the success of the program since arriving on campus.
As of Wednesday, Jan. 23, she ranks and first in assists and steals per game and third in scoring for the Flyers this season, and is 37th in the nation in assists per game, according to NCAA.com.
But for MacKay, excelling has little to do with what she does, and more with how she does it.
She wants to finish out strong, even if it means getting screamed at a little bit more.
“One of the best things I remember as a recruit is when Jabir told me, ‘Good players and people come here, and good players and people excel here … the others don’t last.’” she said. “We all want to excel.”