Transfer guard McKinney joins the Hornets with pride

Joseph Davis

If Ohlone College transfer and current Sacramento State shooting guard Mikh McKinney were a superhero, he would have to be named The Flash for the way he blows past defenders before they have time to react.

Averaging more than 15 points per game, relying primarily on his quickness, McKinney has become a focal point of the Sac State men’s basketball team’s offense.

Watching McKinney carve up defenses on the court leaves little doubt about his basketball skills. He plays with rarefied toughness not often associated with guys weighing 165 pounds. Moreover, McKinney is more than a basketball player. One former coach sees him as a future community leader. To some people, McKinney is a superhero.

“I run an AAU team and Mikh comes in all the time to work with the team and he stays active in the gym,” said Ohlone head coach John Peterson. “In a predominantly Filipino community, Mikh is like Manny Pacquiao. There are so many kids and families of Filipino descent who are rooting for him to do well – it’s remarkable. He embraces it and he gives back because (Mikh) is a very good human being.”

McKinney arrived at Ohlone as raw talent. Peterson recalled McKinney playing wild with a terrible jump shot and bad shot selection. However, Peterson could also tell McKinney was ultra-competitive with a refusal to lose attitude.

“(Mikh) didn’t like to lose, but he also didn’t know how to win,” Peterson said. “He always played with a chip on his shoulder.”

When McKinney walked into the gym at Ohlone as a freshman, he had hair down to his back. Peterson said McKinney had hair hanging from his chin which resembled six pieces of canned spinach hanging four inches long.

“(Mikh) looked like he belonged on a street corner some place, not on a basketball court,” Peterson said. “I told him nobody would recruit him (with that haircut). He looked like a criminal.”

The Ohlone coaching staff laid down a plan for McKinney to succeed, but an age-old coaching technique had to be implemented in order to spark change.

“I would say (change came) from me sticking a foot in his ass on a daily basis,” Peterson said.

Midway through the 2011-12 season, McKinney came in with a new haircut and mindset which indicated he was ready to buy into the Ohlone coaching staff’s philosophy. His game changed, but still McKinney flew under the radar of teams at the next level – except for one.

Sac State head coach Brian Katz recruited McKinney with the idea of bringing in another ball handler to take pressure off starting point guard Dylan Garrity.

After struggling mightily over his first five season as head coach, Katz wanted to continue changing the culture of Sac State basketball. Bringing in players to fit his high[-]pressure philosophy would require recruiting speed and more ball handling specialist.

Katz had heard about McKinney‘s lighting speed and sharp cuts to the hoop from members of the Bay Area junior college coaching circle. Only after seeing McKinney at work in game-speed did Katz know he had severely underestimated the young guard’s fleetness.

“Peterson kept telling me if I didn’t take McKinney I would regret it,” Katz said. “If I would have waited another season, (McKinney) would have had everyone in the country calling him.”

The bonus for Katz was McKinney’s ability combined with his three years of eligibility to play basketball at Sac State. Katz’s only concern during recruiting was McKinney’s slender frame matching up against the bulky-bodied players at the Division I level.

It wouldn’t take long for Katz to leave his worries behind. Just as Peterson had, Katz noticed the toughness with which McKinney lives every minute of his life.

In a recent game against CSU Bakersfield, McKinney stepped on the court with a black eye he received from an inadvertent elbow in practice. The elbow belonged to McKinney’s 6-feet-8-inch, 290-pound teammate Konner Veteto. The dotted eye made McKinney look like he had been throwing left hooks in the ring rather than hitting jumpers on a court. Katz thought the look was fitting for McKinney’s character.

“I was sold on (McKinney) when I was watching tape at 4 a.m. and I saw him continuously getting clipped on hard screens by these big guards, but he kept getting up,” Katz said. “Usually skinny guys can’t be tough even when they want to be, but Mikh is different. He is like a street fighter or prize fighter because he has real toughness.”

McKinney acknowledges hard work, focus and believing in what the coaches are telling him has propelled his career to its current state and he looks forward to taking the next step.

“Coach Katz has shown me his vision and what he is looking forward to,” McKinney said. “(Katz) wants to make a change here in Sacramento and I just want to be a part of it. I want to be a part of creating a new legacy for Sac State men’s basketball.”

McKinney looks at Sac State as a great opportunity to spark a winning tradition. Sac State men’s basketball team’s lack of success historically is motivation for the speedy ball player. McKinney hopes to elevate school pride for the Sac State community.

“The school has pride, but I feel like we can get it jumping and take it to the next level with Hornet pride,” McKinney said. “I see a lot big-time schools being represented on campus with people wearing sweatshirts with Oregon (logos) and schools like that. I want to bring an atmosphere here where everybody has Hornet gear and Sac State hoodies.”

The first-year Hornet has a promising future. Peterson, who has former players who have played professionally overseas, thinks McKinney will have a career beyond the college ranks.

“Mikh will get paid to play somewhere (eventually) if he stays healthy,” Peterson said. “It wouldn’t shock me at all if he is on the Filipino National Team this summer. It wouldn’t shock me if he plays professionally. I think if he really wants, Mikh will play for a long time and somebody is going to pay him to play.”

Although McKinney hopes to play basketball as long as his talent and physical capabilities allow him to, he remains realistic about the possibility of life outside of the lines.

McKinney’s mother worked at recreation center in San Francisco. He hopes to one day open his own rec center, which would provide a diverse group of kids with an outlet after school rather than getting into trouble on the streets.

McKinney is a community-minded athlete that uses basketball as a platform to better the people around him.

“I put myself out there through basketball,” McKinney explained. “(People who come see me play) can get an idea of who I am and what I’m about. I feel like (basketball) can help me jumpstart anything I try to do in the community.”

As serious as he takes the game, McKinney still likes to have as much fun as coach Katz allows.

“I play basketball because it is the most fun I’ve had doing one certain thing,” McKinney said while smiling. “In my life there has always been basketball and I’ve always done it with a smile on face.”

Joe Davis can be reached on twitter @famousjoe530.