Princeton Times


November 23, 2012

Akers commits to Marshall

PRINCETON — McKenzie Akers has provided yet more proof of something Princeton Senior High School fans have known all along: There’s “D-one” talent competing in Princeton’s familiar blue-and-white uniforms.

The commitment by the 5-foot-5 senior last Friday to play basketball for Marshall University, an NCAA Division I school, starting next fall was followed the same day by an enthusiastic welcoming statement from the new coach of the Thundering Herd, Matt Daniel.

“She is a hard-nosed, local guard that will be the first one in the gym and the last one to leave,” he said in a press release from Huntington. “I’m glad that she has chosen to be part of our program.”

Akers surpassed 1,000 varsity points last season as a junior. She also made the all-state first team in Class AAA and first team all Mountain State Athletic Conference. She was a runner-up for West Virginia Player of the Year.

She averaged 20.5 points per game, 4.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 3.3 steals in the 2011-12 campaign, bouncing back strongly from an injury in her sophomore year.

Her trademark smile was broader than usual on signing day, when 42 friends, family, coaches and media members crowded into the media center at PSHS to witness the ceremony.

She said that morning, “It’s crazy. 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.”

“I’m blessed, that I know where I’m going to go,” she said. “I’ve always loved Marshall, and my dream is to go D-1.”

There were at least 13 colleges and universities trying to get Akers to play for them, said the signee’s father Ernie Akers.

The winnowing-down process took “all summer,” McKenzie said. “I went to Georgia three times and Tennessee twice. It was a lot of driving, and a lot of time spent in to it.”

Like all disciplined student-athletes, she went into that process with a game plan.

Ernie Akers said, “Playing time was an issue. She wanted to know that she’d get playing time. Coach Daniel said, ‘You’re going to play. But how much you play depends on how hard you’re going to work.’ And knowing how hard she works, I know she’s going to be OK.”

McKenzie said, “I told them I didn’t want to come if I didn’t get to play. They said that they expected me to shoot the ball more, so to be practicing my shot.”

“On my official visit, I got to watch them practice, which is very exciting, to know what I can expect. It’s hard for me to make a game right now, since basketball (practice at Princeton) has started. Hopefully, as the season calms down and everything gets rolling, I’ll be able to make a game.”

She said about Daniel, “I really like his energy, and how excited he is about it.” She said she might work as a point guard or shooting guard for the Herd.

“I think that was a good pick for McKenzie,” said Debbie Ball, the head coach of the Tigerettes basketball team. She said Akers has worked hard to get her abilities up to NCAA Division I level.

Ball has coached both Akers and her older sister, Tesla, who is senior on the basketball team at Ferrum College in Virginia. Ball said, “Both of those girls, they were brought up that way. It takes hard work to get where you’re going.”

McKenzie Akers termed her sister her “No. 1 fan, and I am hers.” Tesla helped her sister think through her college options, and was one of those present at her alma mater for McKenzie’s signing ceremony.

“This new coach seems to really know what he’s doing,” Tesla Akers said.

Her mother Lori said, “She’s so fortunate. ... The coach is awesome.” She was also happy that McKenzie would be playing at a school rather close to home — and she was already thinking about having two daughters in college ball, one to the southeast, the other to the northwest of Princeton.

“We’ll be on the road quite a bit,” Lori Akers said.

Daniel, in the press release from Marshall, commented on McKenzie’s decision in August to sign a letter of intent.

“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,” said Daniel. “Those are the types of student-athletes that we want at Marshall.”

One of McKenzie’s AAU teammates from last summer, Kiara Evans of Huntington, is also in Daniel’s first recruiting class. Daniel said he felt the group comprised “the start of a foundation that we will be able to hang our hat on for years to come ... .”

Asked about the contributions that Ball and her AAU coaches have made to her success, Akers said, “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.”

Two of her AAU coaches also attended the signing event. Gale Moore coached Akers with the Roanoke Star in Virginia and Kyle Sheffield Sr. worked with Akers last summer when she played for the Huntington-based D-1 Greyhounds.

Moore 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.”

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,” he said.

Akers said about her time in AAU ball, “I’m just really thankful for the opportunity I’ve gotten to play.”

Akers, Evans and other southern West Virginia hoops stars were teammates, but in their final high school season, they will be opponents.

Akers said, “It’s funny how I’m teammates with them this summer, and then I’m playing against them this season.”

Both Akers and her Princeton coach are relieved the decision has been finalized. It’s one less distraction for the Tigerettes’ campaign, which starts on Dec. 6 at Shady Spring.

“I feel like a hundred-pound weight is lifted off my shoulders,” Akers said, noting that she will be able “to play free, and play with my team, and hopefully go upstate this year.”

Ball said, “She can concentrate more on what the team here is doing, and know there’s a comfort zone when she leaves.”

Her team was practicing the afternoon after the signing ceremony, and Ball predicted, “I have a feeling that today at 3:30, she’ll be raring to go.”

As the signing ceremony drew to a close, Princeton principal Jack Parker spoke to the gathering and joked with Akers that she had to give a speech.

After she thanked everyone for showing up, she smiled again and said, “I expect everybody here to come to a Princeton High School game AND a Marshall game.”

— Contact Tom Bone at

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