College Basketball: Roaming the Wild West for the Love of Basketball
SCHOOL’S OUT: Former Tenino/W.F. West Basketball Star Wraps Up Collegiate Career
By Matt Baide
Nike McClure has been all over the map. She’s from Tenino and basketball has taken her to Chehalis, Pullman and Albuquerque as well as many other places, playing with and against some of the top collegiate players in the country along the way. Now, it’s hard for her to imagine life without the game of basketball.
“I love it so much just because it’s granted me those opportunities that I wouldn’t have had without it,” McClure said. “I got to meet people, travel, gain all these crazy experiences and I think that I love it even more because it’s definitely opened my eyes to new perspectives.”
After winning a 2A state title with W.F. West in 2014, McClure took her talents to Pullman to play for Washington State University. She spent three seasons playing basketball for the Cougars after redshirting her true freshman season.
While under the tutelage of head coach June Daugherty and assistant coach Rod Jensen, she became a much better defensive player and turned into a player that you wouldn’t want to see rise up for one of your shots in the paint.
“It wasn’t like that before my freshman year when I tore my knees. When I was in high school, I would do it all I felt like. I was a different player then but then when I got injured, my mindset changed because I realized I couldn’t do a lot of the stuff I was able to do while I was in high school so I had to change my game,” McClure said. “I wasn’t as quick on offense but I understood defense and plus my shot on offense is absolutely hideous. I’m still working on it to this day, but defense was something I really clicked with. I had a lot of good coaches, Rod Jensen worked with me at WSU. He was an incredible mind to pick on, he taught me a lot and defense just stuck with me.”
She noted, while in Pullman, two of her standout collegiate basketball games. In her redshirt sophomore year, McClure tied a 29-year old record with 12 blocks in a game against Colorado, a game in which she also recorded a double-double with 12 rebounds, the second ever non-point double-double in program history. McClure ended the season by setting a single-season team record with 152 blocks, which averaged out to 4.2 blocks per game.
During her redshirt junior season, she recorded a double-double against rival Washington with 16 points and 16 rebounds, a game the Cougars won in overtime. That game was extra special to McClure due to recent circumstances.
“That was so much fun and Tyler Hilinski had just passed away the day before, or two days before, and so I dedicated that game to him and so that was really a blessing,” McClure said.
Daugherty was fired from the Cougars after McClure’s redshirt junior season, so McClure was able to find a new home in Albuquerque.
“Oh my gosh, Albuquerque was a culture shock for me because obviously, from Washington, I’m used to trees, lots of rivers that are clear, and a lot of the air quality as well so that was a big shock to me,” McClure said. “Obviously, going from Pullman to there wasn’t that big of a difference but it was a big difference because it was like the desert, like I was expecting to be living in the wild wild west so that was the biggest difference to me.”
She was able to gel with the team quickly and she experienced something she never had, playing for the Lobo fans in The Pit.
“Oh my gosh, the fans in Albuquerque, they brought it every single game. The Pit would be like 5,000 fans on an average scale. We had so many people show up to our games, it was just loud and crazy and passionate,” McClure said. “Beasley’s fans had passionate people that showed up to every game but being a small town and women’s basketball, you obviously don’t draw a lot of fans.”
McClure started all 31 games for the Lobos this year, averaging 3.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game while shooting 44 percent from the field. New Mexico was 24-7 overall and 14-4 in conference games.
The Lobos made the NIT Tournament and lost in the first round to the University of Denver, 83-75, to wrap up the collegiate career for McClure.
“It went great. We didn’t get everything that we wanted to do done but we had a great time. We achieved a lot of our goals, not like the biggest one, we didn’t win a championship. In terms of my personal season, I know I could have done better, but with the role I was given, I feel like I did exactly what they wanted me to do,” McClure said. “I took a leadership role really fast there. I think I achieved all my goals this season. Obviously, I didn’t get a ring, but that’s fine, I mean, there’s still plenty of opportunities to hopefully still play and get a ring.”
The game that stood out to McClure this season was against Fresno State at home on Feb. 2. She scored 14 points to go with five rebounds and three blocks in an 82-73 win for the Lobos.
She was also successful off the court, achieving a 3.67 grade point average.
“I wanted to get good grades. I ended up getting a 3.67 and I was really proud of that. I wanted to be a really big community figure, make sure I was doing good with kids,” McClure said. “My main goal my entire collegiate career was to inspire, especially younger women, to want to be successful in their lives no matter what path they chose. Whether it’s athletics, they want to be a young little scientist, I just wanted to inspire kids to follow their dreams. I feel like I really did that there.”
Not only did McClure receive love from the New Mexico fans on the court, she received a lot of love off the court as well.
“I was only there for a year. They just loved me so much, and even before I got there, they were tweeting me, DM-ing me, messaging me, just trying to make sure I was OK, I was settled in right, if I needed anything I could contact them,” McClure said. “I even got injured at one point during the season because I sprained my ankle against Auburn. I had dozens of fans asking me if I needed help, do I need a ride to classes? Obviously, I couldn’t accept any of them because of NCAA violations, but it was just great to see so many people honestly care about me and wanting me to be successful. I got a lot of business cards when the season was over in case I needed a job. They were just looking out for me as a person more than a player I felt like.”
Looking back on her collegiate career as a whole, McClure feels lucky to have been able to play collegiate basketball for the last five years.
“I had an incredible five years of collegiate basketball. I learned a lot my first year obviously because I got injured twice with my knees. I learned a lot during that season just from watching,” McClure said. “My next three years at Washington State, I played with my best friends, they’re still my best friends to this day. They all live in crazy places, they’ll all be my bridesmaids and stuff. I gained a lot of my best friends here, just the experiences and the travels I’ve had have been truly incredible and I’ll truly cherish them for a lifetime.”
She does have one thing about her collegiate career that she would change.
“If I were to change anything, I think I would just change my mindset that I came to every day. Sometimes, I’d come into practice like, ah man, I have to do this again, like are you kidding me? We have to run?” McClure said. “I didn’t look at it every day like I get to do this, like not a lot of people get to do this. I think sometimes I took it for granted, that’d be the only thing I’d change about it.”
It is not easy being a student-athlete at any college or university, let alone Division I schools like WSU or UNM. Like most people on Twitter, there are trolls that people will have to deal with but for a student-athlete, dealing with them and trying to balance life can sometimes take a toll.
“After you come home from a game you just lost, the pressures from your coaches and your classes all together. You’re not getting enough sleep because you’re trying to do your assignments but also have a social life and it’s just crazy and it gets you down a little bit because it all takes a toll at some point,” McClure said. “I remember my sophomore year of college at WSU, I just kind of went off the edge. I was doing terrible in classes, wasn’t playing basketball. I thought I would immediately come in and play but I didn’t, I just like went really down. I had to go to counseling about it and I think that a lot of athletes go through that and it became really relevant to the community at WSU, especially when that happened to Tyler (Hilinski). I thought I had to speak on it basically because athletes go through a lot that’s not really shown.”
What’s the solution to helping out student-athletes who may be dealing with similar issues? McClure thinks that just reaching out for help and more resources and outlets for student-athletes would aid the problem.
“A lot of people try to say that athletes need to get paid but that’s not the truth of it at all. I think athletes need to have more outlets to talk to people, like a true platform where they can actually talk about themselves, what they’re going through and not feel like they’re complaining,” McClure said. “I feel like that’s every athletes biggest nightmare is they’re complaining because we’re raised from our first practice in whatever sport we do to be competitive and be able to do things by yourself and so when you’re not able to do things by yourself and like fix things by yourself, you feel kind of devalued a little bit I guess you might say. Because like dang, you’re actually reaching out for help and I think that the biggest thing that people, especially student-athletes, need to understand is it’s okay to ask for help. You’re not losing any value as a person or an athlete by asking for that help so I think that’s what needs to change.”
McClure graduated with a degree in Communications from WSU with a minor in sports management. She earned her teaching certificate in English as a second language while at UNM, needing three more credits to complete her Master’s degree.
She plans on taking a break from school for now while pursuing professional basketball.
“I’m trying to play professionally right now. It’s a little difficult because working through all the ends of it between agents and stuff like that has been crazy and just trying to stay in shape and all of that,” McClure said. “I mean, I’ve had opportunities arise because I’ve talked to a lot of players that have played professionally and I wouldn’t play in any of the big leagues where I’m actually making any crazy amount of money. I’d probably be better off staying at home and getting a job here so I’ve been looking into possibly coaching, so that might be an outlet.”
McClure mentioned the open Tenino girls basketball head coaching position as a possibility as well.
“Tenino has a head coaching opportunity available this coming year and I was actually going to apply to it and see if I can come back to my community and do some good because I kind of left off there on a bad note,” McClure said. “A lot of the girls that are playing there right now have actually messaged me and they’re like ‘Hey, can you come coach? We don’t have anyone for the summer and we want to play summer games and stuff like that so that’s been the main reason why I’ve been thinking coaching might be an outlet for me this coming year.”
Overall, McClure reflected on her basketball career with fond memories. From high school in Tenino all the way to Albuquerque, she never imagined the sport of basketball would take her so many places.
“No, never in a million years, because starting off, I started my basketball career in Tenino and I remember thinking because a lot of the girls hadn’t gone to colleges. They just graduated and they had gone to college but they didn’t go for sports. I didn’t think it was going to be an actual thing until my coach at the time, Wanda Blanksma, was like ‘Hey, you have coaches reaching out to you,’” McClure said. “I was like ‘What, that’s crazy.’ I didn’t even know if I was going to go to college to be honest. When I found out basketball was going to be an outlet for me, I was like, ‘Snap, let’s do it.’ I got to see some crazy places, meet amazing people, basketball has just been a crazy good thing for me I guess you might say because without it, I probably would have gotten in a lot more trouble than I did.”
McClure tries to use her voice as a student athlete to help other people, being an active Twitter (@NikeMcClure) user who uses her platform to set a good example for youth and teenagers in various communities.
“I remember I had heroes when I was a kid, from like older kids in college, older kids in high school. I would ask questions to and they’d talk to me like I was the stupid freshman or I was a stupid eighth grader and nothing hurt more than that because I was like ‘Wow, dang, maybe I am just a stupid eighth grader so I don’t want anybody to feel like that when they talk to me,” McClure said. “I want everyone to feel valued, and important. That’s what I try to use my platform for, to make people feel that they’re valued and they have a place in this world, so they don’t become a sad eighth grader like me who has to fight for what they want.”
When reflecting on the amount of talent in girls basketball and all sports in Lewis County and the surrounding area, McClure wanted people to know they will have to work hard if they want to make it as a collegiate athlete.
“My message would be just because you’re from a small town, from a small county, you’re not any less than a big player, especially if you put the work in,” McClure said. “If you believe in yourself, you put the work in, you’ll get there. Nothing is stopping you besides you. If you look in the mirror every day and say I’m worth it, I can do this, I’m going to work for it, then you’ll get it. The moment you give up and you come to this mindset that you’re not worth it and you don’t want to work for it, that’s when you’re beat. All my kids from small towns, just know that you have it in you to be good, there’s no difference.”
“There’s nothing in the water at big cities that’s going to make you better. There’s no trainers that are going to make you better in big cities. It’s just you, you control what you’re going to do and all this effort so I feel like there’s no difference living from a small area to a big area.”