Walk-on McCafferty proved passion at pick-up

by Matt Case / Beacon Staff • November 30, 2016

Kenna McCafferty earned her spot on the women's basketball team through the passion and drive her teammates saw at pick-up.
Kenna McCafferty earned her spot on the women's basketball team through the passion and drive her teammates saw at pick-up.

The newest member of Emerson’s women’s basketball team moved into college, met her roommates, and started classes before ever stepping onto the court of the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym.

It was only during the first week of school that freshman Kenna McCafferty ventured down to the offices of the athletic department to meet her potential head coach.

“She just showed up one day and said, ‘Hey, I’m interested in playing,’” Lions head coach Bill Gould said.

McCafferty is a walk-on for the women’s basketball team. She wasn’t recruited directly by Gould, nor did she send highlight reels or stats to him during her high school career. Rather, she was first accepted into Emerson’s writing, literature, and publishing program, and then earned a spot on the roster after the school year began.

McCafferty, an American citizen, grew up in Austria. She spent her high school days at the American International School of Vienna, where she played basketball for their squad, as well as the club team Vienna 87. Both programs, she said, didn’t place much of an emphasis on a future in basketball.  

“[Players] have to actively pursue it,” McCaffery said. “They have to send their own footage and they have to contact people as opposed to people contacting them, and I never really prioritized that that much. So I was just like, ‘You know what, I’ll just go to a school and see what happens,’ and that’s what I did.”

During her first weeks in Boston, McCafferty attended open gym sessions with members of the women’s team. In her first meeting with Gould, she said the 10-year coach told her she needed a basic understanding of fundamentals and to know how to play smart. If she worked well with his players, he’d let her know if there was a spot for her.

“I didn’t think my chances were great,” McCafferty said. “But at the same time, once I started playing with them, I thought I might not be at exactly the same level as them, but that there’s definitely room for me to get there.”  

Current team members liked what they saw, and went to Gould with their endorsement.

“After playing with her a few times, the upperclassmen came together and thought she could be a better help on the team,” junior forward Sierra Ducey said. “Even within the few times we played pickup with her, we saw great improvement in her, so we figured, put her on the team, she’s going to be great asset to have.”   

It was in late September that McCafferty was officially named the 11th member of the Lions.

“We have a lot of people come and play [pickup] with us, and obviously we take into account skills, but we also see if they’re dedicated to the team and how much effort they’re going to put in,” Ducey, a marketing communication major, said. “It was clear she really wanted to be on the team and was going to put in the work to compete with all of us.”  

Upon hearing the news, McCaffery said she was thrilled at the opportunity, but knew it was just the beginning.    

“It was exciting, but also kind of nerve-racking,” McCafferty said. “When I talked to [Gould] the first time, he gave me their training schedule, lifting schedule, and it was so much more intense than I’m used to. When he told me, I was excited to be on the team but I thought, ‘This is going to be much more than I expected.’”

At 6-foot-1, McCafferty is Emerson’s tallest playerーDucey and sophomore Charlie Boyle stand one inch shorter. She is also listed as the squad’s only center.

“She’s been a big help for us because we don’t have enough people in that position,” Gould said.

McCafferty said she thinks she can be a dual-threat under the basket.

“If I get the ball inside, I can go up if I need to,” she said. “But I also feel like I’m good at kicking it back out if there’s an open shooter.”

In addition to their play, McCafferty said Gould likes players from overseas because of their higher basketball IQ. Sophomore guard Natalie Busch is also from across the pond, hailing from England, and competed against McCafferty during their time on club teams.

“He thinks that a lot of European players are smarter in terms of on the floor, and they see opportunities and see the whole picture better,” McCafferty said. “I feel like I have that and he said he can see it in how I play.”    

McCafferty played in the first three regular season games, but saw less than two minutes of total action and didn’t score. In Thursday’s loss to MIT, she played 12 minutes: scoring two points on free throws, going 0-for-1 shooting, and earning a steal, a block, and a rebound.

She said she understands that being a freshman and a walk-on doesn’t warrant much playing time. For her, it’s all about shutting up and showing what she’s made of.   

“It’s more about needing to prove why I deserve more playing time than discussing it,” she said. “I’m just trying, in practice and when we scrimmage, to really show what it is that I’m doing right.”  

While Gould may like her European upbringing, he said McCafferty has to acclimate to American basketball, but that she’s still an asset to the team.

“She played a different style of basketball and needs a bit of work catching up,” Gould said. “But she’s a great kid, a hard worker, and we’re happy to have her.”