When Vicky McIntyre says she in a great place, she doesn’t just mean in Seattle, playing for the Storm.
When Vicky McIntyre says she in a great place, she doesn’t just mean in Seattle, playing for the Storm. Though their second-round draft pick does gush about the city’s scenic views, its people, and her new ballclub.
“I’ve grown so much just in the last week,’’ McIntyre said Saturday at the Storm’s media day, leading up to Tuesday’s exhibition opener at KeyArena.
For someone who has had to deal with the after-effects of a devastating plane crash, who transferred colleges twice, and who thought her basketball career was over two years ago, McIntyre is amazed to still be playing at all. Let alone at the professional level.
“I’m happy,’’ she said. “I enjoy coming to work every day. It’s awesome.”
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At 6-foot-7, McIntyre would be one of the tallest players in the WNBA if she makes the Storm squad. One of her claims to fame is blocking a shot by 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, when McIntyre was an underclassman at Oklahoma State and Griner was a superstar at Baylor.
“It was definitely intimidating going up against her, but I learned a lot and grew from it,’’ she said. “I’m looking forward to playing her again at this next level. I’ve come so far since I played her the last time. It will be fun.”
McIntyre’s Oklahoma State career was tragically jolted in November 2011. Just one game into her sophomore year, all the players received a text in the wee hours of the morning to report to the gym at 6:30 a.m. for a team meeting.
The news they received was the worst possible: Head coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna had died in a plane crash while on a recruiting trip. The single-engine Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee aircraft, piloted by an 82-year-old Oklahoma State booster, went down in Perry County in central Arkansas, just outside of Little Rock.
McIntyre, who had been close to both coaches, fell into a haze of sadness. Though she muddled through the rest of the season, McIntyre realized she had to transfer to escape the constant reminders of the accident and its aftermath.
“Playing in that gym, it was hard to concentrate,’ she said. “I had so many memories and so much emotion in that place. So many of us, we needed to leave and start over.”
McIntyre transferred to Florida, with the NCAA waiving the requirement for her to sit out a year. But the weight of the tragedy still burdened her. In March of her junior year, McIntyre headed home to Omaha while the rest of the team went to South Carolina for the regular-season finale. It was her 21st birthday.
“I needed to step back and figure my stuff out before I could move on and continue playing,’’ she said.
McIntyre’s therapist diagnosed her with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It was triggered by the accident and everything that happened afterward,’’ she said.
McIntyre says she worked through those symptoms and “I don’t deal with it anymore.” But even though her zest has returned, all her childhood basketball aspirations – including playing in the WNBA – seemed to be at an end.
“There were a few months I was done,’’ she said. “After leaving Florida, I kind of gave up on that dream. I just had a normal student life.”
But after getting her undergraduate degree in advertising from Florida, McIntyre got a call from her roommate at Oklahoma State, Jenni Bryan, who had transferred to Oral Roberts in Tulsa. Bryan urged McIntyre to give basketball one more try, and get her MBA in the process.
“She said, ‘You come here, they’ll pay for school, we can play our last year together and have fun,’ ’’ McIntyre recalled. “I said, ‘OK.’ ’’
Not only did McIntyre have fun as a senior at Oral Roberts, she dazzled on the court. McIntyre led the nation with 536 rebounds, second-best of all time in NCAA play. She averaged 15.4 points a game, many with a trademark hook shot, and blocked 160 shots, the seventh-best total in NCAA annals.
Like Dikembe Mutombo, McIntyre gets her adrenaline from blocking shots. The game that stands out for her – even more than the 33-point, 24-rebound effort against Omaha – was a 20-point, 18-rebound, 12-block night against NCAA tournament-bound South Dakota State.
“They kept driving on me, and I kept blocking shots,’’ she marveled. “I was, like, ‘Man, this is awesome.’ It just felt good to be on the court.”
That’s the elusive feeling McIntyre had been striving for, and one that remains now that’s she’s on the court as a professional. Storm coach Jenny Boucek raves about McIntyre’s passion and work ethic.
“She has a steep learning curve, as most rookies do, but she wants it,’’ Boucek said. “She’s putting in a lot of extra time off the court. I think she’s going to end up being a good pro at some point.”
When that time will be is an unknown. But McIntyre is thoroughly enjoying the journey.
Information in this article, originally published May 23, 2015 was corrected May 24, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Dikembe Mutombo’s last name.