And That’s Australia There Pt. 1
** THE BACK STORY**
I started playing basketball when I was fourteen years old. I know that is a bit late to the game, and sure- “technically” I had been on basketball teams since I was in the 5th grade, but my role from 11 to 14 was Benchwarmer. Granted: the best benchwarmer in the state of Arizona, but that is neither here nor there.
At fourteen years old I went to my first Thunderbird High School summer ball league playing for Sandra Day O’Connor. I played my first game with the Freshman-C team. A girl a few years older than me asked what club team I played for, and when I replied “What is club ball,” Jackie Villines invited me to Arizona Venom Club Practice. At that point, my entire life changed.
I met Caroline Jones and Juanita Mebane, my first real coaches. I was absolutely terrified. They were the biggest most intense women I had ever met, and I was so scared they would not want me. Much to my surprise, these coaches liked me. Caroline and Juanita were the first coaches to see me, 14, 6 foot, 135 pounds soaking wet, and see potential. Potential to play pro, maybe, maybe not, but they saw a girl who needed basketball in her life. Over the course of that one singular summer, I trained harder than I ever had, cried more than I ever had, and learned more than I ever knew before. They were tough-love coaches who demanded the absolute best from me, and accepted nothing but. At the end of the summer after a few championships and new friends, I went from playing Freshman C team to Varsity player. The first freshman at our high school to do so.
I played two years for Sandra Day O’Connor, transferred to Cactus High School for my last two years, with a quick stint at Central High school in between. I earned multiple awards, 4 varsity letters, and appeared in State playoffs four years running, nominated as a McDonald’s All- American. But in all those years of high school, the memory most important to me is the day I went to my first Professional basketball game with my club team.
To raise money for our club, our team would fundraise 24/7. Car Washes, candy bag sales at school, raffles, etc. My first professional basketball game, I watched the Phoenix Mercury play for the first time while selling raffle tickets. The prize ticket was announced at half time, and our team was told after that we could sit and watch the remainder of the game. Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, Dewanna Bonner, Penny Taylor; these are the names that would become a constant in my life for the next few years. I remember watching that first game, cheering for women I never thought I could meet, and felt excitement crawl over my skin.
Before leaving the stadium, I told my 14 year old self “This is what I want to do with the rest of my life, I am going to come back and play here one day”.
** FAST FORWARD 7 YEARS**
I am 21 years old recovering from a concussion that should have kept me from playing the game of basketball, or any sport really, ever again. I am finishing my second year of Junior College with South Mountain Community, simultaneously working 40–65 hours a week at Quik Trip as an overnight clerk to make ends meet, living out of a car, on my teammate’s couch, at my boyfriend’s parent’s house, anywhere I can. Most my college offers have dropped off now that I’ve had to medically withdraw from school, but there is one school, one coach who is still interested, and has been recruiting me the last two years.
** INSERT RYAN MCCARTHY AND THE UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA ANCHORAGE**
Ryan McCarthy started recruiting me after I played my first collegiate basketball game against his squad. I distinctly remember asking him “If I come play for you, can you teach me to play like Alysa Horn?” The girl was an absolute animal, not only skilled, but out working every single person on the floor with her. I admired her. She was the first basketball role model I ever had to that point in my life, and all it took was 40 minutes of guarding her. I spoke with McCarthy and his assistant coaches often after that initial encounter, but the last conversation we had before I committed to UAA went something like:
“Well, what do you want for your life kiddo?” I told him I wanted to win a championship, I wanted to play professionally, and to play the best basketball I could. I didn’t want my potential to die, I wanted to live up to it. He said “Well how committed are you to coming and playing here? How sure? How confident are you?” I said 99 % sure. And he laughs “That’s not good enough, Megs”. He explains that I won’t make it playing basketball in Alaska if I’m only 99% committed, I have to be 100% in it. Because with Alaska there is no Plan B, there is no other option, there can’t be. He told me that if I wanted to be a professional, then I would have to work harder, be pushed harder, and make the hardest decisions of my life to make it happen. I’d have to burn the ships.
I quit my job at the petrol station the next day, bought my plane ticket with my last check; one way to Anchorage, Alaska. I bid goodbye to my friends, my family, my girlfriend, and the comfortable misery I had become so accustomed to. For the next three months, I slept on a couch/ air mattress in a 1 bedroom apartment with my two teammates from Vegas, Big Keke and Stina, while taking 24 credits to make up for the semester I had withdrawn from and to meet the credits required to get into UAA. I thought that summer was hard, but it was nothing compared to the next two years in Anchorage.
I worked harder than I ever had before, cried more than I ever had, and quit at least 1849127 times in my head everyday for two years. I made bonds and connections deeper than any I ever had before and my love for basketball was stronger than any other feeling I had ever known in my life. I had the opportunity to travel across the states and compete, get my passport, leave the country for the first time, etc. Despite numerous awards, despite going to a national championship my senior year, despite being an All- American my coaches never once let me settle for where I was. They somehow knew that I always had more to give, even when I didn’t think I could give anything else. They were always there to remind me how far I had come, and how much further I would still be able to go if I wanted to. I was planted in Anchorage, Alaska, where the soil was rich enough to encourage me to bloom, but harsh enough to make me strong. And no matter how well I did in college, I was told I had to give more to be a professional athlete. But, no matter how badly I messed up, I was reminded that I could still become accomplish my dreams of being a professional athlete. It was a tough love I needed, and UAA, Alaska, Coaches McCarthy, Afoa, Carlson, and Horn all gave me a healthy dose of it. For that I will forever be grateful.
I became the best Megan Mullings I could be to that point. And I am still becoming her.
** HOW DO YOU PRO BALL**
After University I was put in touch with my first basketball agency. A german husband and wife that placed me in a small town in the South of Romania. I took in a stray cat named Bullwinkle. After that fist year, I signed with a new agency who placed me in Kotka, Finland. Our team Peli- Karhut won a national Championship, absolutely phenomenal. After Finland I was placed in Wiltz, Luxembourg. I developed plantar Fasciitis which resulted in my being released three days before Christmas. I came back to Phoenix, Arizona to be with my family and heal up, planning to go back to Europe in the Autumn. Then I met Cassidy Mihalko, my college rival from California Baptist, at a random pick up game at Phoenix College. A month later I was on a 15-hour-plane-ride to play for the Ringwood Hawks in Melbourne, Australia. In the course of 6 months, I would change agencies again, sign to another European team, and develop friendships that I hope will last the rest of my life.
Every Professional Athlete’s career and experience will look different, no two the same in the least. I’m grateful for the career I’ve had thus far, and I look forward to what the future holds.
End Part 1