By Jake Tiger
Some view MyNeshia McKenzie as the 10-year-old girl that dominated flag football leagues with her brothers in their hometown of Springfield, Pennsylvania. Some view her as arguably the greatest Lady Bronc to ever come through Alumni Gym. Some view her as a professional and a foreigner, accumulating knowledge and maturity through a shared love of basketball.
Currently, McKenzie is an assistant coach at Rider, her alma mater, completing the circuit of knowledge and elevating a new generation of young women.
McKenzie is many things, but above all, she is the quintessential Bronc.
Before McKenzie graduated from Rider in 2014, she made sure to leave an everlasting mark on Rider women’s basketball. When her career was done, she finished first all-time in rebounding, third in scoring and first in games played, and formed an ‘unbreakable’ bond with Head Coach Lynn Milligan.
However, her time at Rider was over. She had to turn the page.
After recieving ecouraging advice from Milligan, McKenzie decided to take her talents to Europe, getting a taste of life as a pro and life as a whole, as she found herself submerged in a melting pot of new cultures.
“Those were some of the best years of my life thus far … being able to go over there and experience different cultures and different people,” said McKenzie. “I had people from Wisconsin, the West Coast, the South … you add that in with our foreign players, it was really a great time.”
The Springfield native made stops in Portugal, Romania and Luxembourg over three seasons, earning All-Import and First Team All-League honors in Portugal and Romania.
McKenzie was living out her dream in Europe as a professional baller and student of life, but Luxembourg is 3,844 miles from Springfield, Pennsylvania.
If there’s one thing McKenzie loves more than basketball, it’s her family, the people that molded her into the person she ultimately became.
“MyNeshia likes to be in her comfort zone,” said Milligan.
After three years of living in a distant land and being away from her family, McKenzie knew one thing for certain: she needed to come home.
“The decision that really drove me home was wanting to see my little brother grow up … At the time, he was finishing his high school [football career] and I hadn’t seen him play. I had been away for so long with college and playing overseas,” said McKenzie. “Him and I are like yin and yang … He’s literally like my twin. I just wanted to be there for him, because I felt he had always been there for me.”
At the cost of her professional career in Europe, McKenzie was back home with her family, but content as she was, life without basketball simply wasn’t cutting it.
“When I got back home, I actually got into personal banking. Yeah, it’s weird … somehow I ended up working at a bank,” said McKenzie.
McKenzie still felt an attachment to the game to which she devoted over a decade of her life, but at the same time, she knew her playing days were behind her. Luckily, she found a compromise.
“I remember [McKenzie] called me and was like, ‘Coach, I don’t want to play anymore. I’m done. I think I want to coach,” said Milligan.
With assistance from Milligan, McKenzie made her return to the hardwood, this time from the sideline. It marked a new, unfamiliar chapter of her life, but she could see the foreshadowing long before it began.
“I always saw coaching in my future. When I was in college, I found a different love from the game and I just couldn’t let it go,” said McKenzie. “I knew at some point the ball was gonna stop dribbling for me, but I was gonna give back to a game that gave so many opportunities to me.”
Fortunately, for McKenzie, she wouldn’t have to uproot herself, as her first two coaching jobs were in Philadelphia at Holy Family University and Saint Joseph’s University.
“[Milligan] actually got me into those jobs through people she knew,” said McKenzie. “She has helped me through my entire coaching career. We never lost connection.”
With three seasons of coaching experience, McKenzie was well into her next chapter, but as fate would have it, her excursions into uncharted territory would again lead her back home.
“[Milligan] had called me and she was like, ‘Let’s go to breakfast.’ Her and I have that type of relationship … so I didn’t necessarily think anything of it,” said McKenzie. “We’re eating, chatting about stuff, and finally she’s like, ‘Listen, I want you to come back home. I need you at Rider.’”
‘Rider is my home’
“I think everything came full circle,” said Milligan. “I think it was inevitable that we were gonna find a way to get her back here … because she bleeds cranberry.”
Despite a seven-year odyssey, McKenzie instantly assimilated back into the program in June 2021 as if she had never left at all.
“Rider is my home. I love everything about Rider,” said McKenzie. “It was comfort for me … The transition back into this was seamless.”
In less than a year as an assistant coach for Rider women’s basketball, McKenzie has carved out an invaluable niche in the coaching staff with her experiences as a Lady Bronc creating unique coaching opportunities.
“If you’ve been to any of our practices, I play. I’m big on telling you one thing and being able to show you as well,” said McKenzie. “Don’t tell me you can’t get rebounds. I’ve done it. Don’t tell me you can’t score. I’ve done it.”
Being 30 years old, relatively young for a coach, McKenzie also has an aptitude for bonding with her players on a deeper level.
Knowing how valuable her relationship was with Milligan during her playing days, McKenzie strives to recreate that bond with a new generation of Rider athletes, being more than just a basketball coach to them.
“I know exactly what they’re going through … being a young woman and trying to figure out what you are and what you wanna do with yourself,” said McKenzie. “The development of these young women is paramount to me. It’s bigger than basketball for us always.”
McKenzie hopes to one day lead a group of young women as Milligan has, but only time will tell if that is in the plans for the ever-evolving McKenzie.
Until then, she is honed in on one of the very few achievements that have been able to elude her: the prestigious Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship.
“When I was recruited here, the biggest thing was to hang banners and that’s what I’m here to do,” said McKenzie. “I came back to my alma mater to hang a banner because that’s what I set out to do 14 years ago, and I want to hang it with [Milligan].”