Attitude helped Chinn rebound from injury, become a leader
By ADAM HOLT
Mikell Chinn is tired. Her surgically repaired left knee is sore. As really the only true point guard now for the No. 11 Garden City Community College women's basketball team, she rarely gets subbed for in games, so the sight of her on the bench in Sunday's win at Dodge City was rare — and fleeting, as she was back on the floor shortly after.
So if she were to take it easy in practice, or let up in a game when the Lady Broncbusters have a big lead, it would be understandable. But for a player who only knows one way to play — hard — that's not possible.
"I have one motor," Chinn said. "When I tell myself that I'm going to do something, or I'm going to work hard, I'm going to do this — I feel like anybody is capable of doing it; it's just people don't tell themselves they can do it. But I tell myself every day that 'I can do it, I'm going to do it, I'm gonna get the job done.' So that's what I do."
That attitude has helped the 5-foot-5 guard rebound from a torn left ACL to guide the Busters to 20 wins for the second straight year. And while it might not show in the box score, Chinn is the engine that makes this GCCC squad go.
A Cincinnati native, Chinn transferred from Chipola College (Fla.) prior to the 2011-12 season, but hurt her knee during the preseason and had to take a medical redshirt. Mikayla Skidmore took over starting point guard duties as GCCC went on to a 21-12 season, with Chinn on the sidelines trying to absorb what she could. That meant a lot of watching film, a lot of analysis and doing what she could to improve her shooting — one of the few physical aspects of the game she could work on during rehab.
"I think the biggest thing was maturity," said assistant coach Whitney Corley, who works with the Busters guards. "To be able to sit back and see how our point guard last year handled situations and ran the team, and the way she could do things different and improve on things, and things she needed to improve on."
"It was hard," Chinn said. "But that's a year that I felt like I got better. Not just on the court, but other things and stuff. I think it was a good year for me."
Head coach Alaura Sharp said the forced time off the court helped Chinn absorb things without the added pressure of performing right away in a game. The extra year has helped her maturity and leadership, as well. Chinn's coaches said her decision-making has improved, and that her communication with her teammates on the court and on the bench is exceptional.
"A big statement that we always make in our program is, 'It's not about what you can't do, it's about what you can do,'" Sharp said. "And she really bought into that, and I even hear her say that sometimes now."
The only problem with the pedal-to-the-floor mentality came when Chinn was able to get back onto the court. Most people would be careful coming back from reconstructive knee surgery and take it slow. Not Chinn.
"I'm not going to lie, I don't think I was cautious at all," she said of her return. "I think I was the same me. People was like, 'Dang Kells, you just came back from an ACL injury.' That's just how I play. I have one motor, and I can't change that."
"She plays extremely hard, and she doesn't know any other way," Corley said. "So sometimes, that's almost a hindrance to her. But we wouldn't change anything for that."
About the only noticeable reminder of the injury is the bulky knee brace Chinn wears on her left leg. And she said it's more of a hinderance to the opponents whose legs it scrapes up than it is to her.
Sharp calls Chinn an "overcomer," and said her work ethic has rubbed off on her teammates. And her leadership helped when four Busters left the team three games into the conference season. Chinn, herself, described her leadership as just being able to keep her teammates calm. Sharp said a lot of that is, again, maturity.
"She stays very drama-free," Sharp said. "She stays very out of the kind of things that go on. Just because she's just learned to be above that. There's just so many things about Mikell that make her who she is. But it really all is based on the foundation of her mentality to handle situations. Even when everything was happening with our team, she did not care who was on the team, as long as the people on the team were bought in and gonna work hard and play hard, and wanted to be here, then she wanted them on the team."
While Nicole Young has since returned to the team, former starters — and alongside Tamara Jones, top scoring options — Jessica Goble and Shicole Watts have not. After spending much of the season as a distributor, Chinn had to take on more initiative to create scoring opportunities herself. Through the Busters' first 17 games, she averaged three field goal attempts per game. Since the roster change, she's averaged eight per game.
The redshirt sophomore still averages just 4.3 points per game, but is second in the Jayhawk West in assists per game (4.95). Sharp said Chinn's ability to interior dish is better than anyone she's seen, and her knack for kicking the ball out to the perimeter is steadily improving, as well.
"I know that I've gotta step up," Chinn said. "That's what's different now. I know that I've gotta step up. So that's just what I've gotta do."
But again, most of her value doesn't show up in the box score.
"The work ethic, the leadership, just being hard-nosed and tough," Corley said. "There's no stat that says that. Assist-to-turnover ratio, great, she's in a great spot there. Shooting percentages, things like that, that's where it gets a little shaky. But what she brings, the intangible things to your team, to this program, is just overwhelming."
The Busters are 6-2 in conference play and start the second half of the KJCCC season Saturday at Butler. And like it's been all season, Chinn will play a big part in determining Garden City's fortunes. Nobody wants to miss a year due to injury, but in Chinn's case, both she and her team might be better off because of it.
"I believe things happen for a reason," Sharp said. "She was meant to be around our team last year, was meant to play with this group of individuals, and be the leader of this group of individuals. And she's really stepped up to that plate."