Family Matters: Lady Topper senior finds success through faith, family

WKU’s senior guard Bianca McGee drives past guard Tahlia Pope (11) during the second half of WKU’s match against the University of Texas at Arlington Wednesday, Jan. 29 at Diddle Arena. The Lady toppers pulled off a 59-46 victory, and McGee led the team’s score total with 17 points. (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Kyle Williams

The first thing that comes to mind for most people regarding the Western Kentucky women’s basketball team is likely junior guard Alexis Govan, junior forward Chastity Gooch or coach Michelle Clark-Heard – for good reason. 

Govan is the Sun Belt’s Preseason Player of the Year and All-Conference First Team selection along with Gooch, and Clark-Heard is the reigning Sun Belt Coach of the Year. However, WKU fans should be cognizant of another piece of the Lady Toppers’ puzzle: senior guard Bianca McGee. 

The 5-foot-9-inch senior guard is the Lady Toppers’ third leading scorer at 10.9 points per game and is fourth in minutes played at 26.1 per game. McGee started 20 games last season, but solidified her role as the Lady Toppers’ offensive spark off the bench earlier in the year. 

 “As a coaching staff, you always feel like you need someone to be that spark off the bench,” Clark-Heard said. “And someone that can definitely bring an immediate impact, and that’s what Bianca’s done…the biggest thing is that she’s a senior now, so she has that leadership.

“She brings a ton to our team,” Clark-Heard said. “She’s very focused. She’s one of the players that just left my office – always coming in trying to figure out things about the opponent she needs to know, so I’m super excited about Bianca and what she’s brought to the table, and I know she’ll continue to keep doing it because she’s just growing more and more each day.”

Her reserve role has transformed into time in the starting lineup due to the absence of Govan for all of conference play. McGee started three of the Lady Toppers’ 11 games before Govan’s injury Jan. 1. Since then, McGee started in nine-straight conference contests of the game she grew to love in Michigan City, Ind. McGee, being the family-oriented person that she is, said she developed a love for basketball because she wanted to be just like her oldest sister.

“When I first started playing basketball, it was an ongoing thing with my sisters,” McGee said. “…My oldest sister was kind of like a mother to me…that’s why I wore number 22, because she wore number 22. I wanted to be just like her, so I started developing my own love for the game.”

As McGee grew up, her father, John McGee, saw potential in her game as early as when she was eight or nine years old as she began playing Amateur Athletic Union basketball. Her father would never let her have a job when she was growing up because he wanted her to focus on two things: school and basketball. 

“Some of my friends, they had jobs,” McGee said. “They used to buy all the latest clothes with their little jobs and I always wanted to get a job just to say I had a job and he wouldn’t let me. He said, ‘your job is school and basketball and I’ll get you everything you need and you will earn the things you want.’”

As she continued her AAU career, McGee found herself playing alongside Skylar Diggins, former McDonald’s All-American and current member of the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock. Diggins was a four-year starter at South Bend Washington High School, which is roughly 30 miles east of Michigan City High School, where McGee attended. Tulsa selected Diggins third overall in the 2013 WNBA draft out of Notre Dame. 

McGee said she still talks to Diggins, and because their fathers are close, she believes they’re fairly similar because of the way they were raised. 

“I was going through a bad time, and I texted her,” McGee said. “Because she always knows what to say – she’s just a great person.

“I think we were brought up similar…I feel like we have some of the same morals and values when it comes to our family,” McGee said.

McGee ended her high school career with more than 1,000 points and a career average of 20.1 points per game. She briefly attended Eastern Illinois University before transferring to Kilgore College, a community college in east Texas with an average enrollment of more than 5,000 students. 

McGee’s father said that she wasn’t prepared for the maturity level expected of a college athlete as an 18-year-old freshman, which ultimately led her to transfer to Kilgore.

“Junior colleges have a way of bringing you up to speed,” her father said. “…When Bianca went to Kilgore, it was the perfect situation for her…it couldn’t have been scripted better.”

Kilgore was a pleasant surprise for McGee, who averaged 15 points per game in two seasons as a Lady Ranger, but she always knew she belonged somewhere like WKU.  

“It was kind of like a blessing in disguise,” McGee said. “I met a lot of people at Kilgore, Texas, and it was just a great experience for me, and ultimately I ended up here, which I feel like was the plan for me. God led me here.”

WKU assistant coach Margaret Richards recruited McGee when she served as an assistant at Weber State during the 2011-12 season, but she wanted to transfer somewhere closer to home. Richards shortly left Weber State to join Clark-Heard at WKU, where she continued to recruit McGee, who made the decision to be a Lady Topper after an appearance from a special guest on her official visit. 

“I didn’t know anything about Western Kentucky and Western Kentucky didn’t know anything about me,” McGee said. “…I came on a visit and I just felt at home…I’ve been on a lot of college visits and there’s not one visit that I met the president…right away I told them I was coming.”

McGee made the transition from Kilgore to WKU seamlessly, as she recorded a double-double in her first game and went on to score in double figures in eight of her first nine contests as a Lady Topper. The sharpshooter started 20 of the 24 games she logged minutes in and averaged 12.5 points and 1.6 made three-pointers per game during her first season on the Hill. 

With seven regular season games remaining in her college career, she’s focused on setting an example for the 12 younger Lady Toppers. 

“As a senior, you’re expected to be a leader,” McGee said. “Even if it’s not scoring the most points or anything like that. It’s about molding everyone else. So that way, when you leave, they can continue the greatness.

“If we just follow the game plan, keep getting better defensively and stick together as a team, I would honestly say there’s not too much we can’t do,” she said. “I’m going to be realistic, but we can be a really great team when we’re listening and when we’re sticking together and playing our game.”

McGee graduated in December with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, and has always had aspirations of becoming a coach after her playing career. Naturally, she’s been learning as much as she can from Clark-Heard, who recorded the highest single-season turnaround in the Sun Belt conference in just her first year as a D-I coach. 

“She gets on me sometimes,” McGee said. “She always says I’m always trying to read her, but I think that’s just the inner coach in me because I do always look at her and what she’s doing…she always says she’s preparing me because she knows I want to be a coach.”

McGee has endured an unconventional ride through her college career, but McGee’s father, who still gets goose bumps when thinking about his daughter’s success, believes her faith is what has allowed her to be so tough. 

“What I’m so proud of is not so much when she puts the ball in the basket or makes a pass,” he said. “I’m proud of her resilience and her strength. She has had to deal with a lot.

“I believe that all of us have a destiny and God is looking over us all…I believe with her faith in God and the things that God has in store, it makes her resilient,” John McGee said. “Even when she’s going through things, she knows to go back to God.”

Despite the many ups and downs on McGee’s roller-coaster journey, two factors of her life have remained constant – her faith and family.

“God first,” McGee said. “I do have a great relationship with God…that kills most of my doubt. Then my family…I just have a great supporting cast. I know there’s a good handful of people that I can call on when I’m down and they’re going to do whatever they have to do to pick me back up.”