Army's Kelsey Minato 1st active cadet to have jersey retired
WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) Perched on the shoulders of her Army teammates and tears glistening in her eyes, Kelsey Minato gallantly fought the emotion of the moment as she glanced up at her No. 5 hanging from the rafters of West Point's Christl Arena.
Senior night turned into something very special for Minato. The academy retired her number in a brief postgame ceremony, making her the first West Point athlete so honored while still active.
''It means a lot to me,'' Minato said, parents Dorothy and Rick by her side. ''At the same time, it's something I wouldn't have gotten if I didn't have teammates like this. A lot of the credit has to go to them.''
Spoken like the quintessential teammate Minato has been since arriving at West Point nearly four years ago. Rick Minato, whose family has a history of service in the Army dating to World War I, said all it took was one look at the campus for Kelsey to know it was the right place.
Was it ever.
Minato, who on Saturday captured her third Patriot League player of the year award, is the leading scorer in school and league history. Her 2,477 career points eclipsed the league record of 2,462 set in 2003 by Bucknell's Molly Creamer.
And in her four years she has led Army to a 6-2 record against Navy, part of her class's school-record 97 wins.
All that from a guard generously listed at 5-foot-8 who was lightly recruited in high school at Huntington Beach, California, even though she set the scoring record there, too, and had her No. 5 retired.
''College coaches look for the 6-4 stud, athletic. They look for speed and strength, but not always is the greatest athlete the greatest player,'' Huntington Beach coach Russell McClurg said. ''Kelsey is the most unassuming kid you'll ever meet. She doesn't look the part, but my God, she can play the part.''
And against anybody. She had 23 points at Duke this season and 27 in an NCAA Tournament first-round game at Maryland as a sophomore, to name just two.
What's rather remarkable is that her game is nearly a carbon copy of NBA star Stephen Curry's. Blink and all you'll likely hear is - SWISH! - from beyond the arc or after a dash through the paint.
''It's amazing,'' McClurg said. ''You look at her muscle memory. It's so uncanny. You have the female version of a Steph Curry-type player in the same era. I swear, if they were related, OK, it makes sense.''
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, a West Point graduate, saw it firsthand. The summer before last, he brought the USA Basketball men's national team to his alma mater's campus and called out Minato and Curry for a 3-point shooting contest with a regulation ball. Curry sank a couple more shots, but Coach K tabbed Minato the winner, saying Curry stepped over the 3-point stripe too many times.
''She is, without question, the greatest offensive perimeter player I've ever coached, male or female,'' said Army coach Dave Magarity, whose experience spans more than three decades and includes a stint at Marist where he mentored Rik Smits and others who went on to the NBA. ''She has such a great feel for the game.''
On senior night against Boston University on Feb. 24, Army fell behind 5-0 and Minato responded with four straight 3s, all touching nothing but net as the Black Knights assumed control. She finished with 30 points in a 34-point victory.
That she could have scored a lot more was a minor irritation for Magarity.
''They think I'm crazy, but I just think she passes up way too many open looks,'' Magarity said. ''But she's so selfless. There's times where she needs to be a little more - I don't want to say selfish - but a little more opportunistic. I mean, we're talking about one of the best shooters in the country.''
Minato's greatest gift might just be that unselfishness.
''Her demeanor on and off the court is so admirable. I look up to her,'' 6-foot-2 senior center Aimee Oertner said. ''She's a great example for kids, everybody in the corps, and all the girls coming in.''
''She's a great teammate. That's why, I think, her teammates love her. They would set a million screens for her,'' added Magarity, just the second coach to take both a men's and women's program to the NCAA Tournament. ''I've coached kids where when you're that good and you get that much notoriety, it creates a level of resentment or underlying jealousy. I've never sensed that. She just has a way about her.''
The end of her Army career is so very close for Minato, who has been enamored with the game since her dad stuck a ball in her hands at age 3 and began teaching her in the driveway at home. Her career path after graduation is set to take her to field artillery for the start of the Army's five-year commitment, and her class will be the first in academy history to be commissioned with combat positions open to qualifying women.
Magarity is hopeful basketball will be part of that future. Creamer's Patriot League success afforded her an opportunity to play in the WNBA, and Magarity wants Minato to at least get that chance. He said she is headed to the Final Four at Indianapolis in April and will take part in the WNBA combine there on championship weekend.
''There's been conversations about giving her the opportunity to try out,'' Magarity said. ''There's different ways of doing it. I just think that because of her profile, once she's done (at West Point) why wouldn't you let her do that?''
Regardless of what happens after the season, the 10th anniversaries of Army's first NCAA Tournament appearance and the death of former coach Maggie Dixon at age 28 have made this a memorable moment in time for Minato and the Black Knights (26-2, 17-1 Patriot League). Army is the top seed in the league tournament and eyeing another NCAA Tournament berth.
''Maggie, I think, would have really enjoyed the hell out of her (Minato),'' Magarity said. ''She took a group of kids who were overachievers and went to an NCAA Tournament. The irony of this being her 10-year anniversary coming up in April ... blows my mind.''
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