BROOKINGS, S.D. – Mackenzie Casey is energy personified. He brought his positive attitude to the men’s basketball team at South Dakota State University every day. It is an attitude that created respect for the young Jackrabbit from head coach Scott Nagy.
As he entered the final stages of his senior campaign for the Jackrabbits, Casey maintained a bright perspective that he hoped would make a memorable finish to his basketball career.
Casey’s story is a shining example of hard work and perseverance. That role model for his home community came from setting and reaching for goals.
According to his father, Tom Casey, all his son wanted to do was play collegiate basketball. “By setting that goal, it helped him focus on academic, life skills and of course, basketball.”
After starting for three years at Red Cloud High School, Casey set his sights on playing college basketball at a Division I school.
“When SDSU made the move (to Division I), I knew it was where I wanted and needed to be,” said Casey, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, originally from Wounded Knee.
While enthusiasm and attitude to play at the collegiate level were there, the reality seemed a bit out of his reach. Not a lot of schools called him. Few coaches knew about Casey, who had not played in any state tournament. Yet, he had his supporters, and he had caught the eye of Coach Scott Nagy during a Jackrabbit summer camp.
Nagy asked Casey to walk-on. As a freshman, he took a prominent role, playing in 28 games for the Jackrabbits.
According to his father, making the transition to SDSU from a 200-student reservation school in western South Dakota was a real test for his son.
“I remember that first season when Mackenzie flew on an airplane for the first time and saw Ground Zero in New York City,” said Tom Casey, a graduate of the University of Colorado who works for KILI radio in Porcupine.
“Then as a sophomore he made the trip to Rupp Arena (in Lexington, Ky.) and played 22 minutes,” said his dad. “Before 20,000 fans he stayed poised. I remember the Kentucky coach talking about Mackenzie with respect. I knew he would be okay.”
Staying focused and carrying a positive attitude, gained Nagy’s attention as Casey worked his way into a prominent role on the men’s team.
After two years cobbling together finances to continue his education, Casey received a surprise last year when Nagy offered him a scholarship. At the same time, Casey was presented with another character-building decision when he was asked to take a redshirt year. Nagy wanted him to be the senior leader for the Jacks’ 2008-09 squad.
“He was literally floored when we told him about the scholarship,” Nagy said. “He earned it because of his contributions and the energy and spirit that he brings to practice every day. We felt he would be able to handle this and he has.”
As a sophomore, he played in 27 games and as a junior appeared in 29 games. In his career, he made 19 starts and played in 98 games. His contributions have been significant, including a career-high 21 points against Idaho in 2006. He has reached double-digit scoring seven times.
Numbers have little resonance for Casey, though, except for team wins. He wants his team to do well, and to that end, he has committed to helping teammates in any way he can. For him, camaraderie among teammates is as important as making a key free throw in the game’s final seconds. In a team sport like basketball, trust and bonding fosters the togetherness needed to deal with the grind of long road trips, academic pressures and other challenges.
“It makes me proud that Coach Nagy trusts me and wants me as a leader on the team,” said Casey, a sociology major. “I am truly honored by that.”