Friday, July 19, 2013

Virginia-bound Mikayla Venson succeeding by taking her own path

Being a regular teenager is important to Mikayla Venson, a rising senior at Arlington's Yorktown High who committed to the University of Virginia earlier this week.

That means family comes first. Spending time with mom Pia, father Michael and her brother, 21, also named Michael, comes first in her life. But just because she hasn't spent all her time playing high school or AAU ball, don't think that Venson, a 5-7 point guard ranked No. 23 in the class of 2014 by ESPN, doesn't work at her game.

"I'm going to work my butt off between now and when I get to UVA," said Venson, whose father is a former McDonald's All-American who played one season at Georgetown under John Thompson before finishing at James Madison under Lefty Driesell.

Venson joins 6-2 Aliyah Huland El and 6-2 Lauren Moses in a 2014 class that looks to be among the best in the nation.

Venson has gone the nontraditional route. She won't play basketball her senior year, and she didn't play as a junior, choosing to focus on her health. During her sophomore year, Venson was sidelined three games into last season when, while driving to the basket against Centreville, she crashed to the floor after a forearm to the head. While Venson lay on the floor, the game continued, until the teams returned to her end.

"I played for one more minute and I got up not feeling well," she said. "Afterward, I told my parents I had a headache."

The headaches, dizziness, difficulty concentrating and sensitivity to light and noise continued for months, all lingering symptoms of a concussion. Venson resorted to home schooling and didn't attend games given the effect of the noise and lights.

When she returned to the court, it was if she never left. Playing for Team Takeover, Venson wowed coaches at the Boo Williams Invitational with her pull-up jumper, athleticism and quick hands. Although she hadn't played AAU since 2008, Venson decided to join Team Takeover as it was coached by Ron James, her former 9U AAU coach and father to one of her best friends, Raven James. But an elbow right between the eyes while playing in Florida in June sent Venson to the hospital. The 12 stitches above her eye are healing nicely, though her AAU career is over.

"She's the total package," said James, who coached her Fairfax Stars team to a national championship in 2008. "The thing that I've always known about her that makes her pretty unique is her dedication and commitment to the game. Her motor keeps on going. She's got that 'it' factor."

Even as a young teen Venson was up at 5 a.m. in the gym with her dad hungry for more drills. She loves working out with her dad and has made a habit of playing pickup against not just guys, but men, many of whom are her dad's friends.

Yet the choice not to let basketball dominate her childhood was a conscious one.

"I'm a regular teenager, and I'm glad I've experienced that," said Venson, who lists books, movies and traveling with her family as her favorite things to do. "I did't want to be in a gym 24/7 playing basketball."

Venson calls her biggest motivator her brother. Michael Venson II, has cerebral palsy. In a May tweet, Mikayla said not seeing her brother every day would be the hardest part of going to college. The proximity to family is among the reasons why she chose Virginia over  Rutgers, Duke, West Virginia, Maryland and James Madison. Stanford, Cal and UCLA also showed interest, but, "I wanted to stay on the East Coast," she said. Tennessee, Louisville and South Carolina were the other schools in her final four.

"As soon as I got on campus at Virginia and met the coaches and players, I felt comfortable," said Venson, who will major in psychology. "The academics are great. The campus has a wonderful atmosphere. I just love it."

Mom and Dad promise to be at home games and many on the road, and the bond Mikayla shares with her brother is "unbreakable. He's been with me since the beginning. He can't play any sports, but he's always the loudest person in the gym."

Virginia fans have a lot to look forward to in Venson, who says between now and the first time she wears a Cavalier uniform, "I'm going to become a perfectionist with my game. That's going to make me work 50 times, no, 100 times harder."

1 comment:

  1. Can't wait to see her in action at Virginia!