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Kayla McBride: Minnesota’s Certified Bucket-Getter

ByLinden Moore|@lindenmoore22| July 26, 2021
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For seven seasons Kayla McBride has provided big buckets to WNBA and overseas teams. Her elite shooting ability means she can drain buckets from almost anywhere on the floor – particularly beyond the three – ultimately earning her the nickname ‘McBuckets’. Today, five different cities – between high school, college, and now professional basketball – have seen a steady stream of points from the sniper.

Having carved out a role for herself, as shown by her three WNBA All-Star appearances, Kayla has figured out how to unlock new levels of her game by repeatedly redefining her work ethic. Her first season in a Minnesota Lynx uniform, which came as a result of a free agency move to join Cheryl Reeve in Minneapolis, is an example of just that, after years with the San Antonio Silver Stars/Las Vegas Aces.

Since landing in Minnesota, Kayla has averaged a pretty 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 0.9 steals. Now, she’s proud to be part of a team that’s invested in her becoming an even better player.

“After last year people were saying ‘I wasn’t this or I wasn’t that’. I wasn’t performing to my potential,” Kayla said in a recent postgame press conference. “Then to go into free agency and to have an organization like this really believe in you and really have your back through the ups and downs, it just feels good.”

“I just keep grinding, keep grinding, keep grinding. This is why you have to go through the process, why you have to go through the journey, and why you don’t give up. I know I’m exactly where I need to be.”

Her coach knows she is the perfect puzzle piece, too. “She’s passionate about her teammates and passionate about being a Minnesota Lynx,” Cheryl said. “Those things we knew, which is why we wanted her to be a part of this. Your selection of people is the single most important aspect of putting together a team, and we hit it out of the park with Kayla McBride.”

Kayla has continued to redefine what she’s capable of, and built up the right cast of support around her in order to make a lasting impact on the league as a standout shooter. But there was a time in college where it wasn’t clear she’d ever be on a WNBA court. So today we’re going to look at Kayla’s incredible basketball evolution and the way she’s turned her struggles into triumphs, as well as what might be next for the two-way standout.

Kayla McBride’s basketball evolution

Basketball has been part of Kayla’s life since her early days while growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania. Her first memory of picking up a basketball was at the tender age of five years old after following her dad when he was a referee.

“I was always in the gym with him. I would go to team camps; I loved the game. I loved the feeling of the ball going into the net, trying to perfect different things on the court: my shot, the crossover, ball between my legs,” she recalled in a video with Notre Dame.

“Every time I perfected something, I got more and more into it.”

She’d also play pickup at Burton Park, along 38th Street in Erie, Pa. “Burton Park gave Kayla the jumper she has, and it took the girl part of her game out of her,” said her father, LaMont McBride. “She learned that pull-up jumper in order to survive there.”

When Kayla was 12, her father was working the all-boys, former Knicks guard and Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State, Charlie Ward’s basketball camp and she tagged along. “Charlie started watching her, and then he started playing with her, and pretty soon, he was like, ‘We’ve got to let her be in the camp.'” her dad said. Charlie’s influence had a lifelong impact on Kayla who wears No. 21 as a tribute.

Despite picking up her skill set at a young age, Kayla didn’t notice her talent per se until she hit eighth or ninth grade. The more she practiced, the more motivated she became to set her goals at a higher standard. And so her dream of becoming a professional athlete was born.

“As a kid you have dreams of the schools you want to go to and playing on the big stages that you see on TV. So to know that those dreams could potentially be a reality is something that makes you want to work harder,” she said.

Aside from taking up sports at a young age, Kayla also holds the role of being a sister, as she’s the oldest of four children. She’s not alone in her college basketball pursuits, either: her younger sister Karlee played at the University of Indiana in Bloomington.

Her four years at Villa Maria Academy created many memories for her. Throughout her high school career Kayla was a three-year starter and four-year letter winner with two Pennsylvania Class AA state titles (2009, 2010) to her name. Add that to other accolades such as 2010 McDonald’s High School All American, ESPN RISE second-team All-American, 2010 MaxPreps fifth-team All-American, 2010 ESPN Hoopgurlz All-Star Team , 2010 Gatorade Pennsylvania High School Player of the Year, a three-time all-state selection (2008 – third team, 2009, 2010 – first team), as well as the 2007 Western Pennsylvania Freshman of the Year and recipient of the Swintayla Cash Award, and it’s clear she was well on her way towards achieving her goals.

By the end of her illustrious high school career she was ranked 20th by both ESPN Hoopgurlz (fourth among shooting guards) and Blue Star Basketball after posting career per-game averages of 14.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.3 steals.

Internationally, Kayla also became a member of the storied USA Basketball program. She landed a spot as one of 16 finalists, including fellow Notre Dame graduate Skylar Diggins-Smith for the 2014 USA Basketball Senior Women’s National Team that won a gold medal at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey. Her talent once again showed at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in 2010 when she helped the United States to a gold medal. That tournament in particular was a successful one, as she started all five games and averaged 8.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game with a .500 field goal percentage and .846 free throw percentage. This also secured her a tie for fourth on the team in scoring and free-throw percentage.

Whether it was in her high school gym or playing internationally, Kayla was turning heads with her incredible talent. She had a gift she’d developed, and it was bound to take her to new heights. Just like that her next adventure began in South Bend, Indiana at the University of Notre Dame.

Kayla McBride’s basketball career at Notre Dame

Kayla’s potential radiated in her game from a young age, and ultimately caught the attention of former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. It didn’t take long for Notre Dame to leave a lasting impression on the young high schooler, either. Just one visit to South Bend confirmed that was where Kayla wanted to spend the next four years of her life. Unlike some who commit later in their high school careers, Kayla committed to Notre Dame when she was 16, before graduating high school at 17.

“I only had to visit one time to know that this place was for me. When I stepped on campus as a 16-year-old it was this feeling – almost like butterflies,” she said.

From there, the 5’11” guard paved her own path as a college basketball player. Kayla appeared in 19 games her freshman year with a tally of 8.7 points and 3.3 rebounds on average per game, before missing the rest of the season to focus on class work. Unfortunately Kayla could only observe from the bench as her team lost in the national championship to Texas A&M in 2011.

“It was hard not being able to do the things that I love and meant so much for me,” Kayla reflected about that time a short few years later. “It changed my complete perspective about everything, and I honestly wouldn’t be sitting here right now about to play the national championship game if it wasn’t for that.”

Since she hadn’t been traveling with the team during that time, she played against the men at the college’s recreation center for competition and spent hours shooting at the gym. So much that she often slept in a nearby locker room to avoid the walk back to her dorm.

As a result of all she endured her first year, and rededicated to school work and basketball, Kayla playing time in all 39 contests, while starting 36 of them during her sophomore season. That year, she ranked fourth on the team (13th in the Big East) shooting a 49.6 field goal percentage.

“She is like an assassin,” coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think that she’s willing to throw the dagger. She wants to give you the knockout punch. She’s going to compete and battle on every possession. I think it’s what makes her great, and it’s been fun to watch her enjoying playing the game and she plays with such passion.”

By the time her junior year hit, Kayla’s production increase significantly. She became one of the team’s consistent go-to scorers having played in all 37 games with 36 starts along with an average career high of 15.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. On top of that she scored in double figures 32 times with one double-double before finishing the season seventh in the Big East in scoring, and leading the league in free-throw percentage with a school-record of 90-percent. This was the same year that she helped lead the Irish to another Final Four appearance.

Incredibly, her fourth year for the Irish would turn out to be just as, if not better than the last. Not only did Kayla have the title of team captain next to her name, she also started all 38 games and contributed career highs of 17.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game with a double-double and team high 14 20-point games. She also got a taste of the March Madness magic and did so by scoring 21 points and five rebounds against No. 1 Connecticut in the NCAA national championship game, landing herself a spot on the Final Four All-Tournament Team with final totals of 24.5 points and six rebounds in the final two games.

“She’s money. Kayla McBride is money. That’s cash. Every time she shoots that thing, it’s going in.” said then espnW national player of the week and the ACC player of the week, sophomore teammate Jewell Loyd.

By the end of her four years in South Bend, Kayla was ranked second in the ACC and 13th the nation in free-throw percentage (.880), sixth in assist/turnover ratio (1.78), ninth in assists, and 10th in scoring and three-point percentage (.366). On top of that she solidified 669 total points, taking hold of the fifth spot on Notre Dame’s single season scoring chart.

Kayla’s name has been written in Notre Dame’s record books multiple times. By the time she graduated she was ranked fifth in program history with 1,876 career points and first with 88.2 career free throw percentage, sixth in career games played (133) and career double-figure scoring games (100), seventh in career minutes played (3,735), and tie-ninth in career games started (114).

She was also one of five players in program history to score at least 1,800 points and grab 600 rebounds in her career; including a 23-game double-digit scoring streak in 2013-14 that was the fifth-longest in program history. She also averaged 18.7 points per game against Top 25 teams during her final two seasons. On top of that she graduated from the Mendoza College of Business with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

Kayla had made a remarkable turnaround on and off the court. It was time to see how her new work ethic and results would serve her in the pros.

Kayla McBride’s awards

  • Big East Championship Most Outstanding Player
  • Big East Championship All-Tournament Team
  • Championship Most Outstanding Player
  • Ranked fifth in Notre Dame program history with 1,876 career points
  • Ranked first with .882 career free throw percentage,
  • Ranked sixth in career games played (133) and career double-figure scoring games (100)
  • One of five players in Notre Dame program history to score at least 1,800 points and grab 600 rebounds

Kayla McBride in the WNBA

While Kayla continued to set records in college, coaches from around the country were again having a good look at her; this time it was about who was going to pick her in the WNBA Draft. Consistency on the floor as well as off ended up being attractive at the next level, as she went third overall in the 2014 WNBA Draft to the San Antonio Silver Stars. Kayla’s dream, at long last, was becoming a reality.

“Being in the WNBA it feels like a dream and always something that was kind of out of my reach. After my junior year knowing I could be one of the best players in the country I really started believing I could make it to the next level,” she said.

Draft night was full of emotion, as her nerves nearly got the best of her: Kayla recalls shaking while waiting for her name to be called. “The WNBA Draft – it still gives me anxiety to this day,” she recalled. “Sitting at that table and not knowing where you’re going to go or what’s going to happen next, it’s scary. But it’s also very exciting. I’m shaking, nervous, holding my mom’s hand and my mom was like ‘I’ve never felt your hand that sweaty.’ All of the sudden you hear ‘Kayla McBride, #3 from Notre Dame’ and you’re just like ‘what? I made it.’”

“In that moment it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders because as a kid you want to be successful, you want to be great and you know that the WNBA is the greatest thing in the world. Knowing that you made it to that point, you can reflect finally and take a deep breath.”

Her first season with the San Antonio Silver Stars meant that she would be playing with the likes of Jayne Appel-Marinelli and Becky Hammon. She averaged 13 points per game in her first season along with a 39.6 average from behind the arc, earning her a selection to the All-Rookie Team. Her second WNBA season brought improvement, ultimately earning her a spot in the 2015 WNBA All-Star Game before finishing the season with an average of 13.8 points per game.

Her third year would prove to be tougher than expected. While she played well in the first half of the 2016 season for the Silver Stars, she suffered a foot injury in early July that sidelined her for the rest of the season. However, she remained more hungry to come back better than ever.

As she says, “When something’s taken away – even the best game in the entire world – you find a way to keep going until you get it back.”

Her hard work paid off as she returned healthy in the 2017 season, where she started 29 of the Silver Star’s 30 games and posted an average of 15.4 points per game. But that was just the beginning of her return, as the 2018 season was one of Kayla’s best seasons as a professional athlete. Upon the Stars’ relocation to Las Vegas, she signed a multi-year deal with the Las Vegas Aces in free agency, where she set a new career high of 18.2 points per game along with a 39.3 three-point percentage. She was later voted to the 2018 WNBA All-Star Game and along with rookie A’ja Wilson, became one of the leaders of a new look Vegas team.

However, the 2019 season served as a reminder that even leaders struggle, too. Kayla’s overall performance decreased from the year before as she tallied an average of 13.3 points. These were similar numbers to those with her first season with the Silver Stars and a surprising drop from her high marks the year before. Kayla still helped the Aces to a 21-13 record in 2019 while also securing a spot as part of the All-Star Game again, before going to the semi-finals later in the season. 

The 2020 season presented another set of challenges. In response to the world coming to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WNBA made the decision to hold a shortened season in a bubble based in Bradenton, Florida. Kayla started all 22 games with an average of 12.5 points and a team-leading 89.7% free throw percentage. Her numbers helped the Aces to a no. 1 seed and a spot in the semifinals, then a berth in the 2020 WNBA Finals before losing to the Seattle Storm.

In traditional Kayla fashion, she always gives it her all. While her last two seasons in Vegas reflect that the work never stops for a professional athlete, it also shows the importance of finding the right fit.

The 2021 season has since proven to be different. After seven seasons with San Antonio and Las Vegas, she signed with the Minnesota Lynx during Free Agency.  

“Being in Minnesota is something I am so hyped about,” Kayla said. “The city, the fans and the organization have all been something I have admired for so long. Coach Cheryl Reeve and her staff believe in me to be a part of the special atmosphere they have here and I am extremely excited to become a part of it.” 

Something in particular that she appreciated about Cheryl and her coaching staff is how the team continues to put in the effort to coach her and help her elevate her game. Recently she passed the 500-career assist mark while also contributing strong shooting performances on most nights.

“As a player, somebody who’s known for shooting the ball and making shots, being here has been a blessing for me. I’m getting coached all the time – good times, bad times. When it’s good it’s great because this culture means so much to me and my teammates mean so much to me and Coach Reeve and the staff. I know I’m exactly where I need to be and it’s anything I am or am not doing it’s just things are coming together,” she said.

“I’m thankful for this group: Syl, Phee, coaching staff, this whole organization has been nothing but a blessing for me so every night I step onto the court I’m just thankful to be out there with them. It means so much more to me than just being myself and feeling that I compete through the good and bad.”

With the way she’s playing right now, her time in Minnesota might be shaping up to be some of her best WNBA basketball yet.

Kayla McBride overseas

Similar to many WNBA players, Kayla has found her way overseas during the WNBA offseason over the past several years. Her performances have held a common theme similar to the WNBA: her impact is noticeable and valued.

She made an immediate impact in her first season with Sopron in Hungary (EC) in 2014 where she led the team in scoring and free throw percentage. She didn’t stop there, as her time on Hungary’s Sopron (ADIV) in 2014 also led to honors such as Eurobasket.com All-Hungarian League Player of the Year, Guard of the Year, Import Player of the Year, Hungarian League First Team, while also leading the team in scoring, rebounding, steals and free throw percentage.

Her journey later led her to play in Russia, then Turkey multiple times in 2016 and 2017, with appearances in the EuroLeague with Nadezhda O. where they went to the EuroLeague Finals. Along the way she racked up accolades such as Eurobasket All-Imports Team, All-EuroLeague Second Team as she scored in double figures in 15 of 18 games, including 2 games of 20 points.

In 2018 she made the move to UMMC Ekaterinburg—Russia (PBL) where she won the PBL Championship, as well as the Euro Supercup. That same year she traveled to UMMC Ekaterinburg—EuroLeague where she helped take home the EuroLeague Championship. She stayed in Turkey for the next offseason where she won the Turkish Cup in 2018 with Yakin Dogu as part of the KBSL in Turkey before going to be part of the EuroLeague Final Four that same year.

In early 2021 she played with Fenerbahce Oznur Kablo in Turkey and averaged 16 points per game over 10 games in the EuroLeague, including a championship trophy following an undefeated season.

Much like her performances in the States, her time in the blue and yellow colors shined bright and landed her two more years playing for Fenerbahce Oznur Kablo.

Kayla McBride’s stats

Kayla’s stats have improved throughout her eight seasons so far in the WNBA. Scoring was and still remains her strongest asset, especially from the free-throw line. Her strong debut with the San Antonio Silver Stars came with a team-leading average of 13 points per game and sat second in the ranks at 2.3 free throws per game. During her second season in 2015 she continued to hit her stride, once again leading the team with 13.8 per game in what became her first All Star season in only her second year in the league. Many of these points came from her team-leading 37.3 percentage from three, solidifying herself as a consistent offensive presence.

Her third season in San Antonio, however, went differently than hoped. Although she still averaged 17.1 points upon an early season-ending right foot injury. Fast forward a year later and although she was back healthy, her numbers dropped a bit in 2017, which included an unusual 31-percent average from the three-point line.

The next season came with a change of location as the Silver Stars relocated to Las Vegas. Fresh off a multi-year deal with the newly formed Las Vegas Aces, Kayla produced some of her best WNBA basketball up until that date averaging 18.2 points a game that led her into another All-Star appearance. The year 2019 became yet another successful campaign for Kayla, who combined with a team-leading 90.6 free throw percentage and contributing 2.6 assists per game, booked her another All-Star appearance.

By this time, she had adopted the name ‘McBuckets’ as heard around various arenas and social media accounts.  Fans came to know her as a consistent presence as a shooter and one who could shoot the lights out.

Despite 2020 being a lopsided year due to the pandemic, Kayla still helped the Aces to a Finals run with a 13.5 points average and 89.7 free throw shooting percentage. She was also in the top five of scorers along with A’ja Wilson, Angel McCoughtry, and Dearica Hamby.

Kayla McBride's WNBA stats
Via Basketball Reference

Since landing in Minnesota, Kayla’s already had some big games that have also reached some significant milestones. Earlier this month she recorded 500 career assists while also posting 14.1 points so far this season. The fact that she’s surrounded by players such as Napheesa Collier, Sylvia Fowles, and Layshia Clarendon means that she’s not the only shooter on the team and has allowed her to increase her number of assists.

Her consistency has also increased at the free throw line as she leads the WNBA so far this season with a 96.2-percent average from the free throw line.

Kayla McBride leads the WNBA so far this season with a 96.2-percent average from the free throw line
Photo via ESPN

Kayla McBride’s WNBA strengths

1. Threes

Kayla earned the nickname “McBuckets” for a reason. One of her favorite spots to shoot the ball is from behind the three-point line, as is shown in her current 40.2% from behind the arc. This has contributed to her average of 14.1 points a game so far this season, which ranks third on the Lynx behind Napheesa Collier (17.3 points) and Sylvia Fowles (15.9 points).

In June 2021, she dropped a career high 26 points, including five three pointers, against the Phoenix Mercury. Scoring was one of her go-to skills in Las Vegas as well, posting her highest average yet of 18.2 points per game in 2018. When Kayla’s shot gets going, chances are her team’s will, too, as show by her 2021 win field-goal percentage .504 versus her loss (.351).

2. Free throws

Free throws have been Kayla’s bread and butter for most of her basketball career. She currently leads the Lynx with a 96.3 free throw percentage and sits third on the team with an average of 2.7 free throws per game. She had a similar look last year in leading the team with an 89.7 percentage. When Kayla is at the free throw line, the bank is open.

3. The drive

At a distance of 3 to 10 feet from the basket Kayla shoots her highest field goal percentage (.750), which can mostly be attributed to lay-ups (.600). Because she’s such a threat at the three, once she’s trained the defense to anticipate the shot, she can blow by on the drive and get the bucket. Look for her to keep hitting runners in the lane, spinning into floaters, and more.

4. Lock down defense

Kayla was signed for her offensive skills, and yet she has become the Lynx’s defensive stopper. She shut down scoring threat Diana Taurasi in consecutive games in Phoenix, then limited star player Arike Ogunbowale as the Lynx took on the Dallas Wings. Diana and Arike combined for only 9 for 38 shooting in those three games against Minnesota.

“I know what it is to be a scorer, and I know when you’re able to be in somebody else’s space it can be disturbing and it can be disrupting…I enjoy the challenge,” Kayla said. “I feel like I’m one of the players that not only scores but can also defend on the other end, and that’s something coach expects of me. Just always pushing myself to be better on both ends of the floor.”

Kayla McBride’s opportunities in the WNBA

1. Efficiency

One of the areas that Kayla can improve on is efficiency. Although she brings many strengths to the team,  her efficiency ratings have been lower than where coaches would like it. The highest efficiency rating of her WNBA career so far has been 16.6, which came during the 2018-19 season with the Aces. However, it has since decreased in her last two seasons with Vegas: she posted a 13.3 rating in the 2019-20 season and an 11.1 in 2020. 

This statistic also caught Cheryl’s attention when they signed Kayla in Free Agency, as she listed it as something that she hopes Kayla will improve on this season. 

 “It’s been a point of education with Kayla,” Cheryl said in an article with the Star Tribune. “We wanted her to use it where it would be more efficient. She likes to use that thing from 15 feet, and we don’t like that.”

The work has already begun, as Lynx assistant coach Katie Smith has been working with Kayla on this area of her game.

“When you come off a screen and you’re 15 feet away, that’s a two-foot stop. Two-foot stop and shoot it. You feel the defender behind you, but you don’t fear the contact. You want the contact. You have to go over the screen with KMac, so you have them right where you want them,” Cheryl explained.

With some work here, KMac’s game can keep elevating to a new level.

2. Keeping the pressure on

Kayla tends to get quiet in the last 3 minutes of quarters, after making her impact early in them. The majority of her points come in minutes 6 to 10. By staying aggressive in the final minutes Kayla can keep the defense guessing, and apply more pressure, helping to put her team in a better spot.

What’s next for Kayla McBride

Kayla shines just as brightly off the court as she does on it. When she isn’t draining buckets, she’s advocating for mental health awareness and embraces the culture of the family that surrounds her.

In 2020, Kayla authored a Players Tribune article that discussed her battle with anxiety and mental health. This gave fans a deep glimpse into the mind of a Euro Champion and WNBA finals finalist, and allowed her to share a message that it’s OK to fall apart. Kayla is an example that you can still thrive, even in dark times.

Just as she inspires young hoopers around the world, Kayla gains inspiration from her family. When you see her, you’ll notice her tattoos, which symbolize Kayla’s go-to things: family and unconditional love, as well as arrows, which serve as a testament to her strength.

As she describes on her website: “I have a small obsession with arrows, because they can only be propelled forward, all the setbacks, the hardships, it’s a constant reminder that there is another day ahead and to keep fighting.” Above all, one of Kayla believes in “tak[ing] care those who take care of you.” She hopes to share the message through her new clothing line.

“It’s something that I’ve wanted to diversify into,” she said on a press call earlier this month shortly after the launch of her brand. “I love fashion, I love clothes and just being able to share that with the world is something that I’ve been proud of. It’s not easy – it’s a lot of work making sure things are falling into place, but I’ve had great reception and I’m thankful people are into it and hopefully we can keep moving this thing forward.”

 Since her move to the Lynx in February of 2021, people have thrown around the idea that Kayla’s heading into the prime of her WNBA career. While she’s already had a record career in the pros and celebrates those successes, she’s aware that her lifespan as a professional athlete is finite.

“[I’m trying to maximize the time I have left being a professional basketball player,” she said. “[I’m] putting myself into reality, understanding that I don’t want to lose my love of the game. I never want someone to say, ‘she looks unhappy out there.’ I don’t want to have to question why I play the game. It’s because I love it and that’s something I never, ever take for granted. Basketball is the best game that’s ever been played. I love the game too much not to give everything that I have.”

Kayla’s got a lot more to give. “It just feels good to keep getting better, to keep getting coached and being with an organization you’ve admired for so long and having success. It feels so good.” she said. Not just in basketball, but also with the platform that she’s created as a professional athlete. Determined, resilient, and consistent Kayla will continue to be a bucket — and so much more.

Up next, learn more about her Lynx teammate Napheesa Collier.

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