By Jeffery Swindoll
Some fans call her ‘Z’ from the stands. Teachers know her as an honor roll student. Opposing teams know her as a lethal three-point specialist. Teammates know her as a strong, quiet leader by example.
Through discipline and willingness to adjust, one of the Lady Bears basketball team’s most consistent players this season, senior guard Makenzie Robertson, came a long way to reach this point in her career.
It was a long time coming. Robertson finally earned a game-to-game starting role this season for the first time in her four-year career.
Robertson said her experiences on previous Baylor teams in her career has taught her a lot of things other players may not have learned.
“The last three years I didn’t really get much playing time at all,” Robertson said. “Just being here and being around the teams, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve watched our past seniors and leaders and how they handled things.”
Even in her first year seeing major minutes every game, Robertson sees herself as a leader for the Lady Bears. As one of only four upperclassmen, Robertson values her role as an example to the young players.
“I think I just accept the role, and coming into the year, I knew it was my last chance,” Robertson said. “If I can lead by example then that’s what I’m going to do. I may not be as talented as other players, or people we’re playing, but I’m going to give 110 percent.”
Robertson had to adjust from her most comfortable position on the court to suit the team best.
“When Alexis Prince was hurt, and she had to call it quits on the season, we didn’t really have another big player to play out there,” Robertson said. “I had to take over that position even though it’s not my true position.”
By changing to a wing-style role, Robertson put it upon herself to get in the gym more often to keep her shooting on point, but defense has probably been Robertson’s most challenging hurdle this season.
Measuring in at 5-foot-9, Robertson has a critical task each game of defending players at least 3 inches taller than her night after night.
“I’m guarding these players that are 6-foot up to 6-foot-4,” Robertson said. “I’ve just had to try and really battle. It’s been different, but I’ve accepted it and I will run with it because it’s my chance.”
Robertson also deals with something no other player on her team deals with —being the head coach’s daughter.
“It’s different,” Robertson said. “Coming to Baylor was the first time she’s coached me in anything really. There were a lot of adjustments I had to make. I still don’t know half the time whether to call her ‘coach’ or ‘mom’.”
It was not a seamless process, but Robertson said she feels she found a healthy way to balance being the coach’s daughter.
“In the beginning, I had to kind of make sure the team knew that I’m one of them, and I’m not just going to go talk to my mom about everything,” Robertson said. “They just look at me as anyone else. They forget that she’s my mom.”
Robertson said taking criticism from a coach is one thing, but hearing it from your mother is a unique experience.
“Personally, I think the hardest thing is trying to take her criticism and not take it to heart off the court,” Robertson said. “We’ve done a good job of separating the two roles, but there are times even when I want to talk back on the court, and I just know I can’t.”
Being Robertson’s mother is something Mulkey rarely ever talks about to the media. Unless asked questions specifically having to do with their mother-daughter relationship, Robertson and Mulkey mostly keep it low-key when it comes to family matters. When Mulkey does talk about Robertson she often commends Robertson as one of her players who really worked hard to play at the level the rest of her competition is playing. Mulkey tries to be as objective as she can be when evaluating players, including her own daughter.
“[When evaluating players] you find players that I call ‘diamonds in the rough’,” Mulkey said. “You can walk into a gym and take two minutes to find an Odyssey Sims. Everyone can coach an Odyssey Sims, but it’s those that sit in the gym the entire game to find the players like the ‘Makenzie’s’ that will do whatever it takes of themselves to win.”
The Lady Bears were left with only one returning starter after last season. Because of that, a huge change in the offensive engine for this team had to be modified a bit.
One of the tweaks in the offense is the multiple point guard offense that Mulkey implemented. The offense starts with either sophomore guard Niya Johnson or senior guard Odyssey Sims, but Robertson completes the triple-threat of guards in the attack.
“The fact that we have multiple point guards and that we can move Odyssey to a different position sometimes really helps,” Robertson said. “When they double off some of us, as long we’ve been getting in the gym and we’ve been shooting, then we can make some shots.”
Robertson has made the majority of those shots lately, but that came with her making an effort to excel in that aspect of her game.
“I’ve had to make sure to get in the gym, stay shooting, and know that if I have an off-game, a shooter has to stay shooting or else they’ll never get out of it,” Robertson said.
She has come up big for her team many times this season, but her game-tying shot with just seconds left in regulation against Oklahoma State earlier this season was possibly the biggest shot of her career. With less than five seconds on the clock, the Lady Bears scrambled to get a shot off, but could not seem to find the space to do so. Fortunately for Robertson, she did not need the space. The ball fell to Robertson, who started going through her shot motion immediately after catching the ball.
Three yards behind the line, and with a hand right in her face, Robertson nailed the three-pointer to send the game into overtime.
The Lady Bears jumped for joy, running to Robertson and embracing her for burying a clutch shot in a huge road game that Baylor went on to win. Robertson said the shot meant a lot to her.
“Robertson killed us up [in Stillwater],” OSU head coach Jim Littell said.
Her three-point shooting is no secret to opposing coaches. Robertson can be deadly from downtown. Robertson said she knew all along the Lady Bears have something special this year.
“Expectations weren’t really high coming from the outside, but we knew we had the potential to be really good,” Robertson said. “We’ve had to come together, and really worked together to be a top team.”