Nadirah McKenith might be the new kid on the Lynx, but to her family back in Newark, N.J., she’s the superstar.
The 22-year-old guard was signed by the Lynx more than a week ago after spending her rookie WNBA season with the Washington Mystics. And while she’s looking to follow the example of star guard Lindsay Whalen, her younger siblings — including an 11th-grade brother and fifth-grade sister also bitten with the basketball bug — want to follow her into the professional ranks.
“Everybody plays basketball, and everybody looks up to me in my family,” the 5-7 guard said. “I’ve got to make sure I be the best role model that I can be for them because I know basketball is something that they really love and want to do, and they want to play in the pros someday.
“I’ve got to stay on them and tell them that they’ve got to work hard and keep their grades up, get a degree.”
McKenith takes different advice from Whalen, who is helping guide her through the Lynx’s routine.
“She’s an Olympian, so that’s someone to look up to,” McKenith said. “She knows everything about being a great point guard. She’s vocal. She leads the team. And she’s been doing a great job of mentoring me, staying in my ear. Telling me, ‘Don’t worry about it, just keep the pace going.’ ”
Coach Cheryl Reeve said she has been pleased with how the two have worked together, adding McKenith has solid offensive instincts and just needs help on details.
“Nadirah is a smart player in that she sees what Lindsay Whalen is doing and tries to kind of emulate that in the way that she would do it,” Reeve said. “Lindsay has been terrific at watching Nadirah go through the reps and correcting her on little things. Her angles, timing because that’s what makes a play successful.”
McKenith had the opportunity to show off some of that coaching in her Lynx debut during Sunday’s victory over Seattle.
She played just less than four minutes in the third quarter but managed a defensive rebound and attempted a 6-foot jumper, which she missed. That showing was enough to satisfy Whalen.
“I thought she looked really good,” Whalen said. “She looked comfortable. I thought she moved the ball well. She got an attack in there. So I know once she gets more into the practices and into the team, it’s going to be even better for her.”
While the St. John’s grad, who played 32 games for the Mystics as a rookie and was cut in training camp this year, is starting to feel at home on the court, she hasn’t had much time to explore the city.
McKenith said she spends much of her free time on social media, her favorites being Instagram and Twitter. Other than that, she watches TV.
What programs she watches reveals a guilty pleasure.
“Maybe I still watch Disney Channel,” she said. “I’m a huge fan of Hannah Montana.”
But the obsession goes beyond just casual viewing, according to her best friend and former college teammate Jennifer Blanding.
“Her whole room looked like Hannah Montana in college,” Blanding said. “And I was always trying to tell her she was too old for it.
“But she would always go to the locker room and turn on the TV to Disney, saying, ‘Oh, Hannah Montana’s on!’ ”
As for McKenith’s beloved character growing into the now notoriously raunchy Miley Cyrus, she has mixed feelings.
“It was kind of hard to watch her transition, all the twerking,” she said. “But I think … she really loves who she is now, so I think that’s a good thing.”