By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

WHITEHALL – Whitehall girls basketball coach Rachel Kent remembers watching Emily MacArthur play as an eighth-grader, and knowing right away she had the chance to be a standout.

MacArthur had all the physical tools – height, strength, agility, ball-handling skills, and the attitude it takes to be dominant on the basketball court. Those raw skills were enough to land MacArthur a spot on the varsity as a freshman.

Whitehall's Emily MacArthur (32) in action against Shelby. Photo/Tim Reilly

Whitehall’s Emily MacArthur (32) in action against Shelby. Photo/Tim Reilly

But she still had a lot of maturing to do if she was going to reach her full potential. That’s where Kent came in.

Instead of coddling the talented youngster and stroking her ego, the coach pushed and dared MacArthur to get better, even when the message was not well received.

Two years ago, Kent told MacArther and another standout player that they weren’t working hard enough, and would have to earn the kind of playing time they wanted.

‘I told them I just didn’t see that spark in them,” Kent said. “I think it kind of ticked (MacArthur) off. I think it made her step up and work even harder. She was almost like ‘I’m going to prove to you that I am everything people say I am at this young age.’”

Last season Kent threw out another challenge, publicly announcing that MacArthur still wasn’t where she needed to be.

“Emily needs to realize that she could be the best player in the area,” Kent told the media during a preseason interview in 2013. “She needs to play up to that. She’s a strong kid with great moves down low. She just needs to play aggressive and hard at all times.”

All the prodding from Kent has obviously paid off.

This season, as a senior, MacArthur has emerged as the complete packege. She’s not only the most dominant big player in the area, but a strong leader who puts her team first and wants to help her younger teammates improve.

On the court she’s become opponents’ worst nightmare – an already great player who just keeps getting better.

Her progress over her first three seasons was steady. She averaged 6.1 points and 6.7 rebounds as a freshman, 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds as a sophomore, and 22.4 points and 12 rebounds as a junior.

But this year she has been largely unstoppable, averaging 25.5 points and 12.8 rebounds per game coming into this week.

She is less than 100 points shy of the career 1,000-point mark.

MacArthur may have had her most impressive game last Thursday, scoring 25 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in a loss to Shelby, while playing with a severely sprained left ankle that was “swollen up like a softball.”

“She gets most of her points from underneath,” Kent said about her six-foot center/forward. “She has nice moves in the paint. She can spin either way, square up, fake and drive, fake and take the jumper, and she sees the high and low options very well.

“But she can also shoot the three, she can go coast-to-coast and score the layup, she can handle the ball, and she can read passes well and gets some steals. For a big girl that’s a lot.

“One coac told me they did everything imaginable to stop her and she still scored 32 points against them. She’s just so strong.”A96I3075

MacArthur also demonstrated her emotional maturity during preseason workouts this fall, when she texted Kent and asked to be the captain of the team.

“I was a lot more timid a couple of years ago,” said MacArthur, who was granted her wish by Kent. “I was always the youngest player on the team and I just kind of accepted it. I waited so long (to be a leader) and this year I was ready for it. I’ve been on teams with great leaders, and this year I wanted to be that person.”

MacArthur knows that much of her development is the direct result of the constant pushing she received from Kent.

“Coach is always pushing me to be better,” she said.

She remembers the “lack of spark” conversation with Kent two years ago, and admits that it had an impact.

“It made me mad at first, but I needed it,” MacArthur said. “I wasn’t working as hard as I should have been and I was getting satisfied. That was her way of telling me I needed to pick it up, never be satisfied, and always be hungry for more.”

Kent couldn’t be more proud of the player –  and the person – MacArthur has become over four years of varsity.

“She has become a great role model –  a great leader,” Kent said. “She has matured tremendously, even in just the past year. From a few years ago, she is a totally different person.

“It’s a nice feeling, doing more than just coaching the x’s and o’s, but using the sport to help develop their characters. It’s been fun being able to do that with Emily the past four years.”

Neither Kent nor MacArthur are thrilled with their team’s 1-4 start this season. Beyond MacArthur, the Vikings have a lot of skilled athletes who lack basketball experience.

“We’re frustrated,” MacArthur said after last Thursday’s loss to Shelby. “We’re working hard, and we’ve played better the last few games, so that’s encouraging.”

Despite her gaudy personal statistics, MacArthur said there’s “always something missing” when her team doesn’t win.

“I score because I want us to win,” she said. “If somebody else gets a bunch of points and we win the game, that’s great.”