The odds for a women’s collegiate basketball player to compete professionally are less than one percent.
To be a member of that elite group, players sacrifice long hours of practice to perfect their skills. An athlete’s drive and passion for the sport separates those who just play for the enjoyment and those who want to go pro.
Raised in Arlington, Texas, Keena Mays, former standout player for SMU women’s basketball team has that same drive and passion. She holds the school’s single season scoring record of 691 points and was the American Athletic Conference’s most prolific scorer during her tenure on the Hilltop.
Outside of her accolades in basketball she demonstrated natural athleticism in other sports, too. I had the pleasure of knowing Keena prior to her days on the Hilltop, as we both ran track for the Arlington Flyers summer program.
Keena recalled her fondest memory with the Arlington Flyers as winning state in the 400-meter dash.
“Track was the one sport I did that I wasn’t naturally gifted in. I started later than most runners did and wasn’t the fastest. I had to learn how to run properly, learn when to sprint and when to pace myself, and tried different events to figure out what I was good in. So, for everything to come together as quickly as it did and to win state was a big accomplishment for me,” she said.
From her success in track, one would think she’d pursue track and field at the next level, but basketball was her calling.
“I loved track, but had to stop running because I could only play one sport,” Mays said, “At the time I was participating in four sports and it was hard making sure I made it to all the different events.”
As early as the age of four, Keena Mays was dribbling a basketball.
“My mom played basketball, so I’m sure she was the one who put a basketball in my hands at a young age. I have an older brother and cousins that were always playing outside, and that was the only way I could hang out with them. Plus I loved the game,” she said.
During her senior year at Timberview High School in Mansfield, Texas, Mays led the Wolves to the 2010 4A state championship.
“We were predicted to win it all, but it was amazing watching my team come together and live up to the expectations, and it was awesome to end my high school career on a win,” she said proudly.
After high school, she went on to play basketball at the University of Kansas, where she appeared in 34 games as a freshman and drew 13 starts, including two during Big 12 conference play. Following her freshman year, she decided to transfer from Kansas to SMU.
“I left KU to be closer to my family. My grandma was sick at the time and I felt the need to come home and help my family care for her,” she said.
As a Mustang, she set the bar high her junior year as she was named Conference USA Player of the Year, WBCA All-America finalist, first team All-C-USA and C-USA Newcomer of the Year. She started in 23 games after missing the first eight due to NCAA transfer rules. During her junior year, Keena led the team to a conference championship and a Women’s NIT appearance.
Going into her senior year, Keena was the highlight of the American Athletic Conference with 21.6 points per game and shot a league-best 39.6 percent from the 3-point line. In addition, she finished with a school record 88 3-pointers in only 32 games. During the final minutes of the Women’s NIT tournament, Keena broke Rhonda Rompola’s (her head coach’s), single season scoring record.
With bittersweet emotion Keena said, “I hate that it had to be my last game in a SMU uniform, but it was cool to get the record.”
Having had a phenomenal two-year career on the Hilltop, Keena recalled her best memory playing basketball at SMU.
“I loved how close of a team we became and the history that we made. We won a conference championship, won games that we weren’t supposed to, broke records and brought excitement back into Moody Coliseum for women’s basketball. I’m proud to say that I was part of that,” she said.
Following her graduation from SMU, she was invited to training camp with the Los Angeles Sparks.
“LA was a great experience. I knew the style and level of play was going to be completely different from college. I was there for two weeks before I got cut, but I learned a lot from veterans Alaina Beard, Lindsey Harding and Nneka Ogwumike. I was grateful for the opportunity and hope to get another one in the future,” she said.
Basketball didn’t stop for Keena as she played in Israel this past season for Hapoel Petah Tikva. She currently plays for MKK Siedlce in Poland.
Like most dedicated athletes, Keena follows a few pre-game rituals that include praying and kissing two bracelets that she wears daily. One bracelet represents her family and the other represents Hannah Moss. Moss was a member of SMU women’s track and field team who passed away on March 18, 2014.
Moss is greatly missed and leaves behind her favorite quote, which is
written, on T-shirts and bracelets saying, “When it hurts most, laugh.”
Behind every victory there is always some sort of doubt. In the game of basketball, Keena says she’s her biggest critic.
“I’m not the best loser, especially if I play bad that game. I always want to do the best I can to help the team win, and when that doesn’t happen I take it really hard, ” she said.
In addition to basketball, Keena is also a ‘Do-It-Yourself Queen’ as she enjoys building and carpentry work.
“I want to eventually go to carpentry school so that I can build and renovate houses, ” she said.
She’s also a proud member of the #BeyHive, which for those who don’t know is the name for all of Beyoncé’s fans.
“I love that Beyoncé is always about the uplifting and empowerment of women. She’s a positive role model as an entertainer, a wife and as a mother,” she said.
At 23, the possibilities are endless for Keena. If she weren’t playing professional basketball overseas, she would love to have a job where she makes a positive difference in people’s lives. Keena’s outgoing personality and high-energy spirit has illuminated not only the Mustang family, but all who are fortunate to meet her.