Graduate forward McKenzie Bushee shooting a free throw in a game against Delaware State on Nov. 9. It is Bushee’s fifth and final year with the Stony Brook women’s basketball team. KAT PROCACCI/THE STATESMAN

McKenzie Bushee, the reigning America East Sixth Player of the Year and graduate forward, is returning with the Stony Brook women’s basketball team for her fifth and final season as a Seawolf after making headlines with her choice to put her name in the transfer portal.

When Bushee entered her name into the transfer portal this spring, it caught some off guard. She noted various factors influenced her initial decision, including a desire for a change of scenery and an evaluation of other schools’ academic programs in which she may pursue her graduate degree. However, her name was removed from the gateway in the blink of an eye, and she offers various explanations for this.

“Once I met [head coach Ashley Langford] and talked to her and my teammates, I knew that this was home,” Bushee said in an interview with The Statesman. “I knew I could not leave. This is my family. Like I’ve been here for four years, I graduated from undergrad here, this is my home. I just couldn’t leave that. I couldn’t imagine not spending my last year of eligibility with them and not being able to celebrate again with them.”

While preparing for year number five to kick off, she reflected on her first four and what her experience has been like as a member of this team.

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“My undergrad here was a growth, just a huge growth for me,” Bushee said. “Freshman year I came in, I met coach [Caroline McCombs] and right away I knew she was a great person and she was going to take care of me … She really made me feel comfortable. Then I met my teammates, and as I said, that’s my family. Those are my sisters.” 

Of course, last season was one to remember for Bushee. She played in 21 games for Stony Brook, coming off the bench in 18 of those games while averaging 5.6 points per game on a nearly 54% field goal percentage. She also averaged 3.4 total rebounds per game as the conference’s top bench player. Her defense was vigorous, her offense was useful, and her presence was felt. 

“That was a huge accomplishment, and I had no idea that it was going to happen,” Bushee said. “I wasn’t even aiming for that as a goal or anything. But, you get a role in college, and you can either accept that role, or you don’t have to, but I really grew with that role. I knew that it was what my team needed from me: to be that sixth person, to be that spark off the bench. This offseason, I’ve just been continuing my growth and continuing what I do best: being a leader and being the best teammate that I can be.”

She also added that this offseason was more about mental and emotional growth than it was anything physical. Her Sixth Player of the Year campaign helped lead the Seawolves to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. As she prepares to compete for a second straight March Madness appearance alongside her companions, she discussed her experience from last year’s clinching game and described it as her favorite career moment.

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“That feeling that we had when we won the championship game — with COVID, there were no fans, so it was just us in that gym,” Bushee said. “But it was loud because we were loud … I think that feeling of getting that trophy after we won, we were just all together — it was a relief, but we worked so hard to get to that moment. It was just a blessing.”

With McCombs’ departure and Langford’s arrival, one could be concerned about how the players will react to a new head coach since the previous one led them to such success. That, according to Bushee, will not be an issue.

“I love Coach Langford,” Bushee said. “She is great. When she came in, I was looking to go somewhere else potentially. I met her and right away I knew she had a perfect outlook on the team … She knew what she wanted to do. It was great to feel comfortable. She matched our energy … It was great to have that feeling with her, and I respect her. She’s really helping us transition, and that’s all that we can ask for.”

Stony Brook’s star off the bench is back and ready for business. According to Bushee, one of the veteran leaders on the team, the team’s chemistry amongst one another is very strong, and their player-coach relationships have not missed a beat with Langford at the helm. Now, with another year of experience and greater heights reached under her belt, Bushee and her team should be a force to be reckoned with again this season.

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