By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — It takes McAlester senior guard Madeline McGowan, nicknamed “Maddie,” just moments to swarm in on defense, applying pressure and putting the opposing guard in panic mode. McGowan’s pressure has produced quite a few turnovers, but McGowan pairs it with a knack for knowing when to back off the guard and instead try to intercept a pass.
It’s a dizzying combination of defensive skills, but McGowan pulls it off. Coach April Burns has said on more than one occasion that McGowan’s defense can “wear you out,” and more than one opposing guard has indeed looked worn out after tangling with McGowan.
“I’ll try to get a steal, but I won’t overplay it enough to where she can go shoot a layup,” McGowan said Wednesday.
“Picking the ball up and knowing that I can get that 10-second call, too, and then turning her and stuff like that, it just motivates me. I have the first (chance) to get a steal.”
Born in McAlester, McGowan grew up in McAlester Public Schools. She said she started playing basketball at a young age, playing Boys and Girls Club basketball with future teammate and friend Meredith Saunier.
“Our dads coached in Boys and Girls Club basketball,” McGowan said. “I just remember when I was really little and my dad was coaching, I was ... probably 5 or 6, and him just yelling at us. That’s all, really. We really wouldn’t hustle or anything.”
McGowan said she started playing competitive basketball at Parker Intermediate Center, then moved up to junior-high ball at Puterbaugh Middle School. She spent her freshman year at Lakewood Christian School and helped the Lady Lions reach the Oklahoma Christian Schools Athletic Association state championship that year.
McGowan also first came under the tutelage of Coach Burns at Lakewood.
“She never let me give up,” McGowan said of Burns. “Freshman year, I was dying at Lakewood. ... She taught me a lot of fundamentals.”
Burns left Lakewood for McAlester High School before the 2011-12 season, and McGowan was among several players who left with her. McGowan made the Lady Buffs varsity as a sophomore and has stayed there ever since, coming off the bench but giving the team quality defense whenever she was on the court.
“She works really hard, and she’s lightning-fast,” Burns said. “Maddie is a competitor. If the person’s bigger, better, stronger, it doesn’t matter — Maddie’s going to give her everything she has.”
With Saunier and Kaleisha Johnson graduating after last season, McGowan said she knew the Lady Buffs would need new ball-handlers for the 2013-14 season. Playing guard throughout her career, McGowan began working on her ball-handling during the summer with local Amateur Athletic Union basketball coach Will Holiman Jr.
“She committed everything she had to working on that ball-handling, and she’s improved that,” Burns said, “Her ‘court smarts’ have gotten a lot better since her freshman year; she tends to see the floor a lot better and she’s handling a lot better.”
Going from defensive reserve to starting guard hasn’t been an easy transition. McGowan said the hardest parts have been staying relaxed bringing the ball up the court, not panicking and avoiding the bad passes on which she thrived as a defender.
The Lady Buffs have also gotten off to a slow start, losing six of their first seven games. McAlester got its second win Tuesday against Tulsa Webster in the Bedouin Shrine Classic in Muskogee.
“We needed that win yesterday, badly,” McGowan said. “We went and scrimmaged against Kiowa (during the winter break), and we didn’t play bad, but we need to find (that) spark at the beginning of the game.
“We have a lot of good scorers on our team that can step up. We just have to find it.”
McGowan said this final basketball season has been flying by. Once it ends she’ll probably play soccer, though she also ran track in middle school.
McGowan played on last year’s inaugural Lady Buffs soccer team. Though she said she joined the team almost as a joke, she went on to be a multi-goal scorer.
“It was really surprising,” McGowan said of her first goal. “It was from like the middle of the football field — way, way in the back of the middle of the football field. I just kicked it as hard as I could and it went in.”
Once she graduates, McGowan said she plans to go to college, then possibly become an X-ray or ultrasound technician. McGowan said she’d like to someday live in a bigger city, making the University of Central Oklahoma, located just 15 miles north of Oklahoma City in Edmond, a promising possibility.
“My mom lived in (Oklahoma City), and I went up there and played AAU ball,” McGowan said.
“I just like (having) more to do.”
When she’s not playing basketball, McGowan said she enjoys spending time with her teammates, especially fellow guards April Calistro and Ariana Garner. But basketball is a three-season sport for McGowan, with summers and falls spent preparing for the winter season.
With each successive game, McGowan’s ball-handling is sure to improve. Once McGowan’s offensive skills rise to the level of her defense, facing McGowan may leave opposing teams feeling much worse than “worn out.”
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.