College Basketball: West grad Steele doing well at Morehead State
By Mike London
West Rowan graduate Shay Steele made it home for a Christmas-break pit stop before getting back on the road to Kentucky today to rejoin the Morehead State women’s basketball team.
Steele’s family visit was briefer than she would’ve liked because Morehead State’s Eagles have a road game in California at UC-Santa Barbara on Monday.
It’s not often that the 6-foot-2 junior gets home to see family and friends because Morehead State is 350 miles, six hours, and long stretch of Interstate 77 away. When she does make it back to Rowan County, the first stop is always her favorite restaurant chain.
“Bojangles,” Steele said. “I love Bojangles and they don’t have a Bojangles anywhere close to Morehead State.”
Charlotte-based Bojangles is working on that. The franchise is making a major expansion effort now into Kentucky and West Virginia. Morehead, Ky., a small town halfway between Lexington, Ky., and Huntington, W. Va., is on the list for one of more than 50 projected new stores.
While she waits patiently on Bojangles to expand, Steele, who ranks eighth in Division I in shot-blocking with 31 in 13 games, will continue to expand her hoops horizons.
Her last outing before Christmas break was one of her finest. It was her birthday, and she dominated in a 112-69 home win against Alabama A&M. She shot 9-for-10 from the floor and 6-for-6 from the foul line for 24 points. She only had one block, but she produced eight rebounds and four steals.
Morehead State plays at a furious pace and is among the nation’s top 10 scoring teams at 85 points per game. It’s a frenetic style of play well-suited to Steele’s skill set. She’s extra long and extremely fast for someone who is 6-foot-2. In high school, she competed at a high level in the 400 meters.
“We press the whole game, usually 1-3-1 with me on the second row,” Steele said. “My style of play is not that much different than it was at West Rowan. We run some isolation plays for me and I score on rebounds, but most of my points come from just being able to run the floor. A lot of times, I’m matched up with a ‘5’ because of my height, but they usually can’t run with me. We fast-break all the time, and I’m always down there.”
While Steele is thriving now, there were adjustments to make from West Rowan to D-I basketball in the Ohio Valley Conference.
As a freshman, she was a part-time starter. She scored in double figures four times, blocked 27 shots and shot a team-best 54.9 percent from the floor.
“I was homesick a lot that first year and still homesick into my second year,” Steele said. “The biggest adjustment from high school was the preseason conditioning that we do. That was all new to me — waking up really early, running, lifting weights.”
Tom Hodges, the coach whose staff had recruited Steele, was let go after her first season.
Current head coach Greg Todd replaced Hodges in April, 2014.
Steele made considerable strides playing for Todd as a sophomore. She started all but one game, averaged 13.8 points and 6.1 rebounds, posted five double-doubles and scored more than 20 points seven times. She also led the OVC with 53 blocked shots.
“As I got more experience, I was able to focus better on the games,” Steele said.
Steele was a little disappointed she didn’t make the 2015 All-OVC team, but that gave her some incentive and a goal to work toward this season.
She was named to the preseason all-conference team, and she looks like she’s well on her way to postseason accolades. She’s currently averaging 14.9 points and 5.9 rebounds.
She poured in a career-high 34 points — in just 24 minutes — as Morehead State overwhelmed Kentucky Christian 121-91 back in November. That game broke the program record for points.
“They weren’t as strong as some of the team we’ve played, but I try to play every team the same way,” Steele said.
Steele also has been productive against the stout teams Morehead State (6-7) has taken on. She’s scored in double figures in 10 of Morehead’s 13 games. She scored 17 at Miami and had 12 in tough road games at West Virginia and Southern Illinois.
Whistles, as was the case in high school, are her biggest obstacle. She fouled out at Kentucky and at home against Marshall and she’s finished five other games with four personals.
“We’ve played good teams and, except for Marshall, we’ve played those really strong teams on the road,” Steele said. “The hardest place to play was at Kentucky. They had me well-scouted and I only scored six points and fouled out on offensive fouls.”
On Dec. 19, Morehead State encountered Kennesaw State at Morehead’s Johnson Arena, and two local girls were on opposing teams in a D-I game in the Kentucky foothills. Former Carson star Kelly Dulkoski scored 20 points for Kennesaw State, but Morehead State won the game, 83-77.
“I told our coaches before the game that Kelly could shoot,” Steele said. “She had a good game.”
Steele was one of the top players in West Rowan history. She scored 1,541 points for the Falcons and ranks fourth in school history (behind best friend and former teammate Ayana Avery, Hillary Hampton and Wendy Hampton). Steele led the Todd McNeely-coached Falcons to the 2012 Sam Moir Christmas Classic championship and was the county’s girls basketball player of the year for 2012-13 as well as the Rowan County Athlete of the Year.
As a senior, Steele delivered a 38-point game against Statesville and she had 34 and 32 in back-to-back victories against rivals East Rowan and Salisbury.
Steele is talented enough that a 38-point game isn’t out of reach for her in college.
She continues to do well in her school work. She went to Morehead State with the goal of becoming a pediatric nurse, but she found it wasn’t possible to fulfill her basketball obligations while also dealing with labs and clinical courses at local hospitals.
She’s shifted her focus now to earning a degree in exercise science.
She also might get a chance to play professional basketball somewhere in the world after she graduates. Young women who are 6-foot-2 and who can run and jump like Steele will always be in demand.
“It will be wonderful if I get that chance,” Steele said. “But all I’m focused on now is doing well in school and playing my best for Morehead State.”