College basketball: Different path for Chabala

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 22, 2023

By Mike London

CHINA GROVE — Mackenzie Chabala has devoted countless hours to basketball, and her devotion to the game led to an unusual senior year.

Chabala is the fourth of the Chabala sisters who were athletes at South Rowan. Caitlin (Class of 2016), Abigail (2019) and Paige (2021) came before her.

The last of the Chabalas graduated recently from South along with her classmates in the Class of 2023, but she sailed into uncharted waters during the basketball season, suiting up for the 1 of 1 Prep Academy rather than the Raiders.

“It was a very tough decision to play for 1 of 1 Prep Academy because I’d played sports at South for three years,” Chabala said. “But it was a positive experience for me and I’d recommend it. If I had it to do over again, I would, because I am a much better basketball player now than I was a year ago.”

The 1 of 1 Prep Academy choice was made in the summer between Chabala’s junior and senior years.

“I loved my coaches at South Rowan and I loved my teammates at South, but those are girls who enjoy playing basketball, but aren’t necessarily looking to play basketball at the next level,” Chabala said. “Practices at 1 of 1 Prep Academy were at a different level. They were harder practices and they were longer practices. There were days when we’d get to work an hour on skills. When I practiced with 1 of 1, everyone I practiced against was someone who wants to play college basketball. We played a lot of games, played in a lot of tournaments, played against a lot of tough competition from Charlotte. I know Rowan County had great high school teams, but I got to play against stout competition almost every game. We played teams from out of state and we even played international teams.”

One of Chabala’s favorite experiences was the opportunity to play against an Australian team that had impressive skills and very cool accents.

The next stop for the 5-foot-8 Chabala will be Louisburg College, a two-year school about 30 miles northeast of Raleigh. The Louisburg Hurricanes were 16-13 in 2022-23.

She’ll have a year — or two — to prove herself there before she moves on to a four-year school to continue her education and her basketball career. Academics are not an issue for her. She was a member of the National Honor Society with a 4.0 GPA.

Chabala’s father, Rick, got her started in basketball.

South head coach Alex Allen and her assistants took Chabala on the next steps of her journey, which included playing varsity basketball as a freshman.

As a sophomore, with COVID creating havoc with the sports schedules and seasons, Chabala competed in the state cross country meet and a South basketball game on the same day.

South was still playing in the 2A Central Carolina Conference that school year and Chabala racked up her first double-doubles against Lexington, Thomasville and East Davidson.

As a junior, her willingness to take charges caught the eye of several college coaches. She played without fear, seemed to find joy in being flattened. She took as many as four charges in a game, and she was disappointed if she didn’t get two or three.

“Coaches definitely notice someone who is willing to take a charge,” Chabala said. “That makes you stand out a little bit.”

Chabala averaged nearly a double-double for the Raiders as a junior — 10.7 points and 9.4 rebounds. She added 2.4 steals per game. She made the All-South Piedmont Conference team.

Chabala finished her junior season by scoring 24 points in a 3A playoff game against North Buncombe, her highest-scoring game as a Raider. No one knew it at the time, but that would be her last basketball game in a South uniform.

At the end of the 2021-22 school year, she was voted the  J.T. Bost Sportsmanship Award that is based on character, work ethic and sportsmanship.

Next came a summer of playing for the Lady Attack Elite AAU program. Them came the decision that 1 of 1 Prep Academy was her best option to get recruited for college basketball and to prepare to succeed in next-level basketball where the players get quicker, faster and stronger.

The Charlotte-based 1 of 1 Prep Academy fielded two teams in 2022-23 — Black and Red.

The Black team included national-level players such as 6-foot-4 Ella Hobbs, an Ohio State commit who will be returning to Jay M. Robinson for her senior year.

The Red team consisted of less extraordinary players hoping to land scholarships, but it was still a strong team. The Red team beat Central Cabarrus 72-43 on opening night.

Chabala was one of the standouts for the Red squad and was named team MVP. She had a 34-point game, went after every loose ball and took 40 charges for the season.

She got an early start on the transition from post to wing that she was going to have to make in college. She improved her 3-point shooting, passing and ballhandling, while continuing to rebound, defend and take charges.

“I feel pretty good about where I am as a player now,” Chabala said. “You feel good when you put in the work and start to see the results.”

Her season included some off-the-court challenges. Her father needed open-heart surgery in late February.

“It was strange playing some games without him being there, without hearing his voice,” Chabala said. “Always my biggest supporter.”

There was recruiting interest from multiple schools. Chabala made a round of recruiting visits in late March, while her father was recovering.

Louisburg wasn’t the biggest school that recruited her, but coaches Jason Rasnoke and Courtney Brewer made the strongest impression.

“It’s a fun basketball environment there, even though I know it’s going to be hard,” Chabala said. “But when it comes to basketball, I’ve always wanted hard, not easy.”

Chabala plans to pursue a business or sports management degree.

“I love the game of basketball and I’d love to be able to coach it someday,” she said.