Basketball

Mount Vernon honors slain teen Shamoya McKenzie with touching tribute

Nadine McKenzie receives flowers before the Mamaroneck at Mount Vernon junior varsity basketball game at Mount Vernon Jan. 6, 2017. Her daughter, Shamoya McKenzie, 13, a member of the Mount Vernon team, was killed by a stray bullet on New Year's Eve.

Nadine McKenzie receives flowers before the Mamaroneck at Mount Vernon junior varsity basketball game at Mount Vernon Jan. 6, 2017. Her daughter, Shamoya McKenzie, 13, a member of the Mount Vernon team, was killed by a stray bullet on New Year’s Eve.

MOUNT VERNON – Centercourt had always been reserved for Shamoya McKenzie during Mount Vernon junior varsity girls basketball games. Among her many responsibilities on the basketball court, the 6-foot-2 center had always been tasked with taking the opening tipoff at the start of each game.

When the 13-year-old was tragically killed by a stray bullet last Saturday, it left a hole in the Mount Vernon community.

SHOOTING: Mount Vernon teenager killed in crossfire

MOURNING: City grieves for slain scholar, athlete

MCKENZIE: Friends, teammates remember rising star

In the team’s first home game since McKenzie’s untimely death, both Mount Vernon and Mamaroneck organized a touching tribute for the slain teenager Friday. Mount Vernon did not send anyone to take the opening tipoff, instead lining in unison as the referee tossed the ball into the air. Mamaroneck tipped the ball to Mount Vernon, which walked over to its bench to greet an unassuming Nadine McKenzie, Shamoya’s mother.

Lady Knights players handed her the ball, and comforted her with a group hug.

Soon after, Mount Vernon varsity players lined up to pay their respects.

Then it was Mamaroneck’s turn.

Tigers players on the varsity and junior varsity gifted McKenzie with flowers and hugs, with some in tears during the emotional exchange.

“I’ve never lost someone my age, ever,” Mount Vernon varsity head coach Ayo Hart said after the team’s 60-47 win. “I don’t know that I could’ve at the age of — some of these girls are still seventh-graders — I don’t know that at 12 years old I could get back on the court and focus.”

Hart said she was “amazed” at the resilience the junior varsity has shown the past week.

The Section 1 girls basketball community has been rallying around Mount Vernon in wake of the tragedy. Several programs are raising money at home games in McKenzie’s honor. A GoFundMe page for McKenzie has already raised more than $27,000, all of which is separate from the Section 1 fundraiser.

You can read more about how the section has come together in the face of a horrific tragedy in my column on Monday.

Twitter: @Zacchio_LoHud, @LoHudGirlsHoops