Mackenzie Latt tends to stand out wherever she is.
It’s hard not to when you’re 6-foot-1 and possess basketball skills worthy of nine Division I scholarship offers.
Yet, when Latt arrived at Gull Lake High School in the middle of her senior year, her soon-to-be Blue Devil teammates tried to keep her talent under wraps.
“Our team collectively decided to keep her a secret from the rest of the school because we didn’t want everyone getting a big head thinking with her we were going to be a phenom team,” said Gull Lake senior tri-captain Morgan Nusbaum. “We were buzzing with excitement… We knew we would be good this year, so having another tall person come in was the basketball gods bringing Mackenzie to us.”
It didn’t take long for Latt to make a big impression, as Gull Lake’s not-so-secret weapon is a major reason why the Blue Devils are currently 17-1 overall and ranked No. 8 in Class A.
“I did feel a little bit of pressure, I guess you could say,” Latt said of arriving at Gull Lake. “I just wanted to play my game. It was a whole week of moving and it was kind of a whirlwind. Stuff going on with basketball has been my release. I was looking forward to getting on the court and playing the game again.”
A STAR ARRIVES
Latt, who signed her Letter of Intent to play at Division I Davidson College in North Carolina, moved to Richland from Sussex, Wisconsin in mid-November after her father Scott accepted a job in the Kalamazoo area.
Gull Lake seemed like an ideal landing spot for the skilled forward. And while Blue Devils head coach Mike Balcom has seen talented transfer students join his program before, never has he inherited a player like Latt.
“The kids understood and recognized Day 1 her ability,” Balcom said. “All the kids here were wondering what kind of teammate is she going to be. She went out of her way to be a fantastic teammate to people early on. In games and practices, she did things that you’re impressed with due to her physical abilities. But she was getting teammates involved. What she found too, is that this group of kids are fantastic kids, they were encouraging… It was very fortunate that she come to us, and fortunate for her.”
Latt is averaging a team-best 17.9 points, 12 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 1.6 blocks this season. She’s also among the most unselfish players on the squad, ranking second on the team in assists at 3.5 per game.
“She is the exact same person on and off the court,” Nusbaum said. “She’s super supportive of other teammates. Someone as good as her, you would think she might be a ball-hog and take it herself… Just playing against her has made us better at guarding against players like her. And she definitely has influenced the rest of the team by just watching her.”
As a high-profile player back at Sussex Hamilton, where she became the school’s all-time leading scorer after just three seasons and was a Division 1 All-State selection last season, a lot of attention was paid to Latt’s decision to come to Michigan.
With only a few months remaining as a high school student, it would have been easy for her to stay back in Wisconsin and live with a teammate’s family until she graduated and left for Davidson.
But for Latt, staying behind as her family moved some 300 miles East was simply too much to ask.
“It was a very tough decision. It was not easy to leave,” Latt said. “I’ve been in that school district at Hamilton growing up, so it was very hard to leave my friends, my team, and where I grew up. But it would’ve been harder to live away from my family. It was a tough decision but we prayed about it a lot. I wanted to be there for my brother, who is also at a new school.”
Mackenzie’s brother Chris is a freshman at Gull Lake and is also playing hoops this winter; oldest sister Danielle is currently in her sophomore season playing at Evangel University (Mo.), a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division I school; and mother Dee (nee Cherry) played Division I basketball at the University of Toledo.
“I’ve always loved playing basketball,” Latt said, “because my family is a basketball family.”
ACCEPTED AS A BLUE DEVIL
For all of her accomplishments on and off the court — she carries a 4.1 GPA and scored a 32 on the ACT — Latt did have some trepidation about being accepted in her new environment.
“I was kind of nervous. I was starting in a new state, in the middle of the year, so I didn’t know what to expect and hadn’t been to the school before,” Latt said of her first day. “It happened really fast. It was two weeks from when I moved from Wisconsin to being at the school.”
Balcom was also a bit wary about Latt’s arrival, fearing he would be getting a top-shelf player that came with a me-first attitude.
“When I first heard they were looking around, I went to the internet and read the articles and they’re saying stuff like, ‘Unanimous All-Stater as a junior, 1,000 points in first three seasons,’ I figured we had a kid with talent,” he said. “Still, you worry about a kid with an ego. And I’m telling you, you won’t find a better teammate than Mackenzie Latt. For all of her accomplishments, she is a much better young lady than a basketball player.”
In fact, Latt’s fellow Blue Devils took such a quick liking to her, that she was recently named Gull Lake’s Snow Court Queen.
“I was shocked that I got it,” Latt said. “I’ve had a blast at school meeting new people and have tried to be really open to a new experience. Getting to know new people, I guess it paid off. I didn’t expect it, and it was special.”
As for what the future holds, Latt said she is excited about being a Wildcat at Davidson, but knows there is still some work to do — starting with a Friday matchup against Class B eighth-ranked Marshall that will determine the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division champion.
“In a perfect world, I want to make it all the way and make this season go as long as it can,” Latt said. “We have a blast playing together and I don’t want it to end. I love the game and want to play it…Whatever happens, I just want to enjoy my time on the court.”