THE OTHER McGEE : Alayna, a Fullerton Freshman, Sheds the Label of ‘Little Twin’
Playing an average of 10 minutes a game, freshman forward Alayna McGee has not had much of an impact on the Cal State Fullerton women’s basketball team this season.
But give her time, McGee’s coach says, give her time.
“By next year, we’re going to need her badly,” Titan Coach Chris Gobrecht said. “She’ll be in the spotlight.”
Of course, it could be said that McGee has always been in the spotlight. It’s hard to avoid when you’re the little sister of former USC basketball stars Pam and Paula McGee, and you have some pretty fair inside moves of your own.
It’s even harder to avoid when you starred at the same high school as Pam and Paula--playing the same position--and made the same trek from Michigan to Southern California to attend college.
Alayna has grown up answering the same questions:
Are you the McGee twins’ sister?
Do you play basketball?
Do you play basketball as well as your sisters?
“Well . . . “
When Pam and Paula were freshmen, they started on a 26-8 Trojan team that reached the Final Four in the Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women tournament. Both earned all-conference honors.
Alayna has been slightly less active in her first year, having left the bench just long enough to average 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds.
“We’re bringing her along slowly,” Gobrecht said. “We’re not trying to make her a superstar overnight. She’s playing behind five seniors. People shouldn’t be quick to judge her.”
Comparisons, of course, are natural, but in Alayna McGee’s case, comparisons don’t really apply.
Sure, they called her Little Twin in junior high school, and there were plenty of expectations when she reached Michigan’s Flint Northern High School a year after the twins, who led the team to two state championships, had graduated.
But it hasn’t been that way at Fullerton.
“I think only two people here have asked me if I’m the McGee twins’ sister,” Alayna McGee, 18, said. “I don’t feel any extra pressures. If I went to USC, it would have been a big concern, but I feel comfortable here, and I’m able to progress as I want to--not as other people expect me to.
“I’m only slightly in the spotlight. I’m sure when we go away somewhere, people are going to say, ‘There’s the McGee twins’ sister.’ But what they fail to realize is that we play a totally different brand of basketball. They play mostly inside, but my game is 15 feet and in. I’m not a great outside shooter, but I don’t mind going outside and shooting it.”
Their differences aren’t confined to the basketball court.
“My sisters and I are like salt and pepper,” McGee said. “We get along, but at the same time, we don’t do things the same way. The twins are motherly types who both have ways of letting me know right from wrong.
“Paula’s approach is sitting me down and saying, ‘You know when you go to college, you have to hit the books.’ Pam will say, ‘You know if you don’t go to college, you can’t do this and you can’t do that.’ My attitude is if it comes, it comes. I don’t care.”
Alayna is much more easygoing than her sisters. She takes life in stride, and never too seriously. Whereas others made a fuss over McGee’s decision to attend Fullerton, Alayna didn’t think it was that big a deal.
“We were worried about her going to Southern California because she’s always had to deal with being our little sister,” said Pam McGee, Olympic gold medalist. “There have been so many expectations all her life, but she’s trying to gain her identity, and that’s good. That’s one reason we wanted her to go to Fullerton instead of USC--so she could establish her own identity and credibility.”
But Alayna, who wasn’t even recruited by USC, hardly considered the impact her sisters might have had when she chose her school.
“Coming to Fullerton didn’t really help me be more Alayna and less the twins’ sister,” she said. “I got over that a long time ago. My final choices were Fullerton and Wisconsin, and I had to make the decision on my own. I had a lot more reasons to come here than Wisconsin.”
One was that the twins were still living in Los Angeles. But about a month after Alayna had started school last September, Pam and Paula moved to Texas to play for the Dallas Diamonds of the newly formed Women’s American Basketball Assn.
“I was saying, ‘No way. You can’t do this to me,’ ” Alayna said. “I was upset at first, but then I figured that things would be the same. My real reason for coming here was to get an education, with or without them. I got over it real quick.”
Not as quickly as she thought, though. Tears came to Alayna’s eyes last Saturday night when Pam and Paula, who were in town for about a week, showed up for Fullerton’s game against USC. It was the first time McGee had seen her sisters since they left L.A.
“I sat on the bench and saw them come in, and I started crying,” McGee said. “I was real tense, and I couldn’t get into the game. I wasn’t so concerned with playing well, I was just excited to see them.
“When I got in the game, I had two turnovers, one rebound and missed about five free throws. I think it was my worst game of the year. I couldn’t believe I was so nervous.”
It doesn’t appear that Alayna has been affected much by her sisters’ success, but it wasn’t always easy growing up in their shadows.
Alayna, four years the twins’ junior, was always well behind Pam and Paula, both athletically and socially.
When the twins were in college, Alayna was in high school. When Alayna made it to college, the twins had finished. The three never spent much time together.
The twins were always more like second mothers to Alayna than sisters.
“Our relationship was more, ‘If you need to talk about something, come to us and we’ll talk,’ ” Pam McGee said. “ ‘We’ve been there. We’ll tell you the ropes.’ ”
Dianne McGee always tried to keep the distance between her daughters narrow. When she bought identical outfits to dress the twins, she’d buy a third for Alayna, so that she wouldn’t feel left out. But as the girls grew and their interests changed, the gap inevitably widened.
“I remember when I was in the second grade, I played on Paula’s intramural basketball team,” Alayna said. “She didn’t want me on her team because she knew I couldn’t play. She hated it and always yelled at me. Pam had a team, too, and she’d always laugh at Paula because I was on her team.”
Alayna, realizing that she couldn’t do the things her sisters did, responded by developing her own interests and personality.
“When I was younger, I was a tomboy,” she said. “The twins weren’t so feminine that they couldn’t play basketball, but at the same time, I was playing basketball, football--everything. They thought I was crazy. I never fought the girls in school--I always fought the guys. I’d say, ‘I can play basketball better than you.’ I’d do anything to pick a fight with the guys.
“As I got older, I wasn’t as open as the twins were. They don’t mind getting in front of a crowd, but I wasn’t as outspoken. They were always class presidents and things like that. I wasn’t into that.”
Alayna was into doing her own thing. As early as elementary school, she was independent.
One day in Flint, the McGee three and a friend were going to nearby park to play, and they had to decide whether to cut through a muddy field or to take the sidewalk around. The twins and friend chose the longer, drier rout. Alayna went through the field.
“My sisters said not to do it, but I did,” McGee said. “The next thing you know, my shoe was stuck and buried in the mud. I stopped to get my shoe out, and my other one got stuck. I went to get out and fell flat on my face. I sat there and cried, and they wouldn’t even help me out. They didn’t want to get their clothes dirty.”
Said Pam McGee: “When she finally got out, we were laughing and saying, ‘I told you so.’ Alayna will try anything and just say, ‘Oh well, at least I did it my way.’ ”
When the McGee twins were through setting records at Flint Northern High and were well established at USC, it was time for Alayna to carry on the family name in Michigan. She had a tough act to follow.
In their final two years of high school, the twins led Flint to undefeated seasons and state championships. The team went unbeaten again during Alayna’s freshman year and had a state-record, 68-game winning streak heading into her sophomore year, her first as a starter.
“People were saying maybe I wasn’t as good as my sisters or maybe I was better,” McGee said. “I just had to block all that out and show people that I had the ability to start on varsity as a sophomore, and that we could win the state championship.”
Despite losing seven regular-season games, Flint went on to win the state title that year. The school finished second in McGee’s junior year and was eliminated by the eventual champion in her senior year.
McGee averaged a modest 15 points and 11 rebounds a game as a senior, but she played on a balanced team that eventually sent three players to Division I colleges.
McGee first traveled to California to attend a basketball camp the summer before her senior year. Then she returned with a friend that Christmas to visit her sisters, who were in their senior year at USC.
“We stepped on a plane in six inches of snow and came here to sunshine,” McGee said. “I thought right then that I wanted to come to California--that I needed a change.”
But McGee also knew right then that she didn’t want to go to USC.
“When I came into high school, people always talked about whether I would be as good as my sisters,” McGee said. “I knew with a larger amount of people watching me at USC, and with more media exposure, the pressures of people comparing us would have been worse.
“It’s nothing I couldn’t handle, but if I ran into any problems, that would be the first thing to get me down--why I couldn’t be as good as my sisters.”
It remains to be seen whether McGee, who at 6 feet is three inches shorter than the twins, can match her sisters’ accomplishments in college. Before she can even think about two national championships and All-American status, she has to earn some more playing time.
But McGee isn’t discouraged.
“I don’t have anything to complain about,” she said. “Things are going well. If I went home now and played, I’m sure people wouldn’t even recognize me. My game, mostly my defense, has improved 75%. My only problem is consistency. I’ll play well for a few games and then bad for a few.”
Gobrecht is patient. She knows better than to expect Alayna to carry the Titans to a conference championship or into the national rankings this year.
“By next year, you’ll see that Alayna is a tremendously talented basketball player,” she said. “She’s very quick, physical, and her first step is phenomenal. She may be quicker than her sisters.
“But she never tries to be them. Alayna is her own person, and she’s never hung up on being the twins’ sister. She’s Alayna to us, and she’ll never be anything but Alayna.”
But one of these days, Gobrecht hopes, Alayna McGee will be something .