Katherine (Kiki) McNair
Jefferson's McNair was ahead of the curve
Versatile player did a little bit of everything with the Falcons
By Chris Larick
For the Star Beacon
Katherine (Kiki) McNair was always ahead of her time.
"I started throwing a tennis ball against our garage door when I was four or five," she remembers. "Basketball came soon after."
McNair, who will be inducted into the 2015 class of the Ashtabula County Basketball Association's Hall of Fame on April 12 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center, started playing in Jefferson High School girls basketball coach Rod Holmes' organized basketball camps in the fifth and sixth grades. By the time she was in the seventh grade, Holmes asked her to practice with the varsity team while playing on Jefferson's junior high team.
"We played teams in the NEC (Northeastern Conference)," she said of the group that also included Laurie Gregg, Lori Lendzian, Jan Brininger, Lindsay Jo Browning and Cassie Borsukoff, "We won some and lost some."
At about 5-foot-10 (she was tall early but stayed at that height), McNair was the definition of versatile. She generally played point guard, shooting guard or small forward because of her athletic ability but could mix it up in the paint and often found herself playing center on defense.
KIKI McNAIR goes up for a shot against Madison during her time at Jefferson
KIKI McNAIR, shown in a current photo, was a key member of several strong teams in the late '90s
"In my freshman year I played defense against Ashtabula's top player, a center," she recalls.
Most of the time in high school, she found herself as a 1, 2, or 3 (point guard, shooting guard or small forward), though.
"I didn't bring the ball down the floor," she said. "I was tall for a guard. I was really good with assists. My junior year I averaged about 18 points a game, my senior year only about 13."
Jefferson went to the regional finals in McNair's junior season (1995-96), the farthest any county team, boys or girls, has been since. In their attempt to make it to state, the Falcons led Trinity, 8-5, early in the game.
"They called time-out, pressed us full-court and won by 30 points," McNair remembers.
"That year we needed overtime to beat Madison for the conference championship. In the tournament, we beat Lakeview, which was ranked number four in the state.
The Falcons lost standouts like Ryan Ruble, Stacy Allen and Christine Anderson to graduation the next year, but added freshman standouts Kelly Kapferer, Mary Herendeen and Becky Hamper. In the district finals they were defeated b Villa Angela-St. Joseph's.
"My junior year we played as a team," McNair said. "One game demonstrates how we were a team through and through. At the end of the year against Madison, at the end of the game I was double-teamed and passed the ball to Laurie Gregg despite the fact that the play was designed for me. She waited for me to get open. She threw the ball back to me and I pulled up and made the shot. We went into overtime and won. We always came together as a team.
"My senior year was one of my most precious memories, going through those four years with each other. I am grateful for those friendships."
The other reason the Falcons were successful those years was the presence of Holmes, McNair said.
"I thought he was a great coach," she said. "He was a role model for me. When I was growing up, I had been playing with boys. I didn't think I was as strong as they were, so I was shooting the ball with both hands. He said, 'I believe in you' and showed me how I should shoot. From then on, he always believed in me, said, 'Get the ball into Kiki's hands.' I couldn't have done what I did without a great coach."
After high school graduation, McNair enrolled at Kent State as a student. That didn't click for her and she transferred to Loyola of New Orleans after a year-and-a-half at a family member's suggestion.
"It was beautiful and it had my major (religious studies)," she said."I tried out for the coach and he said 'I'd love for you to play for me.' "
She started for the Loyola Wolfpack for three years, from 1999 to 2002.
"I hadn't played at Kent at all, so it took a while (to get the rust off)," she said. "But it's like riding a bike, you don't forget how.
"It was a whole new experience. I played 1 through 5, brought the ball up, played guard. On defense I played 1 through 5."
After graduating from Loyola in December, 2002, McNair went to London on a work visa and waited tables at the Bicendum Oyster House, a restaurant in South Kensington in the highly-regarded Michelin Star Restaurant chain. She used the opportunity to see all of the sights in London.
She returned to the states in 2003, working at the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania, spending three or four months there before moving back to New Orleans.
For a year she waited tables, then began her career in university administration at her alma mater, Loyola of New Orleans.
"I started in the records office and was promoted three or four times, winding up in the Dean of Arts and Sciences' office," she said.
In 2011 McNair went to California for five months, but didn't care for the man she was working for and obtained a job at the University of Mississippi in university administration as an assistant to the chairman of theater arts. After a year and a half there, she decided to attend graduate school in creative writing at the City College of New York in New York City.
"I've got an apartment in Harlem and am in my third semester, with two semesters left," McNair, now 35, said. "I'm also an adjunct professor in world literature, teaching things like The Odyssey. It's a dream come true. It's how I support myself now."
She no longer plays basketball, but does things like yoga to stay in shape, along with playing tennis.
"I've slowed down a little bit," she said.
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.