Mariah Linney emerges from the locker room, swagged out per usual. Her hair is tied in a high bun, secured by a white headband. Her green Nikes still untied, Linney extends her right arm out for a fist bump before walking down the hallway toward the entrance of Halton Arena.
It’s Thursday, and the 49ers are fresh off a weekend that featured back to back home wins. Linney tallied seven points, seven boards and four dimes against the Marshall Thundering Herd, and followed that up with 12 points and five boards against the FIU Panthers two days later.
If Linney keeps hooping like this, she may need to swap out her headband for a chef’s hat, because it’s clear that she’s been working with the sauce.
Any outside observer would be able to note Mariah’s demeanor. Her swagger on the court matches her persona off of it: quiet and observant (until she feels comfortable and gets in her zone) with a bit of flashiness mixed in.
“I get it from my dad, to be honest,” Linney says, laughing as her teammates warm up in the background.
True enough, Linney’s confidence and demeanor have been a big source of positivity for the 49ers.
Linney’s development can’t be overlooked. After her 12-point outing versus the Panthers (then a season-high), Linney outdid herself days later, notching a career-high 16 points against UTSA in the annual Play4Kay Game.
Linney had her finest all-around performance of the season against the Roadrunners, as she scored her 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting off the bench. She went 4-6 from the charity stripe and also added three assists, three boards, three steals and two blocks. She did it all while wearing her trademarked headband, bright pink Nikes for breast cancer awareness, and the Niners’ sleek black sleeved uniforms.
But those game uniforms aren’t the only thing that caught people’s attention. Linney’s personal shoe and jersey collections are in their infancies, but every hooper knows that shoes and jerseys are a major ingredient to the sauce.
“I want to start my jersey collection. I only have two right now, but I like shoes a lot. I’m trying to expand my variety of shoes,” Linney says. “I post [pictures of] them on social media, they get likes. I do it for the fun of it.”
In this age of social media and instant replay, Linney has proven to be a capable highlight reel. For awhile, her pinned tweet on twitter was a clip of her crossing up a defender before draining a three-pointer in her face, with the caption “Don’t reach.” At Charlotte, Linney can often be found getting steals and forcing the issue on the fastbreak, often looking ahead for teammates with flashy passes.
“I haven’t been the big star that I was in high school, but hopefully that will come about sooner or later… you gotta start somewhere,” Linney says. “I feel like I’m finally getting my rhythm and hopefully I will become how I was in high school when I was recruited by Coach Cara.”
Head coach Cara Consuegra has been vocal about Linney’s development as the season has gone along, noting her improvement during February 12th’s episode of Gold Mine Live.
“Every game, she’s just getting better,” Consuegra said after the UTSA game. “Mo and I had a conversation… and I said, ‘Look, I want to play you more. I think you’re ready.’ I feel like ever since that conversation, she has been exactly what we’ve needed her to be. I’m happy for her and really proud of her.”
Consuegra also noted that the emergence of Linney has resulted in teams defending the backcourt differently as the conference slate has moved along.
“Mo’s development has really helped because now I can have two ballhandlers on the court,” Consuegra said. “Earlier in the year, everybody knew about Laia and how great she was, and we needed Laia to do everything. Late game, everybody knew she was gonna get the touch… teams were coming out and face-denying Laia because they knew she ran everything for us. Now, with Mo playing so much better, it’s taken a lot of pressure off of Laia. And because of that, she’s not turning the ball over as much because she doesn’t have to make every pressure decision.”
Back at the arena, Linney notes her own development as the days go by.
“I have become more comfortable and became more observant of what’s going on. I learned to play the pace,” she says. “I’ve been focusing more on my defense since I’ve gotten here, and I feel like my defense has given me the energy to do other things. So, giving me confidence to do something like that (going out and scoring 12 points). My assists, steals, and most of all, turnovers. I’ve cut those down a lot from the beginning of the season, and that means a lot.”
In basketball, point guards have to be quick decision makers. They must know all the plays, make the right reads, and they have to be ready for action at all times. When asked who her favorite player is and who she models her game after, Mo responds with no hesitation.
“My favorite all time player is Jason Williams, aka White Chocolate, but my role model is my dad,” she says. “The type of player he is… he doesn’t talk on the court, but lets his game talk for him, and that’s the kind of person I want to be. ”
With crossovers and behind-the-back moves galore, it’s easy to see how Williams’ game influences Linney’s. If she continues to add more ingredients to the sauce, there’s no telling how far this Charlotte team can go.
Given her all-around abilities, Linney likely could become a positionless threat (a la Lefty Webster): someone with the ability to score at will, pass and rebound at a high rate, and be a pest on defense.
As Linney ties her shoes and heads over to her teammates, the music in the gym is turned up a little louder, and the team prepares to stretch.
She and backcourt classmate Octavia Wilson are the future, but there is no time like the present. Only time will tell what else Linney and the 49ers can cook up for the rest of this season.