July 11, 2012
By Bill Ford
CARBONDALE, IL - Cartaesha Macklin forced a smile as she reflected on the Southern Illinois women's basketball team's 2011-12 season. An 8-22 record and a ninth-place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference didn't exactly stir warm feelings for the soon-to-be Saluki sophomore.
At this point in her life, though, she is used to grinning in adversity's face. Macklin has overcome far greater obstacles than losing basketball games.
"I know all about struggling, not having food when you want it," Macklin said. "The whole experience of struggling and losing in basketball is no big deal. It's how you handle it and how you come out of it."
Macklin's life at SIU is miles away from the life she knew growing up in Mayo, Fla., and not just because of the 750 miles that separate Carbondale from her hometown.
When Macklin was 12 years old, her family fell on hard times and lost its home. Over the ensuing year, she bounced between houses of different family and friends, and even lived out of a car at times.
"I come from a rough lifestyle," Macklin said. "It was a lot of moving and not having as much as you wish you had as a kid."
During what was a rough patch of her childhood, sports and the outdoors became a great escape for Macklin and her siblings.
"We were always outdoors. We would throw rocks and do a lot of country stuff. We always had adventures," Macklin said. "We would do all kinds of sports, whether it was football, basketball or kickball."
2012 Freshman of the Year Cartaesha Macklin
A natural athlete, Macklin was a standout in volleyball, basketball and softball at Lafayette High School. Despite averaging nearly 30 points and 13 rebounds per game during her senior season, Macklin received minimal college interest with no full scholarship offers from Division I schools early on. Playing at a small school in Florida with next to no AAU experience, Macklin just didn't get much exposure.
"I don't think I saw her until probably her second-to-last game in high school," said SIU head coach Missy Tiber.
Tiber said Macklin's back story hit home. The youngest of six children from a mining family in eastern Ohio, Tiber was the first in her family to go to college. Much like Macklin, basketball was Tiber's avenue to get her education.
"I can remember talking to her the first time on the phone, just the passion that that kid has for life," Tiber said. "Basketball paved the way for me. I see a lot of that in Cartaesha. She knows that basketball is her outlet to succeed in life. When I see kids in that way, it is very touching to me."
Macklin said the coaching staff and atmosphere at SIU won her over, as did the idea of experiencing something new.
"My whole outlook was that I had been in Mayo my whole life. I really had not gotten to experience much," said Macklin, who grew up in Florida without ever going to the beach. "I wanted to see something outside of what I had been living in."
Macklin turned out to be the gem of one of the top signing classes in school history. She broke SIU's freshman record for scoring and was named the MVC Freshman of the Year.
Despite her individual success, Macklin's efforts didn't always translate to team success for SIU. The Salukis improved upon their win total from the 2010-11 season, but didn't make much headway in the MVC standings.
"I would go home and sometimes I would cry. It was a lot to deal with. I was used to winning," Macklin said. "But, I feel like losing teaches you. You can build from that."
The Salukis experienced some turnover in personnel following last season and will add five new players to the lineup in 2012-13. As the team works through the summer together and begins to define roles, Macklin feels confident where she stands.
"I have to be a leader. I want to win and I want to make this program better," she said. "Being a leader is a big role to take and I want that role. There's no doubt about it."
Macklin already beat the odds just to get to SIU. Tiber envisions the 5-foot-5 guard being a catalyst to help the Salukis build a better future as well.
"She is going to be successful in life, whatever she chooses to do," Tiber said. "She works hard at everything she does because she wants to be successful."