A month ago I went to practice and say a familiar face. I was surprised, but very pleasantly surprised. Nike McClure is the kind of person that not only fits into any group, it takes her about 60 seconds to be the biggest personality in the group. And the easiest interview possible.
Joe: So you traveled a lot of miles to go from Albuquerque back to Albuquerque. How was life in Europe for a couple of years?
Nike: Life in Europe was incredible. It’s really laid back. My teammates overseas were great. They really helped me learn the basketball style played over there, it’s not the same style as over here. I was really fortunate, the basketball Gods really blessed me: I only played on gorgeous tropical islands the entire time. Coffee in the mornings then go to practice in the afternoons. I was living the life. I really was.
Joe: So you said that basketball was different; what was different about it?
Nike: Basketball overseas is more fundamental. Obviously, it’s still fundamental here, too, but here you learn the fundamentals, forget them, and then hoop. There it’s very much structured: if you don’t do it properly they will work the whole practice on doing that one single thing. They might not care about anything else but doing that one thing that whole practice. “We are going to work until we get it.” So, that was the biggest difference for me. I had to focus on really, truly understanding everything.
Joe: Was that the same in both Cyprus and Portugal?
Nike: Yes, it’s definitely the same because they take a lot of pride in their systems. Here you have a big talent pool so if one player doesn’t understand the system, they’re on the bench and the next person is up. But overseas every single person on that team will understand it to a T and no way you forgot about it because you never know the next time you’re coming off the bench. They really drill it into you.
Joe: The players generally are a wider range of ages?
Nike: Absolutely, so I was playing with players ages 16 through 38. That was on both of my teams. The oldest player on both of my teams were in their late 30s and the youngest was 16. That was a really big difference because either I wanted to hang out with my teammates after practice, but they were going to do their homework for high school–or they were going to go take care of their kids at night. I spent a lot of time by myself.
Joe: How were the none-basketball parts of your time?
Nike: Non-basketball was awesome. I got to experience basketball both with and without Covid. The first year was pre-COVID and I was a lot busier with people. I liked it because I was in an area that wouldn’t have been as interesting without the people–the people really made Cyprus, both the landscape and even beaches. Social settings like coffee shops, going out to hang out with friends. The people really made Cyprus.
In Portugal I was on an island called Madera, a tropical island and there was nobody there because of COVID. So, I basically had this beautiful Hawaiian island to myself to explore. I would go on hikes and not worry about running into anybody. It was just me, myself, and I in this serene place. It was beautiful.
Joe: I assume the teams you played were not on that island?
Nike: Nope. We flew out every time. It was a lot of time flying back and forth because our island didn’t allow us to play basketball for three months. For three months I was just there practicing. Then finally they allowed us to play and we had to play 17 games in four weeks. It was probably the craziest thing I’d ever done in my life. I thought I was going to get injured, but thankfully, my knees held out. We weren’t allowed to play any of those games as home games so all 17 games were away. I’m so thankful that I made it through healthy.
Joe: So you have a lot in common with the Lobo players from last season.
Nike: Oh, absolutely. Once I heard that they were playing all their games away, I thought you guys are troupers because I’m doing the same thing and I’m not loving it. Only difference is that I was hundreds of miles away from my family, different time zones, so it was hard communicating with them. I feel that here it may have been easier for them because their families are on similar time schedules for Facetime so you don’t feel so lonely.
Joe: When you finished up there, how did you wind up back here at UNM?
Nike: I finished up there and I had signed to play in France. Jaisa’s job that she just signed up for is the job that I had signed for before her; she took my spot on that team. It was funny because Mike called me in February and he said to me, “Hey what does you future look like with coaching? What do you want to do?” I explained to him that I would very much like to become a coach, I felt that I have the energy and personality for it and that whenever he called me and told me to hang up my shoes and stop playing basketball, I’m done. About two months later, he said, “I need you”. So I made the necessary moves to stop playing basketball, retire, and come work for him.
Joe: So you’re the one who pushed Bill out to make room for you?
Nike: No. No. No!!! Bill is a very talented coach. There’s nobody who can push him out of any job. Wherever he goes, he’s going to stay because he has the skills for it. I’m really happy for him.
Joe: Plus, he went back home.
Nike: Exactly. St. John’s is a really good program. I’m really excited for him.
Joe: Now you’re the head of player development. What does that mean?
Nike: I basically help with post players any time they need extra work for drills for basketball, conditioning. Making sure they are taking care of their stuff in the classroom. For any life skills, basketball skills, I try to oversee and make sure they are on the right path to become successful, respectable young women. That’s what I do. I also do a lot of the social media work in terms of video coordinator stuff; I still have the job of video coordinator and whatever else needs to be taken care of.
Joe: You’ve been doing it about a few weeks now. How does it compare to what you thought it would be?
Nike: It’s a lot simpler from what I thought it would be because I had never seen the coaching side of basketball. I had overstressed myself thinking about what my daily tasks would be. It turns out that since I’m on a team–a staff of people who are a very well-oiled machine–stepping into that I realized that even if I’m struggling with something, I have people behind me that can help me “pull the rope.” I had thought that I was going to be by myself, that’s what I thought my job was, but that’s not the case. So I’m really thankful that my worries and fears did not become a reality.
Joe: What are the best parts of the job so far and what are the most challenging things?
Nike: The best part is interacting with the players. I’m a people person at heart so interacting with my players has been the most rewarding experience because you get to know these girls at a level that is just fantastic. Obviously, I can build friendships and relationships with these young women, but it’s a different kind from when you’re a teammate with them. I feel there is a stronger trust between a coach and a player than there is between a player and a player. I don’t know why it is, but I can definitely sense it that the bonds I am creating between them are really strongly built on trust. Which is something I didn’t always have as a player. As a player for example it might be, “Oh she missed practice today, we can’t really trust her”. Where the coach would really have my back. So, I’m going to have their back no matter what. That’s the biggest thing I hadn’t realized before becoming a coach.
Joe: I imagine it would be more difficulty if you came back and a lot of the players you played with were still here. But, there are only three that you played with.
Nike: Yes, I think I would have more trouble with that because a lot of them might not respect what I said as much because they had been my teammates. I have earned the respect of my former teammates because I do what I say I’m going to do. But I feel that friendship level would have been kind of disrespected in terms of not knowing which lines they could cross and which lines they can’t cross. So, I think it’s a blessing to only have AT, Jayden and Shai here.
Joe: I know I would see that at work. Once you have one relationship with a person, it’s almost as if it’s stuck. Things supposedly change, but at some level, they really don’t. It stays at whatever it was initially.
You said you wanted to come back and coach. What do you see going forward?
Nike: I really just want to focus on this year, but I don’t have a full scope of what is going to be asked of me this year. I just want to be a sponge and learn as much as possible. But going forward in the future if I’m stepping into this wanting to be a coach, then of course I want to be a head coach in a program somewhere–probably by my mid to late 30s. Who knows? I don’t really have a timeline for it as this is all so new to me. I was just playing basketball three months ago, thinking I was going back to France. I can’t tell you, but I know that if I’m following Mike, my future is secure. If I follow him, follow his lead, take notes and really just soak up everything that man has to say then my future is going to be very bright and I’m not going to have any problems with anything.
Joe: What else do you want to tell people?
Nike: I want to tell people thank you first of all for sticking with us so hard last year through COVID. I wasn’t here but I know you guys still supported this team even without being able to attend games. It shows who you guys are as people and fans of this program, but mainly I want to say I’m excited to give 100% of myself to this program and institution and really just bring as much positive light here as possible. I want to bring back what I brought two years ago, but really just amplify that and hopefully just build some really strong young women.
Joe: So to end on that note, first game with actual people there are we still going to see dozens of little kids run up to you at the end of the games?
Nike: Absolutely! I hope so. Young kids, young ladies, are my favorite fan base because I feel that those are the kids that I wanted to be when I was younger. I wanted to have that role model. So now that people think that I’m that role model for their kids, I absolutely want kids to spring up after the games, ask for autographs still; want to take pictures still. I find that so incredible as a woman to have and inspire young women. I think it’s so powerful. I’ll always be thankful to have that kind of impact on young women.
Joe: Have you stayed in contact with some of those kids as it was often the same little kids that came up game after game?
Nike: Absolutely. Thank God for social media that has made it easier for me to stay in contact with some of my younger fans, and even my older fans. I will never deny a DM from anyone especially an old fan of mine. My phone is always on. Always willing to text, DM, play games. I’m excited to see some of the same faces in there. A lot of them like to play I Messages with me like pool and Connect Four. I’d be overseas bored and playing Connect Four with the little kids.
Joe: Thank you for taking the time to do this. We look forward to seeing you out there again with a box of Sharpies to sign your arms.
Nike: Oh that took time to wash off. Bring washables!