There are few good teams that fly under the radar quite as much as the Indiana Pacers. The team has been consistently solid for the past decade, but outside of a couple trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, they have not been seen as a serious threat come playoff time. With each of the Pacers' last five seasons ending in...
Ericka Mattingly Is the Ultimate Winner
There are winners, and then there are WINNERS. Whether you believe in the idea of a "born winner" or not, there's no denying that some people find themselves in winning situations time after time. Ericka Mattingly is a WINNER.
Winning is what has set Ericka Mattingly aside from her peers through her glittering award-laden basketball career. Her high school career saw her finish with a 96-4 record and a State Championship in all four seasons in Kansas's most difficult Division. At Butler CC, she became the school's third-ever All-American player. At the University of Missouri-Kansas City, she led the school to their first-ever Conference Championship while winning WAC Player of the Year. In June of this year, she joined the super bowl winning trio of Tyrann Mathieu, Andy Reid, and Brett Veach at the Kansas City Sports Award Banquet as she took home the trophy for Sportswoman of the Year.
It seems as if it is inevitable that she is always going to be a winner, and basketball is just an outlet for that predetermined destiny.
She played a little bit of volleyball, ran track, but basketball was always going to be the sport for her. Perhaps it was Tiffany Bias, a Wichita basketball legend in her own right and 2014 WNBA Champion, who was a childhood hero/neighbor of Ericka's that made the difference. Maybe it was her AAU coach, Gayla Soyez, or highschool coach Antain Scales, two people Ericka credits as mentors, that fostered that love for the game. Perhaps it came from her competitive nature.
Whatever it was, Mattingly knew she wanted her future to revolve around basketball.
The competitive fire comes from her family, the oldest of 4 children, Ericka grew up in a family that is extremely competitive in any event. Whether it be board games, card games, or anything that required winning, someone has to win, and the winner gets all bragging rights. Ericka carried that competitive fire with her into high school sports.
Upon enrolling at Wichita South Highschool in 2013, the school had one Girls' basketball state championship back in 1978. Thirty-five years is a long time to go without a championship, and with only one winning season in the four years leading to 2013, the team needed a culture change. Fortunately, with the help of a new coach in Antwain Scales leading the team to a 14-9 record the year before, and a talented freshman class, Wichita South had a chance to head in a new direction.
Mattingly didn't know it at the time but, she now credits coach Scales as one of the biggest mentors that have fueled her stellar career.
What followed her debut in high school basketball was a never before seen domination of the largest sports classification in the state of Kansas, 6A basketball. Wichita South went from one state championship before her arrival, to 5 by the time Mattingly graduated in 2016. A state championship in every season played, won with some close friends/teammates along the way.
By the time Ericka would commit to the University of Texas at Arlington, a Division 1 Program competing in the Sun Belt conference, she was already a Wichita legend. She had offers from plenty of schools, including Wichita State, but UTA won out.
A storybook conclusion would mean Ericka helped turned that program around as she had at Wichita South, and at first, it looked like that.
The year before Mattingly's arrival, the team finished with an okay 15-16 record and 6th in the conference. Upon arrival, she made an immediate impact. She was the only freshman starter on a team that finished with a 22-9 record, good for second in the conference, their best finish in 8 years. She led the team in assists, was second in the conference in steals, and started 30 of 31 games.
But on a personal level, the school never felt like the right fit. The decision to transfer is always tough. But Ericka wanted to play college basketball closer to home.
What could have been a simple transfer became a huge controversy when UTA pettily decided to block a transfer to Division 1 schools in the Wichita area. It could have been a career-ending decision but has Mattingly likes to say, "God has a plan."
The UTA decision drew the criticism of people around the country, including famed ESPN personality Jay Bilas, who tweeted out:
"Ericka Mattingly wants to transfer close to home, UT Arlington won't release her. Wrong. Student-Athlete welfare?"
With limited options, Ericka decided she would enroll at Butler CC, a community college in the Wichita area, and compete with plans of a one and done season. One season and back to a Division 1 school, a decision many college athletes are forced to make due to unfair NCAA transfer laws.
This time around, Mattingly would be joining Coach Mike Helmer and a Butler CC program with a history of success.
While Erika would finish her only season as the school's third-ever All-American, it was the lessons learned from teammates and the coaching staff that Ericka credits for providing the foundation of her success at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
One particular reminder sticks out, Butler Head Coach Mike Helmer would always tell her:
"Even though you are not scoring, you can contribute in so many other ways."
Ericka took that to heart, and by the time she left the program, she was a new and improved player.
With a multitude of offers after her successful season at Butler CC, Ericka recalls, "Choosing UMKC was solely about the genuine people. I knew that the relationships that I built at Butler would be the same relationships that I could make in Kansas City, and I did."
Kansas City as a city felt like the right fit, only three hours from home, and a Division 1 program with new ambitions led by a new Head Coach in Jacie Hoyt challenging the team to change the program's history.
It's one thing to help change a high school's culture as she did at South High, it's a whole new thing to do it at a Division 1 school where the stakes are much much higher. To do it, you need the right opportunity but, more importantly, the right teammates and the right coach.
Ericka Mattingly and coach Jacie Hoyt were a match made in heaven.
Before 2018-19, with only two winning seasons in the school's 25 years as a Division 1 Program, finishing 16-15 in Ericka's first season was a success. So was becoming the first player in conference history to lead the league in Points (19.8), steals (3.2), and assists per game (6.1). So was the 37 points she scored in a game against New Mexico to set a new UMKC conference tournament record.
Conference honors, school records, and recognition as one of the best players in all of Mid-major basketball was a monumental first step, but changing the team's culture would take more than that. For her final season, the team's success would have to match her individual accomplishments.
Before the 2019-20 season, Ericka was named the preseason Conference Player of the Year. That meant Ericka would be going into her final collegiate season and second at UMKC with a ton of attention and pressure to lead a team that had finished 16-15 the season before.
Winners react positively to pressure and that is exactly what Mattingly did.
The challenge when she joined the program was to help change the team's culture, and in her senior season, they did just that. She led UMKC to a first-ever conference championship while receiving recognition as the Conference's player of the season. Along the way, she credits her growth in leadership from the years prior as a difference-maker.
She helped create a new standard for that program, just like there was a new standard when she left Wichita South.
In typical Mattingly fashion, Ericka's athletic career concludes as a winner. The Covid-19 pandemic robbed her of a chance to lead the team to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, but that didn't make the season a disappointment.
Her playing days are over, but her basketball journey is just starting. She returns to Butler CC as an Assistant Coach, the school that once helped save her collegiate career. Coach Mattingly is here, and if she's anything like the player, the basketball community is in for a treat.