From tropic to tundra: M’Kayla Mike’s journey to Minnesota

M’Kayla Mike (25) is from St. Thomas (U.S.Virgin Islands) and plays basketball for Sleepy Eye High School. Above: Mike high fives teammates after exiting a recent game at New Ulm Cathedral.

SLEEPY EYE — Most people would consider M’Kayla Mike to be crazy for coming from the tropical island of St. Thomas to the freezing cold of Minnesota.

However, Mike made the transition from her home in the U.S. Virgin Islands to Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, to improve her chances of playing college basketball. She served as an important piece to the Sleepy Eye High School girls’ basketball team’s outstanding 2015-16 season as a junior and is now helping lead the team as a senior.

Understandably, Mike is not a fan of snow, seeing as how St. Thomas never gets colder than the low-60s in the winter months.

“For them to tell me that last year was a good winter, that was strange,” Mike said. “They told me, ‘Oh, this is a good winter.’ I’m just like ‘OK…'”

Mike previously played basketball at the FIBA International level with the U.S. Virgin Islands 15-U team and played organized basketball since she was in fourth grade. The Virgin Islands 15-U team traveled to Mexico to face other teams from Central America, which helped Mike become a tenacious point guard.

A recent game at Sleepy Eye High School versus Nicollet.

Coming up to the United States became a possibility when her brother, Ryan Mills, presented the idea to her. Mills had played football at Central Lakes College in Brainerd and managed to get his sister up to Minnesota as well.

“He was promoting Sleepy Eye basketball,” Mike said. “He said stuff like, ‘They’re really good, I want you to come up here and get the experience. If you don’t like it, you can go back home.’

“I obviously liked it because I came back up for another year.”

Sleepy Eye coach Ryan Hulke welcomed Mike with open arms, utilizing her international experience while honing other attributes she lacked in her game.

“She’s small, but she definitely knows how to use her body to create space,” Hulke said. “She takes care of the ball well, she dribbles well, so she had those attributes for us. The biggest thing with her coming in was defensively doing a lot of trapping zones and pressing type of things that we do that she really wasn’t accustomed to at the international level.”

Mike dribbles the ball up the court at CHS.

Hulke said Mike began to really catch onto those defensive teachings around postseason time last year. Now, Mike is a regular in the Indians’ deep rotation that has given teams fits this year.

Earning her spot on the team was not easy, but Mike managed to prove to Hulke that she was worthy of her playing time.

“I tried to make sure that I’m improving every day in practice; when I go out on the court, I do my best not only to make myself look good, but to help my teammates look good,” Mike said. “I’m not really a selfish player, so I love to make plays for my teammates and everything. I’m sure that’s what coaches like to see as well other than just playing for yourself.”

At 5-foot-4, Mike has always played point guard ever since her early days in organized basketball. Because of this, her ball-handling has been one of her biggest strengths, which has given her a chance to be a viable option opposite of the team’s starting point guard Madi Heiderscheidt.

Hulke lauded Mike as a quiet leader who leads by example, providing a spark off the bench for the Indians. Getting the chance to play for Hulke has been quite the experience for Mike.

“I was amazed with coach Hulke because he’s able to just draw up plays and when he tells the team to do it and they actually do it, it actually works and everything,” Mike said. “I just think he’s an amazing coach and everything — I don’t even think I could just draw up a play and then put it on the court and have it work.”

Mike also plays softball for Sleepy Eye and even though she said it’s not her favorite sport like basketball is, she still enjoys staying active and being involved in the team atmosphere. She started in right field for the Indians team that made a deep run in the Section 2A playoffs last year.

Halfway through her senior year, Mike has gotten some looks at the junior college level, which often serves as a great launch pad for playing at the higher levels. Hulke said Rochester Community and Technical College as well as Minnesota West Community College are the big two schools in the running, but there are a couple others she is considering as well.

“It’s going pretty well; I’m cutting down my decisions because I don’t really have that much time in the long run if you look at it,” Mike said. “I’m basing it on what they have. I’m going to cut them down and then do some college visits. Academically, scholarship-wise — I’m going to look at all of that before I choose a school. It’s pretty good right now.”