In eight years, Middle Tennessee State coach Rick Insell has helped put three players into the WNBA.
Ebony Rowe could be the fourth.
Just a junior, the 6-foot-1 forward already owns school records with 48 career double-doubles and 486 offensive rebounds and ranks in the top 10 in points scored. This year, she averages 20.2 points and is in the top 25 in the country in four categories — scoring, rebounding, field-goal percentage and double-doubles.
On Wednesday, the same day the Blue Raiders (21-7) clinched their fifth straight Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship, she was named one of 30 finalists for the Naismith Women’s Player of the Award. Last week, the school launched a website to campaign Rowe as an All-America candidate.
Her résumé, her success against power conference schools, her determination all lead Insell to believe she can follow in the footsteps of former All-Americans Chrissy Givens, Amber Holt and Alysha Clark and land in the WNBA.
That is, if she wants to.
“If the opportunity comes along that she can play basketball, I don’t know if she will to be honest with you,” Insell said. “I think that she would choose to get her engineering degree and make a life for herself.”
A native of Lexington, Ky., of course, she “came out the womb a Kentucky fan.” A lifelong fan of both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, she dreamed of suiting up for the Wildcats.
But Rowe always had higher aspirations than just playing basketball. She wanted to be like her father — and still does.
Her father, Nick, is a civil engineer and regional vice president for American Water. Her older sister, Dominique, is a mechanical engineer for Lexington-based software company Lexmark, where Ebony spent the summer as an intern.
“I guess you can say it runs in the family,” she said. “It is something I’ve always wanted to do since I was younger.”
She currently juggles basketball and a physics major — and juggles it well. She has a 3.58 GPA and has been named to the Sun Belt Commissioner’s List and academic honor roll. After she graduates, she hopes to attend Georgia Tech and pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Eventually, she wants to open an engineering firm with her sister.
“If I have the opportunity to play more basketball after college, of course I would have to examine it and see if that is what I would want to do,” Rowe said. “I might put a hold on [graduate] school. But for right now, school is kind of in the lead.”
Rowe’s answer sits out of the norm from most student-athletes with legitimate chances to play professionally.
But Insell recognized Rowe was different early on. He chose to look past her size in recruiting her away from Western Kentucky, her parents’ alma mater, and Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Insell’s positive approach during a home visit left an impression with Rowe and her father. By the end of the meeting, she knew she wanted to go to MTSU.
“He really believed in me and my capabilities,” Rowe said. “A lot of other places they doubted my height or my size or what I can and can’t do and what I need to work on. Whereas when coach Insell met with me, he knew all of those things so he told me what I’m going to be able to do and what he sees for my future. He had such an outward look and was real inspiring. He really made me believe I could do things that no one else had put into my head.”
Immediately, Rowe validated Insell’s beliefs.
In her first college game two years ago, she scored 25 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, blocked three shots and dished out three assists in playing all 40 minutes in a win over Big East foe South Florida.
Right away, there was something different about her.
“How do you know if she has an undersized heart?” Insell said. “I can tell you right now she didn’t. Every practice, every game, she comes out and gives you everything she’s got. She is one of those special, special athletes that a lot of coaches go a lifetime and they don’t get to coach.”