By TREY WILLIAMS
Daniel Boone junior basketball player Macie Culbertson has a rare ability to spot opportunities in advance on the court, and she quickly seized a chance to score a career goal, too.
Culbertson committed last week to play at Belmont University in Nashville. Belmont has an impressive young coach and is coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance. So with a number of other schools also interested, including Middle Tennessee, there was no need, Culbertson suggested, to overthink it.
“Belmont was my top school from the very first time I visited there,” said Culbertson, whose father Chad played football at Sullivan North. “It’s a great university and the coaching staff and players are very cool and fun people to be around. I know freshman Maddie Wright from AAU and school ball some. I got to spend some time with her and the players outside of basketball, and they were just girls that I wanted to be around and play with.”
Belmont had the best season in program history last year in coach Cameron Newbauer’s third season. The Bruins went 24-9, beat Wake Forest and offered much resistance against fourth-seeded Michigan State in an NCAA Tournament loss.
“And the coach at Belmont was just elated that she’d committed,” Boone coach Travis Mains said. “He didn’t think he could get Macie. … They’re on the uptick. They’re getting highly rated players that would rather go there and play and live in Nashville and play in that environment. They’ve got a girl there that played at Stanford. They’ve got a girl there that played at Vanderbilt.
“He’s a difference maker. That guy will be your next big-time coach somewhere. I just hope he doesn’t leave before she leaves. …. Out of all the coaches I met, there’s a bunch of really impressive coaches, but that guy’s just got an ‘it’ factor.”
Culbertson, a 5-foot-11 guard who missed her freshman season due to an ACL tear, is averaging approximately 11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.0 steals per game for the Big 7 Conference-leading Lady Trailblazers. Those averages have come in a relatively low amount of minutes, as the Lady Trailblazers have won plenty of games by comfortable margins. Unselfishness also stunts Culbertson’s stats.
“She plays reserved,” Mains said. “She still wants to please her teammates a lot of times, I think, instead of just taking over. That’s her next step in development – just taking over games. And we’ve seen that here down the stretch.
“She took over against Sullivan Central, scored the last 10 points of the game. She kind of took over at Science Hill late, rebounding the ball and handling ball. Her rebounding’s went up from, like, five a game to 10 a game here recently. If we need a rebound she goes and gets it.”
A higher level of play, such as AAU, has generally elevated Culbertson’s play.
“She’s just scratching the surface,” Mains said. “She sees the game two or three passes ahead. We’ve got really good players, but sometimes they don’t actually see what she sees. She’ll get a couple of turnovers a game where, if they would make the right cut or see what she saw, they’d be points instead of turnovers. She loves to pass. She’s a pass-first shooting guard.
“She’s very advanced. You don’t see many kids like that – and to have the selflessness to make those passes. She’d rather throw a half-court bounce pass than to shoot a game-winning 3-point shot, I’m afraid. She’s fun to watch.”
Mains anticipates the killer instinct surfacing down the stretch, particularly in the postseason. Certainly, Culbertson has a good role model as a closer.
“My favorite player when I was a kid was definitely Kobe (Bryant),” Culbertson said. “I liked how easy he made everything look and how he saw the floor and
found his players when they were open. Growing up, I really looked up to Angie Bjorklund, who played for the Lady Vols a while back ago, and just the whole Lady Vol basketball program.”
Culbertson could still conceivably be courted by a number of other college programs, though commitments are generally respected much more than they are in college football or men’s basketball.
“MTSU was really, really involved,” Mains said. “They told her during one of her visits she was the No. 1 freshman on the board at the one, two and three positions, and that had never happened before. They had her at three different positions and that was the No. 1 want out of the summer evaluation.
“She loved Belmont that much. Her mom told me she wanted to commit as she was coming back from the first visit, that she just fell in love with it. They’ve got a nice living situation. It’s almost like a $250,000 scholarship after four years. They do overseas trips. It’s pretty legit. They’ve got a nice facility to play at. It’s a good situation. …
“They got four kids that were Top 100 kids coming out of high school. This guy’s picking up studs. I’m excited for her.”