By Tom Rust
Karissa McLaughlin was recently named Miss Basketball in Indiana.
The 5-foot-8 McLaughlin led Homestead High School to a state championship as a senior and an 80-8 overall record in three seasons. She averaged 25.9 points, 5.6 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game and shot 46.1 percent (111-for-241) from the three-point line.
McLaughlin scored 2,586 career points at Homestead, but the story of Karissa goes far beyond what she accomplished on the court, including any sports-related honors.
She is an outspoken Christian who delights in sharing her testimony and being a role model for younger girls. During this past season, I had the opportunity to talk to McLaughlin after practice one night in the hallway outside the Homestead gym, where so many of her accomplishments have taken place.
As we sat on a couple of folding chairs, I was awed by her humility, and her willingness to take time out of a busy day to do an interview. A lot of people want her attention.
Recruited nationally, she originally signed to play next year at the University of Florida, but the Gators recently fired their head coach, Amanda Butler. The star athlete had to reconsider where to play next year and recently chose Purdue over Michigan and Indiana.
But McLaughlin wanted to talk about her faith. In fact, she has made it a point to talk about it in the many interviews she has done over the years. She gets right to the point.
“Jesus Christ means everything to me. It’s who I am, it’s who I play for and who I live for. Every single day, I want to go out here (on the court), and inspire, and change people’s lives. I just pray every single day, ‘God, put somebody in my way that I can influence in a good way, and influence them toward you.’”
Christ has always been nearby in the McLaughlin home. With all of the outstanding moments in her life, the player remembers her baptism as one of the better ones.
“My freshman year in high school, I finally got baptized in front of everyone, and showing my outer love for Christ. It was really a memorable moment. I will never forget it and ever since then, I’ve tried to continue to grow as a Christian.”
It would seem that with her church activities and basketball, McLaughlin might be really focused and not have time to be a teenager. It doesn’t seem to be that way.
An article for ESPNW relates that she likes to keep the mood light around her teammates by playing music, dancing or even trying a little freestyle rap, which her teammates insist she is not very good at. But when she takes the court she is all business, especially behind the three-point line.
In her first game as a freshman, she came out and hit five 3-pointers in a row in the first quarter. Her coach Rod Parker was amazed, and McLaughlin said to herself, “Wow, I can really do this.”
In the state championship game against Pike this year, she had 29 points and six assists, and the dream that had come so close during her career was finally fulfilled.
But whatever is in the future for Karissa McLaughlin, God will always be a part of it. She knows she will have to work as hard at that as she does to become a better basketball player.
“Being a teenager these days is extremely hard, with a lot of people trying to distract you from whom you really are,” she said. “You have to stay focused, and you have to stay strong in who you are, and don’t give in to what the devil is trying to push you toward.
“I believe God has blessed me with the platform of basketball, and the stage that I am on to share my faith and to share God’s word with as many people as I possibly can.”
Columbus’ Tom Rust is founder of the national “Face To Face” sports ministry, a local radio sports broadcaster, and pastor of Sardinia Baptist Church. He can be reached at email@example.com.