At times, the thoughts came as smooth as a wide open 12-foot jumper for Magdalena Makil.
Free and easy.
In other instances, summoning the words for her was as difficult as helping Westwood overcome a 20-point deficit with just over a minute left in the game.
Continuous effort but not much to show for it.
Regardless of how the words flowed from the pen onto the sometimes tear-soaked paper inside the journal, it is exactly what the private Makil needed as one of two outlets she had after he father, Jason, died on Nov. 22, 2016 at the age of 51.
“I didn’t want to talk a lot about it,” Makil said. “It’s not easy, but our freshman coach (Ron Compton) gave me a book. It was a journal. Whenever I wanted to talk to my dad, I could just put it into words. Sometimes I’d cry, and I could write a lot, but there’d be times where it was hard to put what I was feeling on paper.”
Since the one-year mark of Jason Makil’s death from a brain disease, she’s used her play on the court to be her outlet by playing in honor of the man who always told her “do your best” and “play your ass off.”
And she’s done just that.
The Warriors (5-2) won their first five games as Makil scored in double digits five times, including 20- and 17-point efforts, in the first seven games, as they prepare to host Copper Canyon on Friday.
“She has been amazing,” Westwood coach Glenda Skalitzky said. “We never really saw Maggie be Maggie last year as you might expect. She played hard, but her focus wasn’t always there, and she’d get emotional.
“Now she’s back to being Maggie.”
It has long been said everyone grieves in their own way and on their own time.
Rebecca Makil, who was married to Jason for 22 years and had six children together including Eric, a senior baseball player, said Magdalena has been private with her thoughts and feelings, but knows when she is at school and with the team she is well.
“They surrounded my daughter with love, and I will be forever grateful,” Rebecca said. “They honored my husband and showed so much respect for our whole family by making T-shirts they wore before games (last season) and just being there for her.”
Magdalena remembers the first few days back after the funeral and what it meant to turn her mind off and be part of the team again after spending too many days at the hospital after the disease started to take her father long before he took his last breath.
“My mom and I would go to the hospital to be with him,” she said. “It was hard. He wasn’t talking anymore so I would talk to him, even about basketball. Once I got back to the team everyone was so supportive. They didn’t really understand it all, but they did everything they could for me.”
So, once she returned to the team it was all about basketball. The 5-foot-5 junior played well enough to earn second-team All-East Valley Region honors last season, but it didn’t stop her from wanting more.
“She put everything she had into basketball,” Rebecca said. “Her dad was all about sports ever since he was a kid on the (Salt River) reservation. He talked and played sports with all the kids. Jason is proud of everything she has done.”
The work started with changing her shot from a bit of a side heave to a more traditional straight on jump shot. It’s never easy to break years of muscle memory, a shot that was honed by shooting with her dad, and change something that comes so natural.
Magdalena worked through the frustration of missing shots with the new motion, but has seemingly adjusted in time for this season.
“Maggie had that shot that was off to the side when I first got her,” Skalitzky said. “She is so coachable that she’ll do anything asked of her to the best of her ability, and if it isn’t good enough in her eyes she keeps working on it. You can’t teach that.
“She has a nose for the ball and when you combine that with her new shot it has really turned Maggie into a very good player. You have to see her play to really see how good she has become.”
In Makil’s mind she is just playing the game the way her dad has always coached her because he can see her play now more than ever.
“He never really made it to a lot of my games because he was always working,” said Magdalena, who smiled every time she spoke of him. “He made it to my first (varsity) start, but I could always hear his voice. Even now. I hear him sometimes in the games and have to catch myself because I know he is watching me.”
So, she shoots. Free and easy.
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.