Stellar McElroy leads women’s basketball through resurgence

Staci McElroy, the second all-time leading scorer in Buffalo State women’s basketball history and a three-time All-SUNYAC first teamer, grew up playing basketball with the guys. One of those guys happens to be SUNYAC men’s basketball Rookie of the Year, Mikey McElroy—Staci’s little brother.

Staci, who also earned SUNYAC Rookie of the Year honors her first season in 2009-10, called her younger brother the biggest influence on her basketball career.

“Growing up, I would always play one-on-one with him,” McElroy said. “We would also play with the neighborhood kids. I played with the boys a lot.”

The SUNY-siblings from Saratoga Springs, New York, rarely let up when playing against each other.

“My brother and I were really competitive. He would always try hard on me because I was his older sister, but I would still beat him all the time,” said McElroy, laughing. “He made me a better player, he made me really competitive.”

Mikey, who plays forward for Oneonta, led his team in rebounding while averaging 16.3 points per game.

“I also played with my dad a lot,” Staci said. “He really helped me out. Obviously my parents were a big factor. They were the ones who signed me up for basketball, bought me new basketball stuff, and were always taking me to games.”

McElroy began playing basketball at the age of eight for a city league, the same league Buffalo State teammate Kala Crawford has her basketball roots in. McElroy and Crawford both recall playing against each other as kids on several occasions and also went to elementary school together. They went on to be teammates for three years at Saratoga Springs High School.

“I’ve known Staci since elementary school,” Crawford said. “Our friendship is more like a sisterhood since we’ve known each other for so long.”

Crawford said she based her decision to come to Buffalo State largely around McElroy.

“Staci was a big part of why I came here,” Crawford said. “I was recruited here, and I stayed with Staci when I did my visit. I liked being comfortable with someone else on the team. I felt knowing somebody on the team would definitely help.”

McElroy also played a part in bringing team captain Kelly Kell to Buffalo State.

“I was friends with Kelly before basketball,” McElroy said. “I put in the word for her to get recruited.”

McElroy was Kell’s best friend’s roommate her freshman year, and met Kell when she was still in high school. The team’s need for a point guard made Kell’s recruitment an easy decision. Kell attended and played basketball at Hudson Valley Community College for two years before transferring to Buffalo State her junior year.

McElroy was given first team All-SUNYAC honors three consecutive seasons, the first being after her sophomore year in 2010-11.

“It’s always an honor,” McElroy said. “It’s not something I ever really expected. I always take it one year at a time, and looking back at my career, it’s really exciting.”

Teammates Bianca Smiley and Ashley Wallace were given second and third-team All SUNYAC honors respectively for their contributions to the Bengals this season.

“They’re both really deserving of it,” McElroy said. “They both worked really hard, and were both really huge components of the team. They’re both extremely athletic.”

“All three of them were really important to our success this season,” said head coach Sue Roarke.

McElroy considers her junior season as a whole the biggest accomplishment of her basketball career.

“The coolest thing about my career was my junior season,” McElroy said. “We had a great record; we beat a lot of great teams, and made it to the championship game. I’m still really proud of that season.”

The Bengals went 25-3 during the 2011-12 season, before losing the SUNYAC championship game to Oneonta by a score of 50-41. McElroy averaged 11.6 points per game and grabbed 169 rebounds her junior year, and was named SUNYAC Player of the Week twice.

McElroy’s junior year was also the season Bianca Smiley transferred to Buffalo State from Medaille.

“After Bianca came, I felt like a lot of the pressure was off of me,” McElroy said. “Her coming in, being so big, and being able to score, I just felt like there was less pressure on me.”

“Bianca coming here made our team more balanced,” Roarke said. “It gave other teams something else to think about defensively. It takes the pressure off one individual when you have more than one offensive weapon.”

Roarke credits McElroy and Smiley in large part for the recent turnaround and success of the program.

“This is my eighth year here, and I think Staci’s class is when we started to make that turn,” Roarke said. “We started to see some progress with our records, and we started to get a little bit better each year. I think they’re a huge part of the success that this program has had.”

Smiley also felt the pressure placed on the main offensive threat last year, when McElroy took a year off for non-basketball related reasons.

“This season was a turnaround with her return, because teams had to worry about both of us, instead of just focusing on shutting me down,” Smiley said. “We played well together because if one of us had an off night offensively, we’d balance each other out.  Staci is a great all-around player who we could depend upon to be consistent. She worked hard every day.”

As a player, McElroy is seen as a pure offensive threat, someone who can score from anywhere at any time. This allowed her to become Buffalo State’s second all-time leading scorer (1,412 points) in the history of the women’s basketball program.

“As far as a personal accomplishment, it was really cool to get 1,000 points in three years,” McElroy said. “Also being the second leading all-time scorer. That’s huge. I really wasn’t expecting that at all. I didn’t even realize how close I was until I read it in an article. It’s something I’m really proud of.”

“I think she’s just a pure scoring threat,” said team captain Kelly Kell. “She can post up, drive, and shoot from the outside.”

“She’s very quick athletically,” Roarke said. “Her ability to elevate is what, I think, made her a special division-III player.”

Roarke said that in addition to her offensive talents, McElroy’s ability as a defender was also superb.

“She was one of our best defenders,” Roarke said. “After her junior year, we were able to frequently put her on the opposing team’s best player.”

As a teammate, McElroy was a leader by example, and was widely-respected by her peers for her high character.

“She didn’t need to be a vocal leader,” Kell said. “She just had a very calming nature about her that everyone on the team looked up to.”

“The quality of her character was even bigger than the basketball player she was,” Roarke said. “She was such a good player and teammate. She looked after her teammates and was worried about their well-being. She was a very unselfish player.”

McElroy said she feels that basketball has had a positive impact on her life outside of the game itself.

“Basketball has helped me with discipline,” McElroy said. “I’m much more disciplined because of it, with listening, being on time, and paying attention to small details. I think basketball, especially college basketball, has changed me for the better.”

McElroy also said she is open to continuing her basketball career, and is going to an exposure camp with Smiley in June that could lead to an opportunity to play overseas.

McElroy and Smiley will be playing two games a day for three days straight in front of scouts from other countries through Coates Sports Management Camps, an invite-only recruitment camp.

In the event that McElroy is given an offer to play overseas, her acceptance would be circumstantial.

“For the most part, I would take it,” McElroy said. “Unless it was in a country that isn’t really safe, because I was looking at the list and one of the options was Iran. I don’t think my dad would want me to play in Iran. So I guess it just depends on the country. I’ve never traveled anywhere, so it would be a great opportunity.”

McElroy has not only changed the program, but changed along with it as a player and person.

“I remember being scared and timid as a freshman,” McElroy said. “Coming back as a senior, and being a leader on the floor, it’s just cool to see how I developed along with the program these past few years.”