MILL CREEK — Many high school basketball players spend their summers training and playing in summer leagues with aspirations of taking their games to the next level when their prep careers are over.
But not many get the chance to do so on the other side of the world.
That’s exactly what Jackson High School sophomore guard Mack Konig did this past summer when she spent two months traveling through Europe while playing for the Austrian women’s U-16 national team at the FIBA U-16 Women’s European Championship.
“It is extremely different (in Austria),” Konig said. “I loved it. It was completely different from everything I’ve ever done before. The people there are super nice. It’s like a family overseas, basically.”
Konig, who was born in Abbotsford, British Columbia, has dual citizenship between Canada and Austria. She joined the team this summer after her father contacted the Austrian coaching staff and sent them some video highlights.
Spending two months away from her family was intimidating for Konig, but her host family and teammates helped make the transition easier.
“I was really scared, but they made it super easy,” said Konig, the only North American on the Austrian roster. “They were super kind right off the bat and super inviting and they cared about me right away. A lot of them wanted to know about what it’s like here, so we built a relationship through that — me asking questions about how they live, them asking questions about how I live.”
Konig said the biggest challenge in playing in a different country was the language barrier.
“It got difficult when they would talk to each other because obviously I can’t understand them,” Konig said. “So sometimes I would feel isolated and a little bit of an outcast, but they tried really hard to make sure that I was included.”
Konig said that the style of play in Europe didn’t contrast much from what she had experienced in the U.S. and Canada, but the speed and competitiveness at the national level was a step up.
Konig led the Austrian team with 3.8 assists per game and was second in scoring at 10.3 points per game. The Austrian’s finished 19th at the 23-team tournament after going 2-6.
Spending the bulk of her summer in Austria gave Konig the chance to embrace a different culture. She enjoyed trying new foods, and even picked up a little German.
“It’s just a different life there,” she said. “It’s hard to explain if you haven’t been there.”
Konig isn’t the first in her family to get to play on a national squad. Konig’s older sister, Aislinn, has played for the Canadian national team at different levels since 2013 and is a senior on the North Carolina State University women’s basketball team. That’s given Mack Konig a good example of what it takes to compete at the higher levels of women’s basketball.
“She knows a lot about what coaches want and look for in players,” Konig said of her older sister, “because she’s been through it, she knows how hard it is. She helps me a lot in telling me if I’m not working hard enough or if I need to put more effort into something.”
Konig said basketball is big in her family. Her 74-year-old grandfather still plays in an over-70 league in Canada, and her parents are enjoying the experience of having two daughters excelling on the court.
“They’re incredibly proud of me and my sister for accomplishing these things,” Konig said. “I don’t think they could be happier. They love watching us play sports.”
The trip to Europe meant Konig missed some time with her high school team over the summer, but Jackson coach Corey Gibb said that time was beneficial for both Konig and his young Timberwovles squad.
“That provided some growth (opportunities for) the other girls,” Gibb said. “I think that everyone benefited from her being gone. She was getting experience at a high level and it also gave the other girls a chance to grow up and mature as players.”
Gibb said he could see the improvement in Konig’s athleticism, strength and shooting coming into this season. Konig missed Jackson’s first two games because she didn’t have enough practices, but has made a major impact this season while playing in seven of the team’s first nine games. She’s averaging a team-high 23.4 points per contest and has scored at least 18 points in each game.
But perhaps more important for the Timberwolves has been the growth Gibb has seen by Konig as a leader. That will be important for Konig, a second-team All-Wesco 4A selection as a freshman, and her team this season as she’s gone from a freshman on a senior-heavy squad to the leading returning scorer on a young team that has only one healthy senior.
“It’s been a wonderful experience to have someone who is so versed in basketball knowledge to be out on the floor,” Gibb said of Konig. “It’s just like an extension of the coaching staff.”