While Alaina McMillan won a slew of individual awards during the 2022/23 season including St. Mary University’s women’s basketball MVP as well as being female athlete of the year, she has also become the ultimate team player. That strong combination of McMillan’s leadership, work ethic, and raw talent helped push the St. Mary’s Huskies to an AUS (Atlantic University Sport) championship title and an overall 4th finish in the national standings. McMillan states, “It was an amazing year. And I’m grateful for not only my individual accomplishments but what we’ve accomplished as a team.”
However, McMillan, who is currently working towards a master’s in social work, explains that the progression of the Huskies into a winner was going to take time. “When I came in during my first year, the team was in transition. They had won the championship a few years prior. But I think the essential element to creating what we did was gradual. You have to trust the process…coming into my first year, it was clear that we might not have had all the pieces to win a championship. But we were going to get there. And I think each year after that…mentalities changed. And we just bear down and make sure that we’re going to keep getting better.”
Yet, as McMillan continues to pave her path to a championship, she looks back to her roots in Brantford and where it all started. “I love growing up in Brantford. I was born in the Dominican Republic and I moved to Brantford when I was five with my dad and [grew up] around my grandparents. I had a good childhood. [and] was always in my neighborhood park. I remember, there weren’t many nets for the baskets and so, my dad used to bring our own nets, and he would come put them up for me. And then that way I could see and feel that ‘swish’.”
McMillan enjoyed playing at St. John’s College and had some success there, but she had to make some tough calls as her skill level progressed. “When it came to sports [we] ended up moving out of town. I always want to challenge myself. And so, when I was in Branford, you’re going to get complacent. I just love challenging myself and I love being in situations that weren’t necessarily comfortable in.” The opportunity in moving opened the door for her to play in tournaments across Ontario and in the United States.
However, late in her teens she then explored options for her next step in her basketball and academic career. “Early in my career…I made it clear that I didn’t want to stay in Canada. My goal was to play in the United States and be in the NCAA…I was willing to explore that [and] then [SMU] connected with me. I went for a visit at [St. Mary’s University] …it was small, with not too many students. They had all the classes that I was interested in [and] I saw the facility, and I talked to the [team]. I just felt like, not only was it the best fit for me, academically, which is very important in this decision [but] I felt like I could come in and make an impact athletically. I wanted to play somewhere for four or five years and make an impact and make a change. And, [they have] given me way more opportunities than I would have ever dreamed I would have. And I’m so grateful for that.”
Fast forward four years and despite winning the AUS championship this year, McMillan feels there is more to prove. “I think the next step for elevating my game…I want to be much more consistent [and] I think if I bring that to the table and kind of rub off to my teammates as well. Being one of the older [players] on the team, I can have that sense of calmness and consistency. We changed a lot of our culture last year, which allowed us to be so successful, and I think it’s holding ourselves accountable this year, to that same standard, but even higher.”
McMillan, who led her team in scoring, assists, three-point percentage, and free-throw percentage this past season, feels that she can build upon her success and perhaps even turn pro. “As of right now, I want to explore my options, I would love to continue playing…I think if the opportunity arises, and there’s interest, and it seems like a positive experience, I would 100% take that opportunity to go overseas. And, continue challenging myself and continue playing the sport that I love. But if that doesn’t happen, I wouldn’t be devastated.”
McMillan has excelled because she has been determined to create and follow her own path, and as she notes, it starts with change. “Embrace adversity…you’re not going to be the starter on each team. But coaches do see what you do when you’re not excited. And so, showing up with energy [and] putting 110% …that’s what made me the player I am today.”