King returns home to inspire next generation of players


Han Byer

The women’s basketball assistant coach, Mariah King, instructs the team in the locker room at halftime during their game against Little Rock on Saturday.

Kate Stevens, Assistant Sports Editor

Eastern women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant’s newest addition to his staff has quite the resume and brings her successes and experiences back to Eastern.

Mariah King is a former EIU women’s basketball standout who most recently played 9 years overseas in many countries including Egypt, Turkey, Poland, Finland, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Japan, Romania. The Czech Republic, and the U.S territory of Puerto Rico.

As King reflected on her time at Eastern, she said that the four years spent here prepared her in the best way for her future in playing at the professional level.

“I think Eastern prepared me for the world in many different ways, and the game of basketball just prepared you for the real world,” King said.

She said all of the things she learned through the game of basketball itself and all of the things at Eastern have carried into her professional career and into her life.

“As far as like, building team chemistry, you know, having that family feel type of thing and being disciplined, stuff like that. As I went on to play professionally, that stuff absolutely carried over playing in different countries, being able to have a family feel getting along with others. Eastern prepared me a great deal to get ready to go out to the next level.”

In her time at Eastern she saw awards and her name in the record books. She was a part of four straight postseason Panther teams.

King is currently number eight on the list of EIU’s scoring leaders as she recorded 1,440 points in her collegiate career. She is also number 11 on the list for EIU’s all-time rebounds as she grabbed 654 in her time at Eastern. Lastly, she is tied for the most games played by a Panther at 128.

Her journey at EIU started as she was being recruited by Debbie Black, who was the coach at that time.

“I was actually between EIU and Western Michigan,” King said. “But I just liked the family-oriented feel here and the honesty from the beginning.”

King played during all four years, but just kept getting better each season as she started in all of the games she played in her sophomore, junior, and senior seasons.

“My freshman year, I didn’t really play that much, I was playing behind some great players like Rachel Galligan, Maggie Kloak, players of that caliber,” King said. “They were great leaders and I ended up starting the next few years and having a very successful career after as far as numbers and stuff.”

The team went 23-11 overall and 16-2 in conference her freshman year, 18-13 overall and 13-5 in conference her sophomore year, 22-9 overall and 13-3 in conference her junior year, and 20-12 overall and 12-4 in conference her senior year.

In her four years, King averaged 11.3 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game while obtaining a .467 shooting average. She had 16 total blocks and 64 assists in her career.

She also was a three-time OVC Player of the Week award winner and a three-time OVC Second Team selection.

King is proud of the work she did for Eastern as it helped elevate her to the next step in her career as a professional basketball player.

“It feels good knowing that I did some things here at Eastern,” King said. “I was never a numbers girl, like I never cared about what I did at the games, but I knew that I wanted to make an impact on the game. So, I guess having that mindset, the numbers came naturally. So yeah, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I appreciate Eastern acknowledging that.”

After a strong career at EIU, she went on to have a strong nine-year career playing overseas for several different countries and gained experience like no other. She enjoyed playing in the different countries and getting to know the various people and cultures she saw.

“I’ve always wanted to try a different country every year,” King said. “Sometimes I ended up back in a country that I was before, but at the end of the day, I think I traveled a bit. I accomplished what I wanted to do.”

She said although she enjoyed each and every experience, her favorite place to play was the Czech Republic because of the variety of people she came into contact with, and it felt most like home.

“I say Czech Republic because it was more relatable, it was a melting pot full of different people,” King said. “It was city like, I’m a city girl from Chicago. The city feel made me feel really comfortable.”

King said it was not very hard for her to adapt to moving overseas and going to different countries, because she had grown up traveling for basketball.

“It wasn’t hard for me,” King said. “I’ve been traveling for a long time. I played travel basketball when I was younger and then I went away for school.”

She said as she adapted to the new places, she found a way to make it home as she got to know the people there.

“I feel like I learned to adapt a long time ago,” King said. “I know being in another country is a long distance from home, but I was able to adapt fairly well, and I made it my home type of thing. People are friendly over there and they made me feel welcome and I didn’t have any bad issues there as far as not feeling wanted. I always felt accepted and my presence was wanted.”

King said the style of play is different but seeing the different cultures and ways players prepared for games was different, but a good to experience.

“The style of play was kind of the same, workload the same everywhere I went,” King said. “Fast paced, hard, gritty.”

“The differences from American basketball than European basketball is I think we’re a but fancier with the ball,” King said. “They’re just a little bit more super simplistic with it for the game. But each culture is different for sure, like how you do things and how they prepare for games.”

King said she always knew she wanted to get into coaching after playing professional basketball. She said she wanted to give herself about 10 years to play overseas and then she would return to the United States to coach.

She said over the last few years between playing overseas, she had coached some Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball, also known as travel or club basketball.

“I’ve always had the idea of wanting to coach after (playing overseas),” King said. “For the last couple of years, I’ve been more intentional about coaching. The last few years I dedicated my time, made it my business to focus on that coaching part.”

She said she was talking with a friend about whether to hang up the basketball shoes and to start putting in applications for coaching positions.

“I was talking to a friend like ‘I do want to coach college basketball,’” King said. “And they were like ‘Why don’t you go back and coach at Eastern?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know, but if they call me, I would definitely take them up on that offer.’”

Mariah King, the EIU women’s basketball assistant coach, gets ready to talk to the other coaches during a timeout at the team’s game against Little Rock in Lantz Arena on Saturday. (Han Byer)

Little did she know that she would soon get a call from coach Matt Bollant.

“I kid you not, like a month later, Matt actually asked me if I want the job,” King said with a big smile. “So, I was shocked actually because I literally just talked about this with a friend.”

King had a big decision to make: go back overseas to get that 10th year or return back to Eastern as an assistant coach.

“Then like a week later, I say ‘yes, I’m coming back,’” King said. “I think I made the perfect decision. I love it. I don’t feel like I’m at work, it comes natural, and I’m so happy to be back. Nothing really has changed. It’s good to see people that had been here during the time that I was here and it’s still family oriented.”

She said things have come full circle for her as she is so happy to be back as a coach and is excited to give back to EIU.

“It’s pretty cool,” King said. “To be able to give back to everything, and to kind give them (the players) an insight on what it’s like as a player and a coach. I think I have a gift I’d say because I actually played here.”

She said she is a walking example of someone who has gone on from Eastern to play professionally and that she would love to help her players get to the same place if they wish to. She said she can relate to them and just wants to give back to them and give them all the knowledge she has brought back to EIU with her.

King said she is happy to be coaching alongside Bollant, who first noticed her as he was coaching at the University of Illinois. They met as Eastern played Illinois in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) in 2013.

“He’s so sweet and a family-oriented guy, I love that,” King said. “But yeah, senior year in the postseason we had a game, and I was memorable because I gave his team buckets.”

King said that one of his assistants had given her a contact for agents to play overseas.

“That’s how connected we were, and I didn’t really notice it until right now,” King said. “I never thought I would be working for the guy that I played against my last year here.”

Eastern has had a great start for King’s first year here. They have started OVC play undefeated and have high hopes of postseason play.

King said she has noticed the chemistry that the team has and that they have worked hard for the successes they have seen this season. She said that the success continues for this season and for seasons going forward.

“I want better for the girls,” King said. “To achieve more accomplishments, to get more accolades, just be better, the next generation to be better and better.”


Kate Stevens can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]