West Carteret's Mackenzie Reed, left, will take her defensive prowess to Division I Chicago State University in the fall. (J.J. Smith photo)

MOREHEAD CITY — Mackenzie Reed is moving halfway across the country to play college basketball, but family will still be able to attend her games.

The West Carteret senior has signed with Chicago State University after a standout four-year career with the Patriots. Her extended family in Beloit, Wis. is about 110 miles away.

“Location was important to me,” Reed said. “I’ve always been close to my extended family, but I’m a military child, so I haven’t been able to see them as often as I would like. Chicago isn’t that far away from them, so that was a big reason.”

Reed’s parents grew up in Wisconsin, giving her plenty of family there. She’s lived in four places during her childhood, making stops in such locales as Hawaii and Japan.

“Moving doesn’t bother me,” Reed said. “I’ll be able to adapt pretty well.”

Adapting to the Division I level as a freshman shouldn’t be too difficult for the 5-6 point guard, at least on one end of the floor.

“I think she can be an all-conference defender right from the start,” West Carteret coach Lindsey Howell said. “She is a phenomenal defender, so she will bring a lot to any team, even if it’s just defense at the beginning.”

Reed finished her career with 323 steals in 93 games. She led the Patriots in steals in each of her four years on the varsity, averaging 4.0 as a senior, 5.5 as a junior, 3.1 as a sophomore and 1.8 as a freshman. She was also a strong rebounder from her guard position, averaging 5.7 boards during the last three seasons.

She improved offensively as well, going from 3.4 points per game as a freshman to 4.9 points per game as a sophomore. She made a big jump as a junior, averaging 10.6 points, and then put up 11.1 points per game as a senior. After attempting just 22 three-pointers in her first three seasons, she attempted 81 as a senior, hitting 24 (30 percent).

“She has worked really hard to become a better offensive player,” Howell said. “She’s done a lot to make herself more of a threat on that end. I think she will continue to work on her offense. She recognized what she was good at and recognized what she needed to get better at.”

Chicago State needs all the help it can get on both ends of the court.

The Cougars won 20 games in a season for the first time in school history in 2010-2011, going 24-10 and capturing the program’s first league championship by corralling the Great West Conference regular season and tournament titles.

They hadn’t won a league crown since taking the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference title in 1985-86.

In the nine years since winning the Great West Conference, Chicago State has struggled mightily, going 25-240 overall and 13-107 in league play. The last four years have been particularly painful with the Cougars going 4-113 overall and 4-54 in the Western Athletic Conference.

Reed won’t have to adapt to the work level at Division I.

“She worked really hard,” Howell said. “I’ve coached a lot of girls with good work ethics, and she has one of the best work ethics of any girl I’ve ever coached. She did everything she could to get to this level, and it’s a real testament to her work ethic and her character.”

Reed also considered Meredith and Barton. Close proximity to family put Chicago State over the top. The Cougars coaching staff saw video of her online and reached out, and although she wasn’t able to make an official recruiting visit due to the coronavirus pandemic, she did her homework.

“I contacted some of the players to get a feel for the program, and I watched some YouTube videos,” she said. “I knew I was going to be there for the next four years, so I needed to get a feel for the college.”

The differences in divisions didn’t factor too much into her decision. Barton is Division II and Meredith Division III.

“When I was younger, divisions were a big deal, but as I got older, I realized it was about the best fit,” Reed said. “I think I have a good chance of getting some playing time, and I hope to make a serious impact there.”

A standout student with a 3.2 GPA, she is considering an astrophysics major with hopes of becoming a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

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