Before Teaira McCowan became the most dominant player in the SEC, she had to overcome an obstacle far more challenging than any opponent she’s had to face.
“[My height] was something that I carried as a burden for so long,” McCowan says. “I didn’t really like to be stared at or pointed at or people were taking pictures of me. That was really hard for me to adjust to.”
By the time she was in the sixth grade, McCowan had grown to 6-7 and was towering over her classmates. She even stood a whole head above her parents, who are both 5-7.
“Some days I would feel like, no, this isn’t for me. I can’t have people looking at me like I’m some type of freak or something. I’m not supposed to be here,” McCowan recalls.
There were times when she didn’t want to leave her house, but she eventually realized power within herself after she arrived on campus at Mississippi State in 2015. Over the past four years in Starkville, McCowan has thrived as the center of attention.
“When I got to Mississippi State, I noticed that it’s not going to really change. People are always going to stare. People are always going to want to take pictures,” McCowan says. “I just had to tell myself to use it as a positive.”
From coming off the bench as a freshman and playing just 13.7 minutes per game, McCowan’s progression has been astronomical throughout her college career.
As a sophomore, McCowan was thrust into the starting lineup for the first time during the NCAA Tournament, where she helped lead the program to its first Final Four appearance. In one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history, Mississippi State ended UConn’s 111-game winning streak to advance to the national championship game.
The following season, McCowan started every game, establishing herself as an elite rebounder, shot-blocker and one of the nation’s premier defenders. This past season, McCowan became the most efficient scorer in college basketball, despite seeing double- and triple-teams on a nightly basis.
And she routinely showed out when the stage was the brightest. In December, 24 and 18 vs Marquette. In January, 26 and 24 vs South Carolina. In the SEC championship game vs Arkansas: 24, 14 and 3 blocks.
After leading Mississippi State to its third straight Elite 8 in March, McCowan was selected No. 3 overall by the Indiana Fever in the 2019 WNBA Draft.
And while the Fever finished with a franchise-worst record of 6-28 last season, McCowan can draw some similarities to her first year at Mississippi State.
“Indiana is a team that’s rebuilding and trying to re-lay its foundation and just get off the ground,” she says. “I’m happy to be a part of that. Much like at Mississippi State when I came in, we were laying the foundation, and now we’ve been to two Final Fours. So I’m just ready to get in and get my team going.”
As a high IQ, defense-oriented, team-first player, McCowan was exactly who the Fever needed to add to their young core. Rookie of the Year is one of her goals for this season, but changing the identity of the program is her mission. And she’ll be using her platform to share an inspiring message to everyone who might be struggling with the judgement of others.
“Don’t worry about what other people think, because this is a big world,” she says. “As long as you think about yourself and are giving positive energy to yourself, then you’ll be alright. You’ll make it.”
Ryne Nelson is a Senior Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @slaman10.
Photos via Getty.