Kimbal Mackenzie is a glutton for punishment.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior guard for the Bucknell men’s basketball program has drawn a team-leading 19 charges this season, which is not his way of saying he enjoys planting his feet and standing his ground just before getting barreled over by an opponent driving to the basket. But Mackenzie understands the scope of successfully taking a charge.
“I just know it’s an important play,” he said last week. “I think it’s a lost art in the game nowadays. It’s a big momentum shift when the guy on the other team gets the foul and you get possession. So it’s something I’ve been doing for a while now, even in high school.”
The charges taken are another highlight in what has been a remarkable collegiate career for Mackenzie. The 22-year-old John Carroll graduate ranks 22nd in Bison history in scoring with 1,207 points and has reached double digits in scoring 55 times.
This winter, Mackenzie leads the team in scoring at 17.0 points per game and playing time at 34.4 minutes per game to rank third and fifth in the Patriot League, respectively. He also ranks third at Bucknell (17-10, 11-4 Patriot League) in assists per game at 3.0 and sixth in rebounds per game at 2.6 while making 31 consecutive starts.
“I would say it’s one that most people would like to have,” Bison coach Nathan Davis said of Mackenzie’s career. “He was an all-conference player as a sophomore, and I’m sure he’s on his way to doing that this year. He’s been in multiple NCAA tournaments and has got a chance again this year. He’s scored 1,000 points. He’s had a pretty good one so far.”
Davis has a certain fondness for Mackenzie, who left his hometown of Oakville in Ontario, Canada, and played his last three years of high school at John Carroll. When Davis was hired in April 2015 to replace Dave Paulsen, who had been hired away by George Mason, he immediately reached out to a group of commits who would make up the freshman class at Bucknell in 2015-16. Mackenzie, who had been the Baltimore Catholic League Player of the Year and a member of The Sun’s All-Metro team for the Patriots, said he would not look elsewhere.
“We got to know each other, and he told me about some of the stuff that he wanted to do, and from there, I was sold,” Mackenzie recalled. “I knew his No. 1 priority was winning, and nothing about the school had changed. The fans, the atmosphere here, the academics, the location of the school, it was all still there.”
“It was a big relief,” Davis said of Mackenzie’s commitment. “It was good to know that he was still all in.”
The Bison captured the Patriot League tournament championship in 2016-17 and 2017-18 — the latter despite Mackenzie missing 12 games after undergoing sports hernia surgery.
Senior forward Nate Sestina said Mackenzie remained involved.
“For a kid who never really had an injury set him aside from playing, I know that it messed with him mentally, just being his roommate and his best friend on campus,” Sestina said. “But he was vocal on the bench. He would call out teams’ plays, what a post player was going to do in the post. He would call out which way a guard was going to come off a screen. He kind of saw the game as it was happening while not playing, and I think that was one of the best ways I saw Kim lead.”
Mackenzie’s competitive spirit on the court is not limited to basketball. He has qualified for the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and Davis said Mackenzie is a workout warrior. Sestina said a simple walk to the cafeteria can quickly turn into a race if Mackenzie is around.
“It probably comes from being the youngest of three brothers and growing up in that environment,” Mackenzie said of his relationship with brothers Tanner and Nolan, who are five and three years older, respectively. “It’s more fun when you win rather than when you lose in general. Growing up, that’s always how it’s been, and I think it’s definitely a trait of anyone who is successful.”
That competitiveness explains Mackenzie’s penchant for taking charges, but his forte is his ability to manufacture points. Davis said some of his favorite memories of Mackenzie include a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the right corner to cement a 65-64 comeback win against Colgate on Feb. 12, 2018, a 3-pointer from the corner with 39 seconds remaining in a 70-65 victory over Navy in a Patriot League tournament semifinal on March 5, 2017, and a 23-point outburst in an 86-80 loss to West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 16, 2017.
“I think he’s a three-level scorer,” Davis said. “He can shoot the 3, he can shoot mid-range and he can get to the rim. He’s so strong that he can play through contact. He’s a great free-throw shooter, but I think the biggest thing is, he’s just never afraid of the moment. He’s made more big shots over the last four years probably than anyone else in our program for us.”
Bucknell has dropped back-to-back games in the conference for the first time in three years, but has a half-game lead over second-place Lehigh (17-8, 10-4) in the conference and is in the driver’s seat for its third straight league tournament crown. Getting another shot at playing in the NCAA tournament and avoiding the first-round exits that awaited the 2017 and 2018 squads is a motivation for Mackenzie.
“I don’t think we’re looking ahead, but that’s obviously our goal,” he said. “It didn’t even have to be said at the beginning of the year because that’s what we’re trying to do. Day in and day out, that’s on our minds, but we’re focusing on one game at a time because in this game, you can’t get too far ahead of yourself.”
But with only three games left in the regular season before the Patriot League tournament begins March 5, the end is appearing on the horizon, and Mackenzie acknowledged he’s feeling conflicted about reconciling his past with his future.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “It’s just gone so fast, and when you come in as a freshman, people tell you, ‘Time is going to fly. You better cherish every day.’ When you’re that young, you just kind of brush it off, but it couldn’t be more true,” he said. “It’s kind of incredible that the four years have gone by so fast, but I’m left with good feelings. I’m left with all positive stuff. I’ve enjoyed my time here, and I’ve enjoyed really getting to know the guys, and it’s all good stuff.”