Ready for a dramatically bigger role, Mahmi leads Griffins into season-opening series vs Alberta

Darian Mahmi, seen in action against Saskatchewan during a game last season, is ready for an increased role with the Griffins in her second season (Chris Piggott photo).
Darian Mahmi, seen in action against Saskatchewan during a game last season, is ready for an increased role with the Griffins in her second season (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Don't expect Darian Mahmi to pull off a tumbling flip dunk anytime soon, but the base of athletic qualities she has from 12 years in gymnastics certainly helps her excel on the basketball court.

Agility, speed and vertical are all engrained in the MacEwan Griffins guard's persona following years of training in a sport that is great at building a base athletic skill-set.

"Fundamentally, my strength comes from gymnastics," she said. "Being able to learn our plays quickly, it's like learning a gymnastics routine. I started doing that when I was two and trained 20+ hours a week when I was eight, so I'm just used to the training and learning on the fly."

Mahmi, who traveled all over for gymnastics competitions in her youth and once place third at a big international event in Texas, is relatively new to the sport of basketball, transitioning to her new sport of choice in high school at Archbishop O'Leary.

Since then, she's been a quick learner and, as the MacEwan Griffins prepare to kick off the 2018-19 Canada West women's basketball season with a home-and-home series against cross-town rival Alberta (Thursday, 6 p.m., Saville Centre) and Saturday (Noon, David Atkinson Gym), Mahmi is set for another massive leap forward.

After playing a bit part in her rookie university season, averaging 4.6 minutes a game in 2017-18, Mahmi is stepping into the starting lineup where she will see north of 20 minutes a contest.

"She's earned it," said MacEwan head coach Katherine Adams. "I think we've always know the type of athlete she is and the type of skill-set she has. It just took her a year to really adjust to the game at this level – the pace of play, the physicality.

"She learned a ton in her first year. She really soaked everything up and has put her new knowledge to use. We're able to utilize her skill-set and athleticism in a variety of ways, which has really helped us overall on our team take a step forward."

Most of that learning curve happened in practice when she went head-to-head against fifth-year guard Paige Knull every day.

"I learned so much from her," said Mahmi. "Everything I know is basically from her. Just guarding her in practice every day … you learn.

"The growth curve was crazy," she added. "Everything most first-years got to experience last year, I didn't really, so now it's been all thrown at me. So, it's been intense, but I've been handling it pretty well, I think."

She's coming off a 17-point, six rebound outing in her last preseason game – a 59-57 loss to Mount Royal University earlier this month at the Naismith Classic in Waterloo, Ont.

Fellow second-year MacKenzie Farmer had 20 in that game, a potential foreshadowing of 1-2 punch of players who can create mismatches for the Griffins in 2018-19. Both can shoot from the perimeter while also possessing the size to be successful inside (6-foot and 6-foot-1, respectively).

"The nice thing about having both of them on the floor at the same time is they're both versatile," said Adams. "So, they can both play inside, they can both play outside. It creates a tough matchup for teams because 'do you put a guard on them or do you put a forward on them?' They have the ability to play both spots."

Mahmi still faces a learning curve against Canada West competition no doubt, but she has the versatile skill-set to give defences a tough day.

"I use my size because I do play on the perimeter," she said. "So, if I match up with a smaller guard, I'll post them up, but if I have a bigger player than me, I use my speed. I feel like either way I have something I can use no matter how they match me up."

Mahmi is now one of three members of her family competing in U SPORTS. Her cousin Jaden Matthews is a rookie men's basketball player at the University of New Brunswick. And last month, she sat in the stands at Clarke Stadium watching her younger brother Decklin play AGAINST the Griffins as a member of the Calgary Dinos men's soccer team.

"He likes to say he doesn't (keep tabs on me)," said Mahmi. "But my mom always says he's checking up on me and asking how I'm doing. We're definitely each other's biggest fans."

So, Mahmi and the Griffins will head into a fresh campaign looking to return to the playoffs after missing out a season ago. She's part of a strong six-member recruiting class in 2017-18 that's ready to contribute more.

"Sometimes you get thrown into the fire and that's best way to learn," said Adams of her young group. "I think they've definitely benefitted from that and have shown that they're ready to step up and play at this level. They had a steep learning curve last year, but they're ready.

"Of course, we're still young and we're still going to make youthful mistakes – we want that because it shows we're still pushing to grow and get better."

Kayla Ivicak, who is coming off a season where she set a new school record with nine double doubles, is back for her final year, while point guard Kristen Monfort-Palomino also returns. The Griffins added veteran fifth-year transfer Anny Mbuyi from Lakeland College and rookies Rachel Hare (Kelowna, BC), Hayley Lalor (Red Deer), Madison McTighe (Calgary) and Jenna Sullivan (Sherwood Park).

"We'll see," said Adams of her expectations for this season. "With Kristen and Kayla and Anna, another fifth-year coming in, we have some veteran leadership that complements the young ones nicely."