COALVILLE — For about half a day two years ago, Kennady McQueen was crushed.

Her dream college, the University of Utah, informed her they were going to go in a different recruiting direction.

As long as North Summit’s McQueen could remember she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and play basketball for the Utes, but suddenly the interest wasn’t mutual.

Looking back on that crushing spring day after her sophomore high school season, McQueen said it was the best thing that could’ve happened to her. After a night of contemplation, McQueen woke up the next day determined to work harder than ever. She lifted more weights, ran more miles, got up more shots — all while sacrificing some of her social life — to get back on Utah’s recruiting radar.

Five months later, the Utes officially offered McQueen a scholarship.

“I couldn’t tell a difference before she signed with Utah and the day after, she just continued to want to get better.” — North Summit coach Jerre Holmes, on Kennady McQueen

McQueen proceeded to play her junior and senior seasons with the same dedication that earned her numerous scholarship offers, and that drive and determination is one of the biggest reason McQueen has been named the Deseret News 2020 Ms. Basketball recipient.

“I couldn’t tell a difference before she signed with Utah and the day after, she just continued to want to get better,” said North Summit coach Jerre Holmes.

There was heartache along the way to achieving the top individual honor in Utah, but McQueen said it was worth it.

“I’m glad that happened, I look at that as a blessing now, it gave me even more drive,” said McQueen, who officially signed with Utah last November.

Looking back on why Utah’s recruiting interest initially cooled two years ago, McQueen understands why; she’d become a bit complacent.

Success at the high school level came easy from McQueen throughout her sophomore season, and at the club level she was bumped up an age group with her Colorado Premier team. As more and more colleges starting showing interest in the versatile guard from small town Utah, McQueen could see her dreams starting to come true.

In a blink it changed, but McQueen said encouragement from her mother, Melanee, and club coach Keith Van Horn helped her shake the funk.

“They both said you can cower down, or work even harder to get back on the radar of Utah and other major schools,” said McQueen.

Weightlifting made perhaps the biggest difference, as she went from a “twig” her freshman and sophomore season to a physical force her last two years.

Even though the end goal of a basketball state title eluded her the past two years, North Summit’s record led by McQueen each of the past two years was 24-2. Her career came to a gut-wrenching conclusion with a triple-overtime loss to Millard in the 2A championship back on Feb. 22. The silver lining was that at least she got to see the conclusion of her high school career. In Colorado, the basketball season was postponed because of COVID-19 on the eve of the state championship games — and some of McQueen’s club teammates were scheduled to play in that game.

McQueen finished her senior season averaging 20.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 4.5 steals.

“My love for the game is so strong that I wanted to do whatever it took to get me here.” — North Summit’s Kennady McQueen

Whether she was scoring in the low teens or high 20s, McQueen always made a major impact on the game.

Holmes said it was from a relentless work ethic.

“There were times even after a hard practice, everybody else goes home and she stays to shoot for another half hour or 45 minutes,” said Holmes. “In the offseason, I don’t know that she went many days in a row, if any, (not) in a gym shooting. Her commitment to it was like no other I’ve ever seen. She was always involved with the game.”

One of the things McQueen always prided herself on was being a good teammate, and it was never contrived. If she needed to score 25 points for her team to win, she was fine with that, but if someone else had the hot hand she was happy being a facilitator instead.

She made an impression on opponents as well. Even though she was a fierce competitor, her parents often heard from opposing parents afterward about the respect they had for their daughter for her respectfulness on the court.

It’s likely because of her simple love for basketball.

“My love for the game is so strong that I wanted to do whatever it took to get me here,” said McQueen.

North Summit’s Kennady McQueen poses for a portrait at North Summit High School in Coalville on Thursday, March 19, 2020. McQueen is the Deseret News’ Ms. Basketball for the 2019-20 season. | Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

It’s a love that goes back as far as she can remember. Off and on for the past 20 years — but mostly on — her mother has been an assistant coach for North Summit’s girls basketball team. With two older siblings who also played basketball at North Summit, McQueen kind of grew up in high school gym.

Her mother joked that there were days when none of North Summit’s varsity players wanted to stay after practice and shoot, but grade-school McQueen always wanted to shoot so the varsity coach would rebound for her.

“I’ve spent so much time in here, whether it was really good times or frustrating times,” said the younger McQueen.

It was usually good times with North Summit’s regular season dominance the past three years, but McQueen often had a chip on her shoulder when she entered that gym for practice or games. It’s bound to happen when you’re an elite athlete from a small town.

“Being from a small school, I almost felt like I had to work twice as hard as anyone else, whether it was being seen for a club team or even awards, I feel like it’s extra hard when you’re from a little school so I think that’s been a big drive to set an example that if you go to small schools like me you can still accomplish goals,” said McQueen.

Her mom proved that over 30 years ago as she graduated from North Summit and then went on to play for the University of Utah from 1987 to 1991. The landscape is much different now that Utah is in the Pac-12, but Holmes believes McQueen is ready.

“No one will outwork her. I think the part I’m looking forward to watching her, she’s not going to have to carry so much of the load. She’s going to be able to play her role, whatever that becomes,” said Holmes.

“I’m excited for Kennady to go be one of the players in whatever capacity. There’s a lot of pressure in having to score 20 to 25 points in order for the team to win.”

It’s pressure she never backed down from, and that commitment should pay off at the next level.