Extra Points: Former Wildwood, NJ, Stockton star excited for next challenge
Maddie McCracken is done with basketball.
The former standout at Wildwood High School and Stockton University has decided to give up the sport, though she has at least two seasons of college eligibility remaining.
"There are a lot of reasons," the North Wildwood resident said. "I'm graduating (this month with a degree in business and a minor in Spanish). I want to go to grad school, but I'm not sure if I'm going to start right away or wait until the fall. I want to devote more time to the Step Back Foundation (the charitable organization she start as a Wildwood High senior in 2019).
"But the biggest reason I'm not playing anymore is my mental health. Basketball just wasn't serving the purpose for me, anymore. I just wasn't getting the same joy out of it as before."
McCracken, 20, has battled anxiety and depression for years, dating back to her days at Wildwood High.
It never affected McCracken's performance - she was a 2,000-point scorer in basketball, scored 43 goals in soccer and was an outstanding distance runner for the Warriors track team - but she struggled to the point where she sought help from a psychiatrist and was also taking medication for a time.
She's not alone. Philadelphia Eagles tackle Lane Johnson missed three games earlier this season because of anxiety and depression. Eagles guard Brandon Brooks has been dealing with similar issues throughout his NFL career. Embattled Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons is also reportedly having mental health problems.
"It's a beast," Johnson told FOX Sports earlier last month. "It's one of those things that goes to bed with you, it wakes up with you, it's there all the time. So if you can't find out how to control it, how to manage it, it will eat you up."
Basketball used to serve as therapy for McCracken, but the pressure to live up to lofty expecations began to take a toll on her physical and mental well-being.
She initially joined older sister MacKenzie at Widener University, but quickly discovered the school wasn't the right fit for her and transferred to Stockton for the spring semester in 2020. As a freshman for the Ospreys, she played in 14 games and averaged 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Last season, she averaged 9.0 points and 6.8 rebounds during a season shortened to six games by Covid-19. She said she tested positive for Covid last February, missing the final game, but made a full recovery.
"I wasn't playing to make myself happy, anymore," she said. "I was playing to please other people, to try to live up to the expectations other people had for me. It got to the point where I wasn't feeling very good about myself physically or mentally."
She took a break from basketball last summer to focus on herself.
She shed 25 pounds with gym workouts and hot yoga sessions. Her emotional and mental energy was directed toward The Step Back Foundation, which provides raises money through various events to provide athletic equipment and financial assistance to Cape May County youth.
In the process, she discovered that her personal happiness was no longer tied to basketball.
"For so long, I associated myself solely with basketball," she said last month while speaking at the 2021 Virtual Peer Leadership Conference presented by Cape Assist. "For so long, I thought success and accomplishments would give me value. But that wasn't filling my cup or giving me happiness, so I needed to change."
At the end of the summer, she called Stockton women's coach Devin Jefferson and informed her that she would not be playing this season.
"Coach was very understanding," McCracken said.
"I still talk to her and my (former) teammates.
I have nothing but love for them and Stockton."
She hasn't completely abandoned the game, however.
This season, she plans on serving as a volunteer assistant under head coach Theresa Cunniff for Wildwood's girls basketball team. Maddie's younger sister, Maci, is a freshman at Wildwood.
"I'm just excited to be part of the start of my sister's journey," she said.
In some ways, it's also the start of her own journey.
She doesn't know where the road will lead, but is excited to see what adventures await.
For the first time in a while, Maddie McCracken's cup is full.