COVINGTON, Ga. -- In playing a big role in the Newton Lady Rams’ 57-35 win against Eastside High’s this past Saturday, junior point guard Maka’ya Cushion gave her supporters another example of what to expect for the future.
Cushion was one of three Lady Rams in double figures for that game as she scored 12 points and dished out several assists while controlling the tempo on the floor, making it tough at times for Eastside to keep up.
It’s what Cushion has been counted on to do for a Lady Rams team that has plenty of juniors and seniors, but not many with varsity starting experience.
Since her freshman year, Cushion has really risen through the ranks. She started on the Lady Rams’ JV team her freshman year, juggled both JV and Varsity duties her sophomore year and now, as a junior, she starts as the varsity point guard, alongside senior, Shamya Turk.
Even as a freshman, Cushion’s skills were apparent. Though she was only on JV, the coaches always saw that she had natural skill and instincts when it came to basketball.
“Coming in young, she definitely had really good natural basketball instincts,” Lady Rams head coach Tiffani Johnson said. “Ball handling has always been a strength for her, along with court vision and those things have progressed and gotten better over time. But the biggest thing is her maturity and responsibility on the floor [have] grown tremendously.”
Growing in her maturity and responsibility has been a requirement for Cushion, as she now plays the position of on-court leader as a point guard.
To be sure, a big adjustment had to be made — from dealing with an increase in demand from playing on a JV team to a varsity team, going from never starting a game, then playing just a few minutes per game, to being a varsity starter.
And on top of it all, Cushion went through all of these changes in short order.
“From very little minutes last year to starting is a jump, but I think she’s handled it great,” Johnson said. “Every basketball player has their weakness, and with her, it’s just [gaining] the experience and getting even better at handling the pressure. Making those game-time decisions, and being able to handle the ball in stressful situations.”
Cushion is excelling in handling the mental demands of her new position and is tackling some of the minor physical demands of the more intense game.
“I started a little bit over on JV but [I have never] started as point guard,” Cushion said. “JV is just like varsity, just at a quicker pace. I have to condition my body, because most of the time, I’m in most of the game, and I have to actually know more about the game,” Cushion said.
Cushion’s position has thrown her into a place where she’s had to accept much more responsibility on the court than what she’s used to.
“I still play the game, but I’m basically the coach on the floor,” she said. “I have the ball in my hand most of the time, so I have to make sure I’m energized, that the team does the right passes and I’m being a good floor general.”
Despite being new to this leadership role she has to play, Cushion — her coaches and players affectionately call her “Pillow” — possesses traits that make her a perfect fit for the position.
“One of the best things about Pillow’s personality is that she gets her joy from watching other people score and do well,” Johnson said. “And as a point guard that’s a very important trait to have. She’s not selfish. She’s such an unselfish team player that she always looks out for her team and tries to make her team better before herself.”
Cushion says it’s her team and supporters that keep her going, but gives one of the biggest attributes of her success in her new role to her coaching staff.
“As we got into the season, things got easier for me,” Cushion said. “Coaching was really there for me, coach Johnson and all the coaches on the staff just helped me out to me get there.”
As can be seen, when looking from her freshman year till now, Cushion’s basketball career is just getting started and everyone is ready to see where senior year takes her.