Olivia McGhee’s rise into one of the most sought-after female basketball players in the nation in the class of 2023 wasn’t like the narrative of many precocious hoops talents.
McGhee wasn’t training vigorously in elementary school or listed among the top prospects in her age group before she was a decade old. She recalls dribbling or shooting just for fun, but it wasn’t until near the end of her seventh-grade year at Louisa Middle School when she realized she had a future in the sport.
“People would come up to me or my parents and they’d be like ‘She’s really good,’ ” McGhee said. “I was like, ‘Man, if people are telling me I’m really good I’ll just keep working and improving and maybe this will take me somewhere.’ Then I realized you could go to school for free for your basketball talents. So I just kept on working.”
That work ethic has helped McGhee blossom.
She started for Louisa High School’s junior varsity team as an eighth-grader and helped lead the Lions to an undefeated record. As a freshman this past season, she was named Jefferson District player of the year and first-team All-Area after she averaged 19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
The 6-foot-2 combo guard has picked up scholarship offers from 10 Division I programs, including Virginia, Virginia Tech, VCU, Pittsburgh, Boston College, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. Virginia head coach Tina Thompson and assistant Monica Wright—both former WNBA standouts—have scouted McGhee live on multiple occasions.
McGhee’s skills trainer, Ross Williams of Let’s Get Better Basketball, said McGhee’s development since she first began playing organized basketball in sixth grade is “like night and day.”
“Olivia is a true example of where God-given ability and attributes meets hard work and passion,” Williams said. “So it’s a great mix between God and her want-to to get better. She’s just on another level right now. The training has gone up since seventh grade and every year she has made leaps and bounds to where she is now.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, McGhee has kept her game sharp by training with Williams at least three nights a week. She also recently began practicing with her Boo Williams 17U EYBL teammates. She’s aiming to improve on her ball-handling and mid-range jump shot. Williams said McGhee can play every position from point guard to small forward in college.
She’s taken tutelage from former Louisa point guard Ty Skinner, who has signed with Delaware after transferring to multiple private schools and finishing her career at TPLS Christian Academy in Richmond. She’s also been in touch with William Monroe grad Sam Brunelle, a rising sophomore at Notre Dame.
McGhee said private schools have been recruiting her, but she may take a route similar to Brunelle’s and remain in public school.
“I feel like I can get everything done that I need to at Louisa unless something big changes and I feel like I need to leave,” McGhee said. “But I don’t feel the need to [leave] now.”
Louisa head coach Nick Schreck said he’s certainly enjoyed his time with McGhee.
Schreck also coached Skinner for two seasons. But he said McGhee could be a once-in-a-generation talent to come through the rural community. Louisa also had former point guard Telisha Quarles who starred for the Lions in the late 1990s before moving on to a four-year career at Virginia.
“I’m just enjoying the ride,” Schreck said. “I could probably do this 30 more years and not have another player come through like Olivia. But I’m enjoying the process. I’m enjoying seeing her grow. I’m excited to see where she can end up. We’ve got some good pieces around her. It’s taken some time but we’ve got this thing going in the right direction.”
Williams said he and McGhee’s stated goal is for her to become the best women’s basketball player ever. Williams said while that may seem like a lofty ambition, it’ll keep her humble and consistently working to get better.
“If you’ve got big goals like that, it means your work ethic will have to match those goals,” Williams said. “She has done a great job of her work ethic matching her words.”
Williams said the plan is for McGhee to consistently work at improving one aspect of her game at a time until a complete player is built.
He said her unselfishness and IQ are strong points. He said before college coaches come in to scout her, he first tells them she stands out because she’s a legitimate 6-foot-2 and she moves fluidly around the court.
“She’s 6–2 but she runs like a 5–9 girl,” Williams said. “She moves like a 5–9 girl. She shoots the ball like a knockdown 3-point shooter. She has great floor vision … I think her passing ability separates her from a lot of other girls at her level.”
McGhee said her parents weren’t athletes. She estimates her father is 5-foot-11 and her mother is 5-foot-8. Her brother, Logan McGhee, is a rising senior football player and track and field athlete for the Lions.
Although McGhee wasn’t groomed for stardom from the beginning, Williams and others said her willingness to keep working allows her to flourish.
“When she came to me she was really, really raw,” Williams said. “She wasn’t even playing much on her middle school team and then in her seventh-grade year we put a lot of work in and ever since we’ve been increasing it … I think she realized basketball is what she loves and what she wants to do. From there, that self-drive and that passion for the game just took off to another level.”