Somewhere in a stuffy basketball gym in the middle of July, there was a 6-year-old writing diligently in a notepad, engulfed by a sea of women's college basketball coaches trying to recruit the best players in the nation.
Sandwiched between Joe McKeown and Geno Auriemma and paying close attention to No. 20 on the Maryland Blue Devils, this little girl had feet that could barely touch the ground, and her George Washington basketball shirt engulfed her body.
Every once in a while, she would tap McKeown on the shoulder and show him the notepad. He would nod in approval, give her a high five, and they would both re-focus their attention to the game. The 6-year-old's smile took a while to fade, and she appeared to be the most content kid in the gym.
That little girl was me, and Joe McKeown is my father.
My dad is the head coach of the Northwestern women's basketball team, and I am his senior shooting guard. While we share the same last name, sense of humor and ability to go without doing laundry for weeks at a time, the strongest bond we share is our love for basketball.
It all started in the 1960s in Philadelphia.
As soon as the bell rang to signal the end of the school day, almost every kid at St. Matthew's grade school would run to the Mayfair school yard to play pickup games. Northeast Philly, a predominantly Irish Catholic neighborhood, was home to blue-collar working families. Basketball is what brought the community together.
"Philly is a great basketball city," my father explained. "There was always a school yard where someone was playing. That's what's so great about basketball, all you need is a ball and a rim."
Basketball allowed my dad to form a deeper bond with his own father, Joe McKeown Sr., who also had a part-time job as an usher at the famous and historic Palestra Arena in Philadelphia.
"The Palestra was the mecca of college basketball," my dad reminisced. "Your grandfather would take your uncle and me on the nights he worked. We got to see all of the Big Five teams play. It was incredible because it inspired you to want to play for those schools."
The Big Five in Philadelphia consists of Villanova, St. Joseph's, Temple, LaSalle and Penn. In the 1970s, these teams were coached by legends such as Paul Westhead, Jack Ramsay and Chuck Daly. These teams, along with great point guards such as Villanova's Fran O’Hanlon, inspired my dad to pursue playing college basketball.
Following two years and a Junior College National Small Player of the Year award at Mercer County College near Trenton, N.J., my dad signed with Kent State University in 1977. He still holds the Mid-American Conference single-game assist record with 15 against Bowling Green.
After his senior season at Kent State in 1979, my dad accepted an offer for the graduate assistant job with the Kent State women's team. A year later, he interviewed for a coaching job at Burlington County College in Pemberton, N.J.
"I went in to interview for the men's job, and they gave me the women's job," laughed my dad. "My salary was 500 dollars. That was also our budget."
In 1983, he decided to let his love of the game take him to a place he'd never been before -- Oklahoma. He was offered the assistant coaching job at the University of Oklahoma. It was here that his eyes were opened to a slightly larger sporting event than the Big Five tournament: Oklahoma-Oklahoma State football games. At the in-state rivalry game in 1984, he met Laura, who would become his wife.
The 1986-87 basketball season was the first year as a head coach for my dad at New Mexico State. He was there for three seasons before taking the head-coaching job for the George Washington Colonials in Washington, D.C.
I was 10 days old when I made my first basketball road trip. George Washington was in a Thanksgiving tournament in Las Vegas, and my parents decided that my dad's job would always be a family affair.
"Ever since we met, his job was always a part of our family," said my mom, Laura. "Your dad always included us and brought us into his world."
Almost every weeknight, my mom would let me stay up to watch game film with my dad. It was one of my favorite activities to do as a child because not only did I get to stay up late, but I also had the opportunity to spend time with my father. He would share the coolest stories about the other team's coaches and players, and I would listen wide-eyed and fascinated. I loved hearing his input on game strategies and what he was going to do in practice to win.
I was 6 when I went on my first recruiting trip with my dad. We were going to Cleveland for an AAU tournament, and we took an airplane. My mom let me buy one new CD, and I decided on Britney Spears' first album ever. Growing up, I thought convertibles were the coolest cars, so when we landed, my dad rented a convertible and let me listen to Hit Me, Baby, One More Time probably 100 times.
But the best part was going to the games and taking notes. He would give me a player to watch and tell me to write down what I thought. Afterwards he would read them and say he would sign a kid based on my evaluation. So of course, I take credit for signing a few kids at George Washington.
For most kids, spring breaks are spent with the family in some warm locale. My spring breaks growing up were spent wherever the NCAA tournament committee decided to send us that year. March was my favorite time of year. Nothing can compare to the emotional high you feel when you watch your father's team beat the four seed at the buzzer to go to the Sweet Sixteen. Nothing feels better than seeing someone you love succeed.
On June 2, 2008, my father decided to take the head-coaching job at Northwestern after being at George Washington for 19 years. This came as a shock to many, and was hard for me because I had to move in the middle of high school. Our family moved that August to Glencoe, Ill.
It was weird when the recruiting process came up for me because all of my life I had been on the other end. Other schools were recruiting me, and I never thought I would play for my dad. Then while he was driving me to AAU practice, we were waiting for a train to pass when he asked if I wanted to play for him. I immediately said no. I didn’t want anyone thinking I was only playing for my dad because he was my dad.
But after taking a few months to think about it, I knew that I wanted to be a sports broadcaster and stay close to my family. Northwestern gave me the location I wanted and the caliber of the Medill School of Journalism. So as we were driving to shoot at the local park in July, I told my dad that I would love to play for him.
Playing for my dad has been the best decision I have ever made. Not only is he one of the best coaches in the country, but he is also one of the best human beings I have ever met. I have been able to share incredible basketball moments with him, and I wouldn't change that for the world.
From Philly to D.C. to Chicago, basketball has been the common thread that will always give my dad and me a unique father-daughter bond.
-- Follow Meghan McKeown on Twitter @mmckeown14.