Graduating senior Mahmi passionate about Black History Month, helping others

Darian Mahmi drives the lane against Lethbridge during a game earlier this month. She's one of four graduating seniors being celebrated by the Griffins this weekend (Eduardo Perez photo).
Darian Mahmi drives the lane against Lethbridge during a game earlier this month. She's one of four graduating seniors being celebrated by the Griffins this weekend (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Griffins

EDMONTON – Perhaps the biggest compliment to Darian Mahmi's skill-set is watching the MacEwan Griffins women's basketball team play without her.

Missing Mahmi and two other players 6-feet or taller during an 87-66 loss to Alberta on Jan. 14, the Griffins were overwhelmed in the paint and lost the rebounding battle by a large margin.

However, with Mahmi back in the lineup, the Griffins beat the Pandas 85-74 last Friday. Even in limited minutes – just 14 – as she comes back from an injury, Mahmi led the Griffins with eight rebounds.

"Just having the size and strength in there to be able to crash on the glass and defend inside makes a huge difference," said Griffins head coach Katherine Adams. "I think she played just under 15 minutes on Friday night and had eight boards, which is huge. It makes a huge difference when you're battling a team that rebounds the ball very well.

"And with her guard skill-set, also being able to get the ball and attack creates a tough matchup for teams at the other end because they have to be able to defend her on the perimeter. She's such a dynamic athlete that you have to have the mobility to stay with her."

Mahmi will be one of four graduating seniors feted by the Griffins on Senior Night this Saturday – joining Mady Chamberlin, Hannah Gibb and Drew Knox – as they host Mount Royal University in their regular season finale Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m., both David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

"It feels like we blinked and it's here already," said Mahmi.

"I just remember the seniors when I was in my first year. It feels like their Senior Night was yesterday. How is it my turn already?"

Any senior has undergone a huge transformation from their days as raw rookies, but for Mahmi, her rise was bigger than most. She came in as an athlete and is leaving as a basketball player.

"I think about Darian in her five years with the program, and (her story) is the epitome of growth," said Adams. "She came in as a great athlete with a pretty specific skill set at the time. She's someone we thought we could teach the game of basketball to a little better and she's taken it and run with it.

"Over her five years, she's really become a student of the game. Her understanding of actions and reading defences has really blossomed over her time here. As you can see, she's gone from a role player who was fighting for a jersey in her first year to someone who over the years we've really relied on heavily to fill a number of different roles for us."

Darian Mahmi's defensive presence is huge for the Griffins (Eduardo Perez photo).

Added Mahmi: "I was probably the worst rookie coming in, in terms of knowledge and learning. I definitely had the most to learn. I feel like I've completely changed as a player. I'm way more confident now. My IQ has probably tripled from where it was in the beginning. I just feel like I've developed my game and I think it shows."

She's also developed as a person over her time at MacEwan and has embraced being a role model for youth of colour. Black History Month means a lot to her.

"That's very important to me as the only visible minority on this women's basketball team," said Mahmi, whose father is Indian and mother is biracial black and white. "We've talked about how important representation is. We'll have more representation next year with our new rookies coming in.

"Out of these five years, if one kid saw me and said 'oh, wow, she looks like me, I can do this, too,' everything was worth it. That's probably my biggest goal in playing U SPORTS basketball."

Mahmi notes she's been able to help her teammates understand more about black culture and points to a seminar Adams organized for the team last spring on the topic.

"We spent a lot of time in meetings," said Mahmi. "Katherine set it up and we shared anti-racism resources with one another. We learned about how different people go through life experiencing different things. All those things are really important and I have a feeling that will continue in the future on this team."

Mahmi has also gained confidence in herself, crediting fellow graduating senior Knox – who opened up to teammates about her mental health struggles – with helping her do the same.

"We talk about that all the time," said Mahmi. "She's quite an inspiration. Hearing her share her story allowed me to open up about my own mental health struggles. I don't think I would have done that unless she did it first."

Both have career goals to become Psychologists, so they'll be helping others do the same.

Darian Mahmi is playing a key role for the Griffins in her final season, averaging 3.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.3 blocks per game (Eduardo Perez photo).

But first, they have a season and basketball careers to finish off with the Griffins.

While, all teams make the playoffs this season under a regional format, MacEwan (3-11) enters the weekend with a possibility of improving their seeding. They would pass MRU (4-10) in the standings with a sweep.

More importantly, though, is learning from last weekend when they followed up a huge win over Alberta with a clunker in a 73-42 defeat.

"That's definitely a focus for us going into the weekend – putting in two solid performances back to back," said Adams. "We haven't seen them since the end of October. Both teams, knowing the growth we've made, were very different teams then now than we were back then. It's a great opportunity to showcase that growth and put together two solid performances."

MRU won both of those October matches, but the Griffins have shown this season when they put it all together, they can beat anyone. They have knocked off a U SPORTS No. 1 and No. 2 already.

"As far as we want to go, we'll go," said Mahmi. "I think teams underestimate us and we're going to show them that we're a different team from a few years ago."