FRISCO — Weston McKennie, Little Elm’s own, won’t bedazzle the home folks this week in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He’s not even on the national roster. Both McKennie and Christian Pulisic, the U.S.’ best players abroad, are fresh off a hectic club season in Europe and in need of a little il riposo, apparently.

This latest omission isn’t fraught with anxiety like the last time McKennie was left off a national team. That snub came before he captained the U-19s to the 2016 Slovakia Cup title. Before he bypassed FC Dallas and Virginia for the Bundesliga and history as the first American to wear Juventus’ black and white. Before he became such a big deal in Italy, his dogs give him away.

Before he saw Ronaldo in his underwear.

“Oh my goodness! This is really him!”

Any way you look at it, it’s a long way from Little Elm to Turin. The route took him from Texas to Germany at the age of 6; back to Frisco and FC Dallas Academy at 11; a U-turn to Germany at 17; then, in August, at 22, to a pitch beside the world’s most photogenic athlete.

Such an unlikely path from small-town Texas kid to world-class midfielder was not without travails. His failure to make the U-17 World Cup team in 2015, for instance, was a fork in the road:

Continue his worldly ways?

Or go back to Texas?

He chose the academy where he cultivated what would have once seemed an inconceivable dream, and it’s made all the difference since.

“They helped me through a lot,” he said. “I went through some rough times with the U-17 team.

“They helped me put the pieces back together mentally and emotionally and physically as well.”

A late bloomer

Weston McKennie
Weston McKennie(fcdallas.com)

Had Weston McKennie’s father not been in the Air Force, the McKennies probably wouldn’t have moved to Germany and Weston wouldn’t have had to find something to play besides American football and he wouldn’t be a budding international soccer star.

What would he be doing instead?

“I’d probably be playing American football, to be completely honest,” he said. “I’d be sitting here at 200 pounds.”

NFL football?

“I think I could have made it to the NFL if I’d stuck with it,” he said. “I’m one of those guys, whatever I do, I give a hundred percent to it.”

Even as a kid in Little Elm, he was so committed that after soccer he’d change into his football pads in the car while his mother drove him to his next game. He loved football. He’s reportedly a Washington fan; his father favors the Cowboys. But when the family moved to Germany, there was no place to play American football. Soccer became No. 1. Probably helped that he was a prodigy.

His first game, he scored eight goals. He was so good, he played up in age. Upon his return to Texas, he played as an 11-year-old at the FC Dallas Academy on 13-U

Img 4933 4 1The following was written by Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism alumna Jasmin Suknanan ’18. Jasmin is the Associate Finance Editor at BuzzFeed. 

If you knew me from 2015 to 2018 when I was a journalism student, you probably remember my non-stop chatter about food, travel, and social media. Or perhaps you recall a few glimpses of me sitting in the Melville Library Starbucks — caramel macchiato by my side — working on a new advice post for my blog. I was working toward a career as a lifestyle writer, and my past internship experiences at beauty, fashion, food, and pop culture websites solidified me as a strong candidate for the job after graduation. That was 2018. But in 2020, the pandemic changed the trajectory of my career in ways I never saw coming.

Two weeks after graduating from Stony Brook University, I began a fellowship as a food video producer at INSIDER, one of my dream companies. I starred in videos highlighting New York City restaurants, interviewed chefs from all over the world, produced more content than anyone else on the video side, and I took on ambitious field shoots that challenged the status quo of my team’s content (and it all paid off tenfold). So it came as a total shock when I didn’t get promoted to Associate Producer after my fellowship ended.

I was distraught, unemployed, and facing off against student loan payments. Over 90 job applications later, I landed another fellowship on the editorial team at BuzzFeed, another dream company. I had applied to BuzzFeed every year since my sophomore year of college and now, finally, the hiring manager was on the other line offering me the role. I began working there in March 2019 covering, well, just about everything you see on the BuzzFeed website — recipes, Twitter and Reddit threads, celebrity trends, travel, millennial culture, and (of course) quizzes.

While I enjoyed the role, I learned from the hiring manager that once our fellowship program ended in March 2020, there would be no guarantee that we would be converted into staff writers; internships in the media industry were no longer a pipeline to hire. Having already experienced this first hand at INSIDER, I took it to heart. I was determined to stay employed at BuzzFeed, which meant I needed to be ready to pounce at the first sight of an opportunity to move up. So when I saw that the market team was hiring a Jr. Writer to cover lifestyle products, I threw my hat into the ring for the role.

At that point, I had only gone through about four months of my year-long fellowship. I knew I had all the skills for the market job, but it felt a little too early to just abandon the fellowship role. At the same time, I knew that hesitating could cost me the opportunity — besides, trying and not succeeding was better than not trying at all. The hiring manager for my fellowship helped

When Josh Giddey arrived at the NBA Academy in Canberra, Australia, he possessed much of the skills often seen in elite-level prospects but it was his time there that brought his game to the next level in 2019.

Now, Giddey is on the verge of becoming the first player from the program to be drafted to the NBA.

The NBA Academy, which was started in 2016, is a year-round basketball development program that provides the top high school-age prospects from outside the United States the necessary tools to unlock their skills on and off the court.

Prospects face off against the top competition from around the world throughout the year. They have the opportunity to be selected for travel teams that play in international tournaments and exhibition games in front of college coaches and NBA scouts.

Players’ off-court development is just as important as their on-the-court progress.

“There is nothing more common than wasted potential,” said Marty Clarke, the technical director of the NBA Global Academy in Australia. “One of our jobs is to make sure we fill those gaps that they have, whether it’s an individual skill, basketball IQ or competitive drive. Sometimes, it’s dealing with the media. Some guys mess up dealing with the media.

There is a whole range of things that can trip young people up. Our job is to identify that early. We’re in a lucky position. We’re not here to make money out of it. Our goal is to not win championships because both of those things impede development. Our overall goal when they leave is they need to be able to do two things: Look after themselves off the floor and coach themselves on the floor.

Giddey averaged 12 points, five assists and 4.4 assists in five exhibition games with the NBA Academy. (Photo via NBA Academy)

With Giddey, the staff in Canberra saw a prospect that could flourish on the court and he did just that.

On the international stage, Giddey emerged as one of the top players in the competition. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2020 Torneo Junior Ciutat de L’Hospitalet after averaging 11.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists to lead the NBA Academy to the championship in Barcelona.

Following his impressive outing in Spain, Giddey took part in the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Global Camp during All-Star Weekend last year in Chicago. Giddey once again was one of the best players to participate after earning All-Star honors in front of NBA scouts and executives.

The international tournaments each year provides scouts and executives a tremendous opportunity to evaluate prospects in a competitive setting. The practice environment can only offer so much on tape, which makes those international events highly beneficial.

“With any player, there is a certain amount of evaluation you can do onsite but there is also a certain amount you almost need to get during competition and see what you have in a live game,” said Chris Ebersole, the NBA senior director of