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Mekhi Lairy: 5 feet, 8 inches and one of the most prolific scorers in Miami history

Height is a fundamental component in basketball. The average height of a Division I basketball player is 6 feet 5 inches tall. The most successful basketball players are incredibly tall. However, this is not the case for Mekhi Lairy. 

At 5 feet 8 inches, Mekhi Lairy is the shortest basketball player in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), and one of the shortest players in college basketball. At 145 pounds, he’s one of the lightest too. Throughout his career, Lairy has always played against taller opponents. His height has always been a problem, but it hasn’t stopped him from scoring 1573 points and counting at Miami, good for sixth all time among Miami University basketball players. He’s still not done.

“I’ve been dealing with my height and height problems since I was a kid,” Lairy said. “I’ve always been around bigger players and opponents.”

Despite this obstacle, Lairy has been a consistent top-scoring player. In 2017, Lairy, who attended Bosse High School in Evansville, Ind., set an Evansville city career scoring record with 2,237 points. He is placed 22nd in career points in the state of Indiana. In 2018, he finished second for the prestigious Indiana Mr. Basketball award. Romeo Langford finished first that year, and he is currently averaging 20 minutes a night with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. 

The beginning of Lairy’s basketball career

During his time at Bosse High School, Lairy played under the guidance of Coach Shane Burkhart. Burkhart remembers Lairy as a dependable player who consistently led the team in points.

“He always plays as if he’s the best player on the court, which 99% of the time, he is,” Burkhart said. “He never missed a practice, and he never missed a game; he was dependable.”

According to Burkhart, Lairy’s best attribute is his efficiency. He led his team in points, assists and steals. To most, this would be surprising, as there are several players taller than Lairy who struggle to put up the same numbers he does. 

“We knew what we had with him, but a lot of people didn’t,” Burkhart said. “A lot of high level conferences claim you have to be 6’4” to be great, and obviously Mekhi didn’t fit the bill. If Mekhi Lairy were 6’3”, he would have been Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana: he got all the accolades that Romeo Langford had.”

Lairy’s efficiency and dependability were apparent during the 2017 state championships. In the first round, Bosse High faced Brownstone Central, the 2nd ranked team in the state. In that game, Lairy had scored 40 points, leading the team to win in overtime. 

In the second game of the day, Lairy had scored 35 points in the first 3 quarters alone, propelling the team to the state semifinals. 

“That kid could have easily gotten 40 points again if he was needed at all in the fourth quarter,” Coach Burkhart said. “But you never would have known that he had scored 35 points because he doesn’t talk about it. You kind of have to hype him up as an individual.”

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Lairy in red and white

After he graduated high school, Lairy found himself in Oxford, Ohio, ready to continue his basketball career. 

Since 2018, Lairy has made his mark on the Miami RedHawks basketball team. With a total of 1555 career points and counting, Lairy currently sits fifth on Miami’s all-time career scoring leader board, inching up on Miami legends Ron Harper and Wally Szcserbiak. In the 2021-2022 season, Lairy scored 435 points: the most of his career and the second most on the team, behind Dae Dae Grant with 561 points. 

Even when facing opponents several inches taller than him, Lairy has thrived on the court. One thing he has done to overcome his height difficulty is increase his speed.

“[My height] is something I’ve adjusted to with my speed and quickness.”

When Travis Steele came to coach the RedHawks basketball team in 2022, he understood that Lairy was a tough player.

“He’s a warrior,” Steele said. “I read this quote to the guys the other day: ‘It’s not the size of the man, it’s the size of the heart that matters.’ And I think that really describes Mekhi.”

With the 2022-2023 season underway, Lairy has once again proved that his height is no difficulty for him. In the first 21 games of the season, Lairy led the RedHawks in average points (17.4), assists (4.2) and steals (1.5). 

“Last season didn’t pan out as we expected, due to health issues and things like that,” Lairy said. “We played hard for each other, but unfortunately we didn’t accomplish our main goal, which was the MAC championship.”

So far in the 2022 season, the RedHawks have struggled similar to last season. With a record of 7-15 (1-8 MAC), the RedHawks have unfortunately found themselves in a losing season once again.

As the season begins to wrap up, Lairy is ready for his future after college basketball, with his goal being to play professionally. Steele has high hopes that Lairy will play professionally despite the NBA’s height standards.

“The NBA gets really caught up in size and height,” Steele said. “If you look at the previous five NBA drafts, I would say the guys that have been drafted 6 foot, 2 inches and below are few and far between. You have to be really exceptional in order to play in the NBA. He’s only 5 foot, 8 inches, but he’s athletic. He can still get up there and dunk the ball. How many 5 foot, 8 inch guys can dunk the basketball?”

The RedHawks have left much to be desired so far. Hopefully, the team can pull it together and finish the season strong. Lairy says he’s hoping to end his college basketball career on a high note. 

“I’m excited for the opportunity to go win the MAC championship during my last year of college basketball, and make my family proud.