Photo: University of Rhode Island (GoRhody.com)
The 2011-2012 NCAA basketball season has just kicked off, which means thousands of women are making their debut at the college level.
Even the most talented recruits, however, need more than raw skill to make an impact.
College presents new obstacles: increased intensity, expectations, and pace. Players must figure out how to navigate athletic and academic commitments – and find their place on a new team. It’s tough to go from being a high school star to sitting at the end of the bench.
Cindy Blodgett, assistant coach at the University of Rhode Island (which has six freshmen this year), says this can be a major issue to overcome. “The college game is so different because you are no longer automatically the best player on the court. You have to earn playing time from the start of pre-season and every practice is as competitive as a game.”
Some players do struggle with the pressure and the transition to college play. Some colleges are aware of this and trying to help. (At Wellesley College, first-year athletes are paired with an upperclass athlete who is a member of another team to provide support and advice).
Freshmen who go to practice with the right work ethic and attitude, however, often find their niche. After all, coaches are also trying to figure out how to get the most out of their new faces.
URI assistant Kelly Morrone works on smoothing the transition by trying to help freshmen fill roles on the team that may be lacking. “I ask [players] what they keep hearing the coaching staff say that this team needs — and to focus on one or two of those things.” Players can use that information to work on their strengths and fill needed roles on the team – and earn minutes.
Players seeking ways to stand out must also be patient in dealing with sometimes unwanted attention from coaches. Rather than thinking that a coach is “out to get them,” players should realize that coaches are often their biggest advocates.
Nerlande Nicolas, who sat the bench throughout high school before going on to be a four-year starter at Rutgers-Newark, credits her transformation to figuring that out.
“I matured a lot as a college player in simply understanding that I have to trust my coaches and understand that their criticisms and corrections aren’t a personal attack at me, but rather, they help me improve my game.”
Players who buy into a program of play and trust their coaches can find themselves in a position of real value. Making that leap, says Nicholas, is difficult and requires working harder than you’ve ever worked before. For players who find their way, the rewards are invaluable.
As freshmen take the floor with their teams this season, fans watch and try to pick out the talent, the personalities, and, of course, their favorites. It’s exciting to see the drama unfold, and new players begin to make their mark on the game.
by Ashleigh Sargent