Ray forced into new role without Prince
Brittany Ray is without her partner.
Like Mulder without Scully or Luke without Obi-Wan, the senior guard's life completely changed when Epiphanny Prince opted to go pro instead of return for her senior season.
Ray is now the sole senior with significant experience on the Rutgers women's basketball team, a demanding role for a group with perennial NCAA Tournament expectations.
"It is obvious that Brittany will need to be a go-to person," said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. "That is a little different set of clothes that she wears now."
Ray has plenty of experience with the Scarlet Knights, but all of it came with other stars around her.
While Ray provided a consistent 10.2 points per game in 33 starts, she did so with Prince scoring 19.5 and former center Kia Vaughn scoring 9.9 alongside her.
"[Ray] was one that we could go to before but we clearly could go inside and call inside pattern and get it to Kia Vaughn," Stringer said. "We knew if Kia was doubled then Heather [Zurich] could knock down that shot from the outside."
But Zurich, a sharp-shooting forward, and Vaughn both graduated and now play professionally. The primary loss for Ray, however, is that of Prince.
"[Ray] was just as experienced," Stringer said. "Obviously, Epiphanny was considered the best clutch player in the country. She had proven that a thousand times. She was there if there was a last-second mess up and someone needed to step up. Brittany was a part of the team. This time, we still can't put that strain on her."
Losing Prince was hard on Ray, she said, but the 5-foot-9 Bronx native is not letting it slow her down.
"I was as much hurt [when I heard] as I was shocked," Ray said. "Of course I'm going to miss her, but I see it as a challenge to both myself and the team to overcome it."
Through her first three seasons, Ray — whose brother Allan starred with Villanova from 2002-06 — made her greatest impact as a shooter.
Her goal now, she said, is to evolve into a complete player because the Knights need her to do more than just score.
"I'm working hard on the other facets of my game," Ray said. "I don't want to just be a shooter. I want to be able to be a defensive stopper as well or somebody who can get to the rim and stuff like that. I think I worked on a lot more of the other aspects of my game this summer."
Changing her game began when she led the entire team through Stringer's famed conditioning test — a grueling series of drills that her teams rarely pass on time — even before Rutgers' annual Media Day and continues as she teaches the younger players the intricacies of the 55 defense.
The 55 is Stringer's signature full-court pressure defense that often takes well into the season to master. The team just started working on it, according to Ray's blog — something she plans to do to chronicle her senior season on the Banks.
The leadership part of Ray's game, however, isn't a concern to anyone.
"Last year no one noticed it, but it was up to Brittany last year, but it was so shadowed with Epiphanny and Kia Vaughn and Heather," said sophomore forward April Sykes. "Last year Brittany was always the silent leader. She would do everything — no questions asked. She motivates you when she knows you're down and she worked just as hard as Epiphanny back then.
"She's capable of doing whatever when it comes to basketball. We have that respect for her, and understand what she's going through is hard. She's a senior. She probably didn't think she was going to have to be that person. She fed off Epiphanny getting that shot, but now it's just Brittany."