Stringer leaves point guard spot open
Rutgers head women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer watched Khadijah Rushdan, the point guard she developed during five seasons, get selected by the Los Angeles Sparks on April 16 in the second round of the WNBA draft.
Rushdan, who played in 135 games for the Hall of Fame coach — the most in program history — was gone and left the team to wonder who would be her successor. Stringer spent the offseason mixing and matching her options to find the best fit for the position.
Although the point guard of the future has yet to be named, the likely candidates for the spot are senior Erica Wheeler and sophomores Briyona Canty and Shakena Richardson. The Scarlet Knights knew it was a main focus during the summer and are ready to compete during the 2012-2013 season, no matter who inherits the job.
“The backcourt is going to be very important because we’re so stacked on [the] post,” Wheeler said. “So it’s important that the guards come correct and be on top of it. I mean, we’re not perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. But we just have to be consistent. That’s the main thing.”
Wheeler showed consistency on the floor last year, appearing in all 32 contests and earning 23 starts. She mostly played alongside Rushdan at shooting guard, but had moments as the orchestrator.
The Miami native can draw defenders thanks to her ability to penetrate openings in the defense and knock down contested shots from behind the arc. She drained 39 3-pointers last season and led the Knights with 52 steals.
Wheeler is content with whatever role is assigned to her. She plans to be a vocal veteran to the Knights and “just be a leader.”
“If you think about it, at some point I became a leader last year,” Wheeler said. “There were some times I talked up and sometimes I didn’t. But it’s mainly just communicating more and just helping the freshmen and sophomores out and just being positive.”
Stringer said her decision is a tough one because all three players can play interchangeable positions. Each player is versatile, so she has been experimenting with the three Knights at either the point or the wing.
“As a rule, we want multi-talented athletes,” Stringer said. “It really does help tremendously when you have a point guard mentality. So right now I haven’t decided on who it will be because no one has distinguished themselves just yet. But it’s OK because of the lack of positions.”
Richardson and Canty have a year under their belts and hope to be ready to take the reins if called upon. Richardson spent the last few months improving her game and adding to her repertoire.
“Basically, I’ve been working on my shot,” Richardson said of her offseason. “I’ve been trying to get everything better to improve [my] game. I’ve been grinding, trying to work on defense and anything to make a contribution to the team.”
The Neptune, N.J., native saw valuable minutes in the backcourt throughout the year, even in high-pressure moments, including the Knights’ matchup against Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Richardson averaged 2.1 points and 1.2 assists in her rookie season. She, along with Canty, hopes to play integral roles on a team that is high on the backcourt’s production.
Canty shared similar season numbers with her classmate. She averaged 2.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, seeing much of her time at shooting guard. Canty showed
commitment to the defensive end, leading all freshmen with 31 steals.
The Knights expect to have an impressive year and go farther in the postseason. Canty believes one main responsibility the backcourt must adopt is to simply “dominate.”
“We just need to go out there and do what we do — play aggressive defense, get to it and just run the floor,” Canty said.
Rutgers is prepared to move past the Rushdan era and work toward the same goal to bring home a national title. The mystery as to who is the floor general for the 2012-2013 campaign may be solved Sunday, when the Knights tip off the year at Georgia in Athens.
Stringer’s message to her players is to be prepared for whatever is thrown at them throughout the year. There may be opponents that challenge the Knights physically and mentally.
“She’s just been telling us to be ready,” Canty said. “We have to lean on each other and make sure that we have each other’s backs. Nothing will stand in our way.”