Junior college transfers provide spark to offense
Each possession was like clockwork. During a Rutgers women’s basketball intersquad scrimmage, Rachel Hollivay’s team held an obvious advantage.
Towering at 6-foot-4, the junior center attracted all of the attention. With each possession, she received he ball at the high post as players on the defense collapsed on her.
At that moment, she had them right where she wanted them.
Instantly, she would kick the ball out to either one of her teammates waiting behind the three-point line. And each time, the ball splashed through the net.
The results from that preseason intersquad scrimmage are ones that head coach C. Vivian Stringer hopes to duplicate in the upcoming 2014-2015 season.
“I love the junior college transfers, and I say that because Cynthia Hernandez and Natalie Parsons are such good three-point shooters,” Stringer said. “… It’s really exciting to have that element, and that’s something we recognize. [Three-point shooting] hasn’t been as consistent as it needs to be, so we’re looking to take more threes, without question.”
Trekking from across the country, Hernandez and Parsons arrive to Piscataway with one goal in mind: bolster the team’s biggest weakness.
While the Knights prided themselves on their endurance and speed in the transition game on offense and suffocating full-court press on defense, the element of the three-ball could catapult them to new heights and maximize the team’s full potential.
Both Rutgers guards come from similar backgrounds with the same goals.
Despite coming all the way from Ventura, California, Hernandez ultimately decided to venture to New Jersey for the opportunity to play for a successful program and learn under the teachings of a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame head coach in Stringer.
“I think I just needed the experience more, and to play with coach Stringer was a big thing because to learn from someone like that would just give me knowledge for the rest of my life,” Hernandez said. “So yeah, I’m really far away from my family, but it’s worth it.”
With the opportunity to gain a valued education both on and off the court, Parsons fled from Bountiful, Utah, to Rutgers after her two-year tenure at Salt Lake Community College.
“Coming out of JUCO, I wanted to first make sure I had the opportunity to get a great education and, second of all, just to be [in] the best basketball program I can get into and make a difference in,” Parsons said.
Last year, the Knights collectively shot a woeful 28 percent from beyond the three-point arc. The top returning three-pointer shooter from last year is junior guard Briyona Canty, but she only hovered around 30.2 percent on 13-for-43 shooting from behind the line.
The numbers for Hernandez and Parsons, meanwhile, were off the charts.
Hernandez shot the lights out during her time at Ventura College, averaging 12.9 points per game on an impressive 43.2 percent shooting from three-point land. Parsons, on the other hand, posted 10.9 points per game on a steady 35.5 percent average from three-point range.
While the numbers do plenty of the talking in supporting the belief that Rutgers can take off on offense in the 2014-2015 season, much of what makes the couple so lethal stems from the ability to space the floor and subsequently open up opportunities in the post.
“Even if I’m just opening up the middle, because, now that you know we can shoot three-pointers, so [defenses] are not going to always be on Rachel in the middle and clogging it up,” Hernandez said. “… Even us just being here, me and Natalie will open everything up, so I think that’ll be great.”
According to Stringer, the mix of the two guards serves as the two missing ingredients needed for the recipe of the team’s success building on last year.
Add in the fact that Hernandez and Parsons have two years of college basketball experience under their belts, and it creates an opportunity for immediate contributions.
“They’re bringing a major element to the game that we appreciate, and that’s going to be major for us,” Stringer said. “… They know a lot more, they’re bright, they catch on very quickly, they’re working hard, they’re willing subjects, so it’s both parts of the game. It’s not just the shooting, it’s all the other aspects.”
It remains to be seen if the numbers from Hernandez and Parsons will translate onto the Louis Brown Athletic Center hardwood when the season gets underway. The lights will be brighter, the stage will be bigger and the competition will be tougher.
But for the two junior college transfers, that’s exactly why they elected to come to Rutgers.
“It’s really incredible to finally feel like I have gotten here,” Parsons said. “… To actually make a contribution to a team that I know is moving forward in a very positive direction coming off a WNIT win, wanting to go far in NCAAs, which I know we can, so it’s very cool to have this opportunity to help them.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.