Great Expectations

<p>Sophomore Khadijah Rushdan, right, has to help replace the
scoring lost when Epiphanny Prince left school early.</p>

Sophomore Khadijah Rushdan, right, has to help replace the scoring lost when Epiphanny Prince left school early.

Khadijah Rushdan knows how to score — just ask anyone in the state of Delaware.

When the McDonald's All-American graduated high school and joined the Rutgers women's basketball team, Rushdan was the all-time leading scorer in the entire state with 2,414 points in four years.

But the heralded guard's freshman season as a Scarlet Knight came to an abrupt end eight games into the year after tearing her ACL.

After receiving a medical redshirt, Rushdan returned to the floor last year, but primarily in a new position running the point.

With the Knights in need of a presence at both the one and two slots this season, head coach C. Vivian Stringer expects Rushdan to switch between go-to scorer and offensive distributor on any given night.

"I'm going to accept any challenge that Coach Stringer brings my way," the sophomore said. "And I'm definitely going to accept anything that is going to help the team improve. It comes down to whatever I can do to help the team."

At point guard, Rushdan is expected to lead a very different offense for the Knights. Last season, RU ran a balanced inside-out attack on the backs of center Kia Vaughn and guard Epiphanny Prince that made the team lethal from any range.

With both Prince and Vaughn gone, it is up to whoever runs the point to set a new tempo and help the Knights run the floor.

"Khadijah was playing her best basketball toward the end of the season. She was the point guard we needed her to be," Stringer said. "Without question, we struggled at the beginning because, again, I can be pretty tough on our point guards but I thought she really embraced it and she knew what she needed to do to get everyone involved."

Rushdan started 22 games last year in her first full season, but played in all 34. While her 2.4 assists per game average was good for second on the squad, she led the team in a more undesirable statistic — turnovers. The sophomore's 2.7 turnover per game average was the highest for the Knights last year.

But the guard continued to settle in to her new role down the stretch, starting in 21 consecutive games to end the year and scoring a season-high 20 points against Farmingdale State.

No matter who she has with her on the court, Rushdan is comfortable leading a diverse squad, who she said is working hard together from the seniors to the freshmen.

"The upperclassmen — and our seniors especially — have all just been so supportive of one another," Rushdan said. "And our freshmen, they're really buying into the system. They've come here and they're willing to learn."

From the two spot, Rushdan will be relied heavily upon to score, helping to replace the 19.5 points per game that are lost with Prince's departure. The guard was fourth on the team in scoring last season with seven points per game.

"My feeling is that even though while I did play the point, me being a [two-guard] I can still distribute the way I can," Rushdan said. "But I'm just going to have to have a different look with more of a shoot first mentality rather than pass all the time."

Already, she showed glimpses of being a big-game performer when it counts, as her numbers increased alongside the level of her competition. Rushdan averaged 8.4 points per game against Big East opponents last season and 8.3 points in the NCAA Tournament, with an average of nearly four assists per game.

In their first matchup last year, the sophomore drained six three-pointers over undefeated National Champion Connecticut, finishing the game with 18 points, nine rebounds and two assists.

It's numbers like that that Stringer hopes for from her guard this year, and that means carrying over last season's momentum and never slowing down.

"I think maybe initially she had some reservations about, well, ‘What are they talking about' [as she continued to adjust]," Stringer said. "But when she found herself sitting and she wasn't playing, then she understood this is the way we are going to play this game. She never looked back."

In addition to putting up the offensive statistics, Rushdan made a name for herself defensively.

The sophomore is the team's leading returning rebounder, finishing third on the team last season behind Vaughn and Prince with an average of 4.4 rebounds per game. Rushdan pulled down an average of 3.2 defensive boards per contest and finished the season averaging over a steal per game.

Regardless of position, she is one of the focal points of the Knights' new offense — no easy burden to bear — but her teammates are ready and willing to help her out.

But pressure or otherwise, Rushdan's fellow Knights expect big things from her this season.

"This is going to be a breakout year for Khadijah, and I think you saw glimpses of that toward the middle and end of last season," said senior guard Brittany Ray. "She's a great player — I've known her for three years now — and I think she's going to show that to the world this year."


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