Highly touted freshman translates summer prep to success
Tyler Scaife remembers the tireless summer days, the late nights and the grind she endured to prepare for what was coming.
Well before the Rutgers women’s basketball team’s season began in November, the nation’s No. 1 point guard recruit, according to ESPNU HoopGurlz, made a commitment.
The freshman worked rigorously with strength and conditioning coach Mike Johansen, who mentally pushed Scaife during the summer and preseason. They trained together frequently at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, developing speed, stamina and physicality.
It was the only way the rookie could make an immediate impact in Division I.
“Our strength coach did a good job of pushing me with running, the conditioning, lifting,” Scaife said yesterday post-practice. “Every night in the summertime, I got in the gym, and right before we started the season, every night I’d be in the gym until 1, 2 [a.m.] … just keeping all my skills tight — shooting, dribbling — and I watched a lot of film.”
The film room is where the Little Rock, Ark., native saw a whole new world of basketball.
As Scaife watched tapes of old Scarlet Knights practices, finer details of the game stood out. Head coach C. Vivian Stringer demanded a rich understand of fundamentals and schemes, particularly on the defensive end.
There were no excuses.
“[Coaches] want you to get it down. They actually take time to break it down,” Scaife said of film. “I took that as I had to pay more attention to stuff Coach was going over. Also, the tempo is a lot faster. [College players are] a lot stronger, more physical, smarter, quicker.”
Staying proactive and embracing the challenge has paid immediate dividends for Scaife.
Through 25 games she ranks second on the team with 16.1 points, 3.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game. With her quickness in the open floor, Scaife is the catalyst of Rutgers’ up-tempo offense, which places an emphasis on generating points in transition.
The 5-foot-9 guard was named AAC Rookie of the Week on Monday for the third straight time. She has been impressively consistent, garnering the award five of the last six weeks.
Despite having such little experience at the collegiate level, Scaife’s modesty and unwavering drive to improve has made for a relatively seamless transition.
“She doesn’t know a lot because she’s inexperienced, but you would never know it,” said sophomore wing Kahleah Copper. “She’s always humble and she’s always confident.”
Scaife has given Rutgers, which had been without a true point guard since Khadijah Rushdan left for the WNBA in 2012, a dynamic option capable of playing both the point and two-guard.
She flashes a solid midrange jumper, can create her own shot off the dribble and is one of Rutgers’ more lethal threats attacking the rim.
Most importantly, Scaife’s versatility commands conscious defensive attention — spacing the floor and creating more open shots for her teammates.
“She has really great vision,” Copper said. “I like to get the ball in transition, so she’ll find me anywhere I’m running. She’ll throw the lob, she’ll give me a good bounce pass between the defense — anything. I can really appreciate her.”
But like most freshmen, Scaife still has stigmas to overcome.
Her somewhat nonchalant approach to the game has sometimes been costly. She averages 2.8 turnovers per game — second on Rutgers only behind Copper’s 2.9.
Scaife’s perimeter defense is also a work in progress, as opposing guards faced little resistance breaking her down off the dribble early in the season.
She believes she is making strides.
“I feel the past couple games I’ve really done a better job of focusing, just staying down and moving my feet,” Scaife said.
Her assist-to-turnover ratio has also steadily improved.
In the Knights’ season opener Nov. 10 against Princeton, Scaife dished out only one assist and turned the ball over four times. In their most recent game Saturday against Central Florida, she tallied five dimes and committed no turnovers.
Stringer has noted Scaife’s early mistakes, but the Hall of Fame coach made her faith in the highly touted prospect clear from the outset.
“There’s things that she doesn’t do, that she might not remember, that all freshmen do,” Stringer said Nov. 10, “and then my coaches will remind me, ‘Don’t worry. When the lights come on, she shows up.’”
And the biggest games are where Scaife has shined the brightest.
Her career-high 25 points came Jan. 28 against then-No. 5 Louisville, carrying Rutgers for the majority of the first half as Copper and junior forward Betnijah Laney sat on the bench with foul trouble.
Scaife also produced a team-high 22 points Jan. 19 against No. 1 Connecticut, as only one other Knight tallied double figures.
Though Rutgers lost both games, the Knights are a definitive No. 3 in the AAC and likely to return to the NCAA Tournament this season. Scaife hopes to eventually lead Rutgers back to the Final Four, where it fell in 2007.
Since the summer, she has relished the challenge.
“I just like games like [UConn and Louisville],” Scaife said. “That’s where you get a chance to really see how good you are. ... At the end of the day we all want to be the best, so when you play against the best, you’ve got to do good.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.
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