For the first time in four years, Marquette women’s basketball will enter the season without a definitive starting point guard.
Danielle King called that role hers in her four years playing on Wisconsin Avenue, but she has now graduated after making 124 of 128 possible starts and finishing just shy of 1,400 career points.
As a former point guard, head coach Megan Duffy understands the difficulty of changing starting point guards.
“It is challenging. We will do this a lot by committee,” Duffy said. “We have some combo guards who might not be a true point guard. Coach Skeete, Coach Scott (Merritt), Coach Justine (Raterman) and myself are all trying to give any knowledge that we have on running a team and being patient.”
Duffy was a four-year starter at point guard for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. She is one of four players in Notre Dame history to total at least 1,000 points, 500 assists and 200 steals. She was also awarded the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award in 2006, which is given to the country’s top point guard under 5-foot-8.
In her first season back in the BIG EAST since 2012, the John Wooden Award finalist envisions the use of lead guards this season instead of a definitive starting point guard.
“There is this new way of craze where, instead of being a point guard, you are a lead guard,” Duffy said. “So we are going to have a lot of lead guards like (freshman) Jordan King, we will throw (junior guard) Selena (Lott) at the point a little bit, who are comfortable with the ball in their hand but they are still scorers.”
Aside from shifting Lott, there are two potential replacements for Danielle’s old spot: freshmen guards Jordan King and Taylor Valladay.
Jordan is a 5-foot-11 guard out of Rockton, Illinois, and is the BIG EAST Preseason Freshman of the Year. But Jordan said she doesn’t let that pressure get to her.
“This really means nothing. I have to go out and play hard during the season,” Jordan said. “Right now, I am just really focused on working hard to improve my game and help my teammates in any way possible.”
Duffy said Jordan’s high school experience shows her potential for success in the NCAA.
“She had a tremendous high school career and also did it on a national scene on the Nike circuit,” Duffy said. “She is up there as one of the next upcoming stars in the food chain.”
Not only is Marquette a new atmosphere for the back-to-back Beloit Daily News All-Area Player of the Year, but so is the point guard position. During her high school and AAU days, Jordan spent most of her time on the court at the wing position.
However, she said the position switch is not slowing her down by any means. Instead, it has motivated her to prove she deserves the spot.
“I just have been doing what the coaches have been asking in me and whatever that takes, the hard work and dedication every day in practice,” Jordan said. “As a young player, I think that is all you can do along with buying in and listening to the coaches.”
Duffy’s offense accentuates Jordan’s role as a facilitator.
“I think I do a good job working with my teammates and trying to keep everyone calm and composed,” Jordan said. “Right now, I am just trying to help my teammates get open shots and running things and make sure everyone is under control and communicating.”
The other main option to seize the starting point guard spot is Valladay, another freshman guard from Illinois. She considers her vocal leadership as a strength.
“I like to bring that voice out on and off the court,” Valladay said. “If I am not in, I am always talking it up on the sideline or talking up other things that I know. Just trying to get everyone in the right position on offense and move my feet on defense.”
As it was for Jordan, Valladay is trying to embrace her head coach’s plan for 2019-’20.
“(I’m) just trying to buy into what Coach is talking about,” Valladay said. “Just by doing the little extra things on and off the court to show the coaches that I can be that freshman leader.”
The Chicago native sees her adjustment to Duffy’s offense as a work in progress.
“College is different, period. The pace is different, faster and more upbeat. I think I am adjusting well,” Valladay said. “When coach asks something of me, I am very open to doing what is asked of me. Adjusting to college from high school is tough, but at the end of the day, I know I am capable of doing it.”
Valladay said she sees every day as time to improve her game.
“Every single day I have something to get better at… Everyone does,” Valladay said. “There are things in my game that can be better, but (I’m) taking it day by day.”
Valladay is still recovering from an ACL injury from last year, but Duffy and Valladay each said the rehab is on track.
“Rehab is going good,” Valladay said. “I am just waiting for my name to be called and doing what I know I can do best.”
Despite coming off a major injury, she is still in the mix for the point guard spot.
“I am hungry for it. I am doing what I can,” Valladay said. “I am buying into everything I need to do: getting stronger, getting bigger and just being the Taylor Valladay that I know I can bring to the team.”
King and Valladay both attribute their quick adjustment and acclimation to the kind of coach Duffy is.
“She is always trying to get the best out of us,” Jordan said. “As a player, you look for a coach that cares and wants you to improve day in and day out.”
“She knows we are a young group. Everyone knows we are a young group, so the fact she believes in us stands out to me,” Valladay said. “Just her making the effort to be the best coach she can be for us is really helpful.”
Uncertainty aside, Duffy said she has optimism for her lead guards.
“We will find as we move forward what is the best combination, the best ingredients,” Duffy said. “I am not sure if I have the total right answer right now, but we will keep improving on it.”