Nkumu buying into role with Golden Eagles set by head coach

Junior+guard+Rose+Nkumu+%283%29+is+averaging+5.4+points%2C+2.4+rebounds+and+2.5+assists+per+game+this+season+for+Marquette+womens+basketball.+

Photo by Alex DeBuhr

Junior guard Rose Nkumu (3) is averaging 5.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game this season for Marquette women’s basketball.

Rose Nkumu began her college career deep in the bench. In her first season, she played less than half of the team’s games. Two years later, the junior guard has become a mainstay in the starting lineup.

“The biggest thing for me has been buying into Coach (Megan) Duffy’s message and doing really whatever the team needs me to do,” Nkumu said. “My job is defense specifically, so being able to bring that aspect to my team, being able to guard the other team’s best player, a lot of the time.”

The junior guard started just three games in her second season and reached that same number before Thanksgiving this season. She has also more than doubled her playing time, now up to over 25 minutes per game.

“It’s that work behind the scenes and in the dark. This is what we said [to] her, ‘It’s gonna make you starting point guard one day’,” assistant coach Kelly Komara said. “She bought into it and she believed in what Coach Duffy and myself were trying to do, and that was to make her a better overall basketball player, but also give her a lot of confidence.”

Komara said being a leader has been an important part of Nkumu’s growth this season.

“Every day in practice, practicing what she preaches,” Komara said. “Taking charges and getting those falls is really showing our younger players that you don’t just wake up one day and become a good defender in this league, you don’t wake up one day and be a starting point guard in this league.” 

Nkumu has recorded at least two steals in 11 games so far this season and she says her competitiveness motivates her defense.

“My competitiveness is where it comes from. In practice, when my team is on I’m starting the defensive presence for whatever drill we’re doing,” Nkumu said. 

The competitive practice mindset doesn’t prevent Nkumu from helping out her teammates.

At the end of the day, we’re all teammates. You don’t want the other team to win, but they’re your teammates. So when they do, give them a little congratulatory celebration,” Nkumu said. “That’s one of the best things about our team is that we push each other in so many different ways. And I think that that really helps us be successful.”

First-year guard Mackenzie Hare said Nkumu helps guide her in practice.

She’ll pull me aside and help me with little things like, ‘Hey, next time do this, it’ll help you better in this situation’,” Hare said. “It’s just so helpful to have a teammate like that because the coaches are really busy sometimes with the whole team thing. So being able to have someone pull you aside is so, so amazing, definitely helpful.”

Guards crashing the paint to grab a rebound has been emphasized for the team this season, Nkumu said. Coaches call these “scrap rebounds.” Nkumu said when she gets rebounds, it helps her team play fast.

“Whatever way that you can help out Chloe (Marotta) or Liza (Karlen) or anybody who is battling in the paint against one of the other team’s bigs. Guards can come in there and scoop up that rebound,” Nkumu said. “That makes it easier for us with our transition. Guards get it and we can push pace a lot easier.”

Playing fast is something that Komara said Nkumu has been doing since Komara joined the coaching staff prior to last season.

I remember one of the first workouts that we had in the summer when I got the job was, ‘dang, that kid goes 100 miles an hour does she ever make any reads?'” Komara said. “She can go 100 miles an hour but can she read the defense and actually use some of her basketball IQ?” 

After scoring 16 points in a win over then-number-three Texas, Komara said Nkumu’s offensive growth was on display.

“She gained confidence early with her defense getting steals, getting layups, which led to open jumpers being made, which led to three-point shots being made,” Komara said. “Since that game, she’s really drawn on that experience.”

Using her IQ to become a more offensive threat was one of Nkumu’s goals for this past offseason.

“My role besides defense is also to make and take open shots,” Nkumu said. “So when Jordan (King) has a double team or Chloe (Marotta) has a double team just being available for them.”

Hare said she learns a lot from Nkumu’s intelligence on the court.

She just has great court vision, makes great reads,” Hare said. “Being able to learn from like what she’s seeing and how I can see it in that way. I’ve definitely been trying to pick up from her.”

With the season winding down, Nkumu said strengthening connections and togetherness with her teammates is her focus for the rest of the season.

“As a voice, and as a point guard, you got to run the team, make sure everybody is in the right spots,” Nkumu said. “But more than that, being able to connect with the players off the court and finding ways that we can bring some of that connectedness onto the court and build our chemistry and be a solid unit when we’re playing.”

This story was written by John Gunville. He can be reached at j[email protected] or on Twitter @GunvilleJohn.