Nyeshia Stevenson. Dominique Kelley. Cat Redmon.
OK, I just wanted to type those names, first things first. Because it seems every time this season, and even going back into last season, that I thought, “I need to write about these players rather than just in passing,” somehow I didn’t get to it.
One of their teammates would have a big game, or some different story line would emerge. And I’d say, “OK, next time.”
So after this past week, when juniors Kelley and Redmon got to experience winning a Big 12 championship with their Nebraska teammates and senior Stevenson had one of the best offensive games of her career in Oklahoma’s huge win at Texas, I thought, “Gotta do it NOW!”
The thing about teams is that so much more goes into what makes them successful than we can typically write up in the average “game story” or even column. Coaches see very small but ultimately important things during the course of games that most observers won’t spot. They know who did what in practice, or who said what on the bench, or who just goes about her business quietly and efficiently day after day.
All that stuff can add up to the difference between winning and losing games, but it’s harder to quantify that than it is to say, “Player X had 23 points and nine rebounds to lead …”
As a writer, I always look for alternate ways of telling the stories of games and seasons. But I still often focus on the bigger numbers or someone who did something everybody noticed. Not always, but often. And usually, that’s the sensible thing to do. However, it means that you don’t often write much in depth about people who get their jobs done without a great deal of acclaim or external recognition.
And so I sometimes find myself thinking after a game like Wednesday’s 80-64 Nebraska victory over Oklahoma, “I feel like I didn’t notice Kelley or Redmon enough in that game, but I know they were important.”
Kelley, a 5-foot-7 guard, started and played 28 minutes, getting seven points, five rebounds and three assists. Redmon played 9 minutes. She had two points, making her one shot from the field, and had three rebounds. Both players picked up four fouls. What that tells you is that both were hustling and aggressive on defense. Redmon got her fouls in way less time, but she’s a 6-3 center battling inside where the game can be incredibly physical.
Kelsey Griffin had 30 points and 13 rebounds, while Cory Montgomery had 24/6 for the Huskers, but I have no doubt both would say after the game, “We don’t win if Dom and Cat don’t do what they do.”
Saturday, when the Huskers had a type of “celebration” game back home in Lincoln with a 67-51 victory over Missouri, Kelley was on the floor 25 minutes with 11 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. Redmon played 20 minutes, getting eight points, five boards and two steals.
Kelley is from Lincoln, out of Northeast High, and the Huskers’ Connie Yori said she worked harder to recruit her than any other player in her coaching career. Kelley was the local kid that Yori had to have, the one whose athleticism, speed and skills were desperately needed at Nebraska. Yori couldn’t bear the thought of her going somewhere else.
Redmon is from the never-ending pool of girls basketball talent from the Dallas-Fort Worth extended metroplex that has helped the roster of every Big 12 women’s program during the league’s existence. Redmon, from Grand Prarie, Texas, went to Mansfield Timberview High.
She could have gone to nearby TCU, but opted for Nebraska instead, where she was a reserve as a freshman in 2007-2008. Then, in August of 2008, she was playing in a pickup game, and guess who accidentally came down on Redmon’s foot and suffered an ankle injury that would keep her out the whole season? Kelsey Griffin.
Obviously, it could have been anybody’s foot. These things happen all the time in basketball, and it’s utterly random whose foot might be in the so-called wrong place at the wrong time. And it’s not to say that Redmon fretted unnecessarily over this, because nobody ever should.
Still, you can put yourself in her shoes … you’re the sophomore reserve, and the senior All-American candidate got hurt landing on your foot. Then you find out she will miss the season. Then you find out a little ways into the season that now, you need to start. And it turns out your very first college start will come against one of the best centers in the country, Ohio State’s Jantel Lavender.
Redmon held her own pretty well that day in December 2008, with 10 points, two rebounds and a blocked shot. But Nebraska was edged 69-65 by the Buckeyes. Redmon would stay in the starting lineup the rest of the season, averaging 5.7 points and 5.5 rebounds while becoming one of the Big 12’s most consistent shot-blockers.
Then this year … it was back to a reserve role as Griffin returned. So think about that: Last season, Redmon started 24 games and averaged 23.2 minutes, this season she hasn’t started any games and is averaging 15.9 minutes. And so when Yori talks about this team being a privilege to coach, and Griffin says it’s got fantastic chemistry, you have to think about what Redmon must mean to all that.
There are players who might not deal well with their minutes being reduced from their sophomore to junior season, regardless if the reason is that the soon-to-be-named (I feel confident in saying this) Big 12 player of the year has returned. By accepting her third different role in three years, Redmon is showing what being a member of a team is really about.
And what of Stevenson? The 5-10 guard from Little Rock, Ark., has been Oklahoma’s spark plug off the bench the past two seasons (she did start nine games in 2008-09). But this year, she has started all 28 of the Sooners’ games. With the the Paris twins, and their interior force, having graduated and sharpshooting guard Whitney Hand being injured five games into this season, Stevenson’s statistical importance to the Sooners greatly elevated.
Wednesday in the Sooners’ loss to Nebraska, Stevenson had an incredibly frustrating time shooting, going 2 of 12 from the field and finishing with seven points. You could imagine that she was seeing shots rim out or fall short all night in her sleep.
But Saturday, she bounced back in a crunch-time game for Oklahoma. Stevenson scored 28 points, making 11 of 13 shots (6 of 8 3-pointers) in the Sooners’ 75-60 victory over Texas. It was a very important victory in the Big 12 standings, keeping OU tied in second place with Iowa State at 10-4. (The Cyclones do have the tiebreaker, if it comes to that, with their victory over OU on Jan. 27.)
Unless you are a Texas fan, of course, how can you not smile at a performance like Stevenson’s on Saturday? Every player has games like she did against Nebraska, where it seems the ball simply refuses to go through the net. But how many come back with a monster game the very next time out? That’s character.
There’s an old saying that seems to get more profound to me the older I get. It sums up the fact that everybody can help in some way in a team effort. If you’re a basketball player, you do not have to be the star or the secondary star or any kind of star at all. You might get called to the postgame interview room only every once in a while … or maybe never. But what matters is that you’re contributing whatever you can, in any way you can.
The saying is, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
It seems to me that players like Kelley, Redmon and Stevenson have dedicated their careers to being part of the solution.