Salukis are bred to run.
The women’s basketball team, like its royal Egyptian mascot, will attempt to wear out its opponents this year as it runs a fast-paced offense.
“That’s how we play,” sophomore guard Cartaesha Macklin said. “We’re able to get free and run our opponents and see how well they’re conditioned.”
Freshman point guard Rishonda Napier will lead the pack this season. Napier said she is ready to run.
“Practically every program I’ve ever played on has played an up-and-down fast break game, so I feel like it’s the right fit for me,” she said.
Napier, a Burbank, Calif., native, has done nearly everything a player can do on the court. She contributed to a Bellarmine-Jefferson High School team that won the California Division V State Championship during her freshman season, and she earned First-Team All-State recognition three times.
She was also named a McDonald’s All-American nominee after posting an average 20.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game during her senior season.
Napier said she works to improve her strength now that she’s in college. At 5 foot 5 inches tall, she is the shortest player on the team and often times the smallest player on the court.
“I’m spending a lot more time in the weight room getting stronger and getting a healthy weight so I don’t get pushed around,” she said. “It’s been the biggest challenge so far.”
Off the court, Napier exemplifies the calmness and collectivity one would expect from a West Coast native. On the court, coach Missy Tiber said Napier tends to be self-critical.
“She was over there in timeouts just hard as heck on herself,” Tiber said Tuesday after SIU’s 72-48 University of Missouri-St. Louis exhibition victory. “I (was) trying to get her to relax.”
Napier has shown her athleticism and versatility through the team’s two exhibition contests as she averaged 14 points, 7.5 assists and 4 rebounds per game.
Tiber said the pre-season was meant for players to show her if they are ready
“I think she’s going to be a great point guard at this level,” she said. “She’s learning how we operate our system here. I think, with just time and maturity, she’ll be really good. I like her a lot, and she’s really coachable.”
Napier said the things she misses most about home are the food and her mother, but she is adjusting well to what she calls a different way of life.
Napier is an undecided liberal arts major, and she said time management has been a difficult task to master as a student-athlete.
“I’m learning as I go along,” she said. “There’s no excuse for me to not have excellent grades this semester.”
Her first on-court test will be Tuesday during the team’s regular season opener against the University of Central Arkansas.
“I am so excited,” she said. “We’ve worked so hard for this. I’ve waited all summer and all this (pre)season just for this moment. We still have things to tighten up. A few passes can be crisper and smoother but I think in this next week of practice, if we go hard we’ll be right where we need to be.”
When her Saluki days are done, Napier said she wants her work regiment to speak for itself.
“I just hope that I can be remembered as a hard worker and a team player and somebody (who) is smart, both on and off the court.”
Tuesday’s season opener is scheduled for a 7:05 p.m. tipoff.