A Major ‘Get’
HARRISONBURG — As a women’s basketball fan growing up in Silver Spring, Md., Tarik Hislop used to watch the typical powers, such as Connecticut and Tennessee, as well as the nearby Maryland Terrapins, who won the national championship when she was a freshman in high school.
But Hislop says she didn’t dream of suiting up for a blueblood program.
“No disrespect to the big schools – but that was never one of my goals, to go big,” the James Madison senior said. “I always wanted to be a part of a team that wanted me to be a part of their team. Coach [Kenny] Brooks and this coaching staff showed me that from the get-go. They made me feel wanted. I didn’t feel like I was missing out when I didn’t go to a big program.”
Four years after what Hislop categorized as a brief and uneventful recruiting process, the nation’s big-time programs might be slapping themselves for overlooking the 5-foot-7 point guard.
On Sunday, she was highlighted on ESPN.com as the women’s basketball Player of the Week for her performances during the Cancun Challenge. In three games last week, she scored 74 total points – including a pair of 30-plus-point performances in JMU wins over Green Bay and Wichita State.
The game against Green Bay was especially impressive. The Phoenix are typically a stout defensive team, but Hislop carried the Dukes (3-3) to an 89-86 overtime win in which she tallied a career-best 32 points, including 10 in OT after sending the game to an extra period with a game-tying 3-pointer four seconds before the regulation buzzer.
“Tarik was just phenomenal during that game,” Brooks said. “Talking to their head coach, Kevin Borseth, after the game, he said, ‘We just had no answers. We couldn’t guard her.’ Even their players said, ‘When they needed to make plays, Hislop stepped up and made plays.’ So she willed us to win that game.”
Hislop has been Madison’s go-to player since the start of last season, but this year, she said, she had to absorb the “vocal leader” role that opened up when Lauren Whitehurst graduated.
It didn’t come instantly.
The Dukes began the season 0-2 and Hislop – who made just six of 29 shots in that span – may have been pressing a bit, worrying about correcting her teammates more than herself.
“One of the things Tarik and I sat down, and we talked about, I said, ‘Let me be the bad guy,’” Brooks said. “Because she was trying to be the one on the floor, trying to be the leader, trying to be the one saying, ‘Let’s get going.’ In doing so, she forgot about herself.”
Brooks now thinks Hislop is getting comfortable in her role as a gentler leader to teammates.
Hislop made the WNIT all-tournament team last season, averaging 15.3 points in the Dukes’ six-game, runner-up finish. This fall, she was picked to the Colonial Athletic Association’s preseason first team for the second consecutive year (Hislop finished last year on the second team).
So, while the national, ESPN-level hype hadn’t found Hislop until now, anyone playing against the Dukes knew about No. 22. That meant Hislop needed to expand her game to counteract opposing defenses’ plans to take away her strengths – namely driving to the basket with her right hand.
“At the DI level, getting to the basket is not the easiest thing, so I have to work on my mid-range jumper to be able to get my shot off more often,” Hislop said. “… I utilized the fade-away jumper a lot in Cancun; that’s something Coach Brooks and I have been working on a lot. And a lot of change-of-direction moves.”
Even including the woeful start to her season, Hislop is shooting 38.9 percent from the field – the best percentage since her freshman season, when she finished with the same mark.
Despite a decorated career at Paint Branch High School, Hislop was hardly the most sought-after prospect. She said she made unofficial visits to George Mason and Radford, and then one to JMU. She knew immediately that she wanted to be a Duke.
Asked if the Maryland – located less than 10 miles and four Metro stops away from her hometown – showed any interest, Hislop said the level was mild.
“[Coach] Brenda Frese’s husband came to one of my games late,” Hislop said. “But they didn’t really recruit me. I had already had my mind set on going to James Madison.”
Madison certainly doesn’t have a national name, but performances like Hislop’s can only help.
Brooks said fans often ask him why his team’s uniforms read “JAMES MADISON” instead of “JMU,” or “Dukes.” Brooks’ typical response, he said, is that those nicknames aren’t commonly known outside the region. By using “James Madison,” the Dukes hope to market the school.
Of course, when Hislop makes the country’s most trafficked sports website, the school’s full name is on display.
“When you put that up on ESPN, their website, front page of the women’s basketball section, and it says ‘JAMES MADISON,’ it does tremendous wonders not only for our program but for the university,” Brooks said. “It’s just tremendous.”