Rookie Picks Up Defense
Hall Takes Over Newman’s Role For Madison
Posted: February 7, 2013
HARRISONBURG — Precious Hall admitted that she didn’t play much defense at The Maclay School in Tallahassee, Fla.
The James Madison freshman guard said she did engage in some ‘‘D’’ in AAU games, a must as a member of national power Essence Girls Basketball. But high school? That was different.
“I wasn’t guarding, like, top scorers or anything, so I didn’t have to play defense,” Hall said.
Offense — and a season-ending injury to JMU defensive star Nikki Newman — helped put Hall in the Dukes’ starting lineup. Not surprisingly, coach Kenny Brooks told Hall he wanted more.
“I relied so much on my offense in high school, but when I got here, Coach Brooks told me, ‘Offense will get you on the court,’” Hall said, “‘but defense is going to let you stay on the court.’ So they made me step up my defensive game.”
Hall, already an offensive threat, has emerged as the Dukes’ lockdown defender, taking over for Newman, who suffered a broken foot on Dec. 16 against Duquesne. Newman is done for the season.
The 5-foot-8 Hall is regularly assigned to guard the opposing team’s best scoring threat, and she has helped stabilize JMU’s defense, which was suspect during Madison’s 3-6 start to the season.
“As soon as Nikki went down, we inserted [Hall] into the starting lineup, and with that came a lot of responsibility,” Brooks said. “’Cause not only did we put her in the starting lineup, we put her on… the best player, which, normally, Nikki would do. … She strived to be the best she could be, and she’s been playing extremely well.”
Hall — whom Brooks described as the only option to take over for Newman — is tied for second with senior point guard Tarik Hislop on the team in steals, averaging 1.2 per game. Junior guard Kirby Burkholder is averaging 2.0 to lead JMU, which has won seven straight games and 11 of its last 12.
The Dukes are 14-7 overall and 7-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association. Madison, one of the CAA’s top defensive teams, is limiting opponents to 58.6 points per game and 37.0 percent shooting. Both stats rank fourth in the conference.
First-place Delaware (18-3, 9-0) — the defending CAA champ and JMU’s opponent Sunday at the Convocation Center — has the Colonial’s top defense, holding teams to just 49.1 points per game and 32.4 shooting.
JMU hosts North Carolina-Wilmington (2-17, 1-7) today, looking to continue its hot streak heading into its matchup with the No. 20 Blue Hens and their superstar, reigning CAA Player of the Year, Elena Delle Donne.
“We’ve just been keeping up with each other, playing well together,” Hall said of the Dukes’ current run. “Everything’s been clicking for everybody right now. Everybody knows their role on the team, and everybody’s just playing their role well right now.”
Hall is averaging 9 points in 21 games (13.9 in conference play) and has become the Dukes’ third scoring option. A 3-point threat — she shoots 37.3 percent from behind the arc — Hall won her fourth CAA Rookie of the Week award Monday and appears to be a strong candidate to be named the league’s Rookie of the Year.
So far, she is certainly JMU’s, thanks to her offense and strong hands, which Brooks said is the reason she has been such a factor on defense.
“Once she gets into your personal space and she can get her hands on the basketball, she usually comes up with it,” Brooks said. “And she can just really rip it away from you. Where some kids cause deflections, she ends up with steals just because she has very quick, strong hands. And a lot of times where [ a player is] open and may think they have a half step on her, they can go up for a clean shot, and she’s stripping the ball from them and going the other way.”
Next season, Newman will return, giving the Dukes both her and Hall to co-anchor the defense with two differing styles. While Hall excels by using her hands, Brooks said Newman, the 2012 CAA Defensive Player of the Year, is more about her feet.
“Nikki has great feet and she has great timing and an understanding of where she’s supposed to be,” Brooks said.
In recent seasons, Newman has guarded Delle Donne. So does Hall get the 6-5 Delle Donne, a former Connecticut recruit who is about to break Dawn Evans’ CAA career scoring record?
“That is to be determined,” Brooks said with a laugh.
If you’re wondering, Hall said she’d be OK with it.
“If that’s what he wants me to do,” she said, “I’ll do what I’m supposed to do.”