REGGIE HAYES: Homestead High School alum Karissa McLaughlin back on the attack in Purdue University’s Mackey Arena

Purdue University guard Karissa McLaughlin in action during a game last season. (Photo courtesy Purdue Athletics)
Purdue University women's basketball coach Sharon Versyp, left, talks with guard Karissa McLaughlin during a game last season. (Photo courtesy Purdue Athletics)
Karissa McLaughlin drives the lane for a shot during a game last season. (Photo courtesy Purdue Athletics)

Karissa McLaughlin always feels at home in the gym, whether in front of a raucous crowd or accompanied only by the solitary bouncing of a basketball.

Right now, it’s the latter at Purdue University’s Mackey Arena.

“I love the offseason,” McLaughlin said Tuesday. “It’s just that much more time to get in the gym and work on things that need to be ready for next season and, definitely, a lot of people take advantage of that time.”

McLaughlin returned to Purdue over the weekend, along with her other teammates and some newcomers. This week marks the start of the offseason schedule, including summer classes and NCAA-approved offseason practice time.

How much more McLaughlin does on her own depends on her personal motivation. Don’t worry. She’ll squeeze in as much time as her schedule allows.

“We have 24-hour access, so you can go in there whenever you would like,” McLaughlin said. “It’s the life.”

McLaughlin has been living “the life” of basketball for as long as she could dribble a basketball, and it’s been a pretty charmed one. She led Homestead High School to a state championship and was named Indiana Miss Basketball before taking her skills to Purdue.

As a freshman, she was thrown into the fire in more ways than one. Primarily a shooting guard at Homestead, she ended up at the point for Purdue. She started 30 of 34 games and played the third-most minutes.

“It was a big adjustment, but at that point, I was like, ‘Put me anywhere and I’ll do whatever you need me to do,’ ” McLaughlin said. “I was totally up for doing it. I want to be as versatile as possible. ‘If you need me at the 1, if you need me at the 2, I’m all in, coach.’

“I’m really glad I was able to experience that,” she said. “It expanded my game, even more, having to learn that position in even more depth.”

Hitting the court running

McLaughlin averaged 10.4 points and 3.5 assists per game last season, hitting .379 from three-point range (75 of 198). She helped the Boilermakers to a 20-14 record and hit a game-winner against IUPUI in the first game of the WNIT. She singled out road wins at Iowa, Maryland and Michigan as the team’s most memorable games.

The adjustment to college basketball is a challenge for most players, but especially for those thrown into consistent playing time. McLaughlin faced a number of upperclassmen at the point guard spot, which forced her to step up her game to keep pace.

“She probably achieved above and beyond what our expectations were because we didn’t know she could come in and run the point as well as she did,” Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said Tuesday at the John Purdue Club outing at the Fort Wayne Country Club. “Her growth and development and the time she put into study and to learn and to grow her game and to make adjustments. For me, that was the most impressive.”

This offseason, McLaughlin has a list of improvements she needs to make.

“Getting my shot off quicker, then being more creative coming off ball screens, being more aggressive with it, finding ways to score, finding the open man,” she said. “Then defense, as well. It’s tough. Everyone’s fast and stronger and there’s a whole other level where you always need improvement.”

Learning and growing

Players often make the biggest gains between their freshman and sophomore seasons and Versyp said she expects that to be the case for McLaughlin.

“She’s dedicated and she’ll get other kids in the gym, too,” Versyp said. “She’ll do her own work but she’s also a come-with-me player, put in the work, show the way, that type of stuff.”

McLaughlin has always been an organized person, and she’s carried that with her to Purdue. She keeps a color-coded schedule organizer, along with a journal to note things she wants to remember. She’s always looking for tidbits she can add to her game and her approach to the sport.

“I evaluate a lot,” she said. “I look at other people and what they are doing that makes them successful. Not just in my sport. I’ll look at a football player or a men’s basketball player and see what they’re doing off the court. Their nutrition, stuff like that.”

McLaughlin has taken significant steps in her approach to nutrition in college. The resources at Purdue are incredible, she said.

“I try a lot more food that I never tried before,” she said. “If my mom had put it on my plate, I would have been, ‘Uh, no.’ But I’m exploring more now.”

The better her nutrition, the more she’ll feel at her best for quality time at the gym.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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