“I love getting in the gym, I love shooting, I love the work,” Maggard said Tuesday. “It’s something I’ve done my whole life. It’s where I feel most at home – in the gym, trying to be better than I was yesterday.”
Need some evidence that Maggard’s devotion works? That’s easy to see.
Maggard, the former Canterbury High School standout, is the NCAA Division I women’s basketball leader in three-pointers made (92) and ranks second in three-point percentage (92 of 183, 50.3 percent). The nation’s leader, Lexi Bando of Oregon, is shooting 51.8 percent on 57 of 110 shots.
I’m sure Maggard likes those numbers, since they reflect her work. Every basketball player loves to be successful shooting the ball. (She hit 8-of-10 threes in her most recent game, incidentally.)
But those aren’t the numbers she dwells on.
She’ll point you to 21-5, which is Belmont’s record, or 15, which is how many consecutive games her team has won. No. 1 Connecticut has the otherworldly 100 straight wins. Texas has the next-longest streak with 19. Then comes Belmont. Belmont’s 12 road wins are tied with UConn for most this season.
“Our players play their hearts out for the person standing next to them,” Maggard said. “It’s something special and something that we’ve kind of had all year. We have a love for each other, a love for our teammates, that really separates us from a lot of teams.
“We just have that fire and passion for each other to go out and give our all on the floor.”
Those of us who have followed Maggard’s career since she helped lead Canterbury to four straight state championship games – winning two – know she brings fire, passion and commitment.
Those traits have transferred well to Belmont, where she is in the midst of her sophomore season, averaging 14.5 points and 5.4 assists per game. She’s the point guard, but she’s become much more in embracing the team concept promoted by coach Cameron Newbauer. Newbauer is a Leo High School alum in his fourth season as Belmont coach.
“Darby kind of embodies what we talk about with having expectations and effort and attitude and not (personal) goals,” Newbauer said. “Nobody ever talks about being at the top of any category for stats. You see a kid who comes in day in and day out and tries to perfect her form, perfect her footwork, and she’s become so much better playing off the ball and being able to space the floor.”
Point guards have a tendency to believe they need the ball in their hands most of the time, looking to set up others, Newbauer said.
Maggard’s game has grown this season because she’s embraced the coaches’ plan to make her more effective without the ball. She plays the point, but she doesn’t always have the ball in her hands. She’s learned to set screens, come off screens as more of a two-guard, and trust her teammates to keep the offense moving.
“She’s become more patient,” Newbauer said.
What hasn’t changed is Maggard’s drive to be the best player she can be. It’s those times outside of mandatory practice that marks the difference between good players and great players.
“She’s not one of those people who feel like she’s arrived at all,” Newbauer said.
“Once you think you know it all, you stop growing,” Maggard said, “You have to keep learning.”
When Newbauer recruited Maggard – his first Indiana recruit – he told her his goal was to make her the best player she could be, not just the best point guard. That means stretching her skills, learning new ways to look at the game and understanding the best play might involve her setting a screen rather than driving to the basket.
While expanding her game, she’s improved as a shooter and a scorer. She has found new ways to get the job done.
“If learning to move without the ball makes our team better, than I definitely wanted to do that,” she said. “I’m just thankful I’m at a place where they push me and they don’t ever let me settle.”
Settle? That word is not in Maggard’s vocabulary.
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 email@example.com.