Bassett makes adjustments to college game

As Marlene Bassett played her first college basketball game, the time started decreasing late as the pressure increased.

It was tied in the closing minutes when East Stroudsburg called timeout and drew up a play. Bassett was the primary target. She rolled off a screen, caught the pass and converted a layup. That Bassett scored was big. What it did for that Montoursville graduate proved much bigger. That was the moment when Bassett knew she could handle college basketball.

Bassett has played strong ever since and is making a huge impact during her freshman season with the Warriors. She has made a smooth transition to college, has started all 10 games and has helped East Stroudsburg start 7-3, which includes a 5-1 PSAC-East record.

“To see how confident my teammates were in me and happy that it worked was huge,” Bassett said. “They didn’t care I was a freshman or had been messing up the defense all game. They trusted me to be there and score. That’s when I started to believe in myself more and got the feeling that I belong.”

Bassett continues doing that each game was named the PSAC-East Freshman of the Week leading into the holiday break. The 6-foot-2 forward helped Montoursville win its first district championship since 2000 last year and now she is helping the Warriors emerge as a league title contender. She is averaging 7.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while blocking eight shots and playing much improved defense.

The jump from high school to college basketball can feel like a giant leap, especially considering the greatly increased time demands. Bassett, though, is making that look like a short skip.

“I’m happy that my coaches and teammates trust in me enough to have a freshman playing the minutes that I am, let alone starting. I like seeing the improvements I’ve made and how I’m applying all that I’ve learned already into my game,” Bassett said. “But I’m nowhere near saying I’m satisfied. I made goals for this season and I still have to play better and see them out.”

Bassett always has been talented. But what helped her go from role player as a sophomore at Montoursville to district standout for a 25-win team as a senior was her relentless work ethic. This is a player who does not take possessions or days off. She helped set a tone at Montoursville as the Warriors captured league and district championships last year. That drive and hunger now has provided the foundation for a her budding collegiate career.

Combine that with a player who has the strength to bang with post players inside and has a nice shooting touch and one has a developing PSAC weapon. It speaks volumes that Bassett played one of her best games against Gannon, a team East Stroudsburg had not beaten since 1995. Bassett scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds, dealt two assists and blocked a shot in that December game as the Warriors snapped the streak and showed why they are a league title contender.

“It’s definitely taken a lot of early mornings and late nights in the gym in order to get here. Even during my first summer league game with the ESU team I realized how different college ball really is compared to high school,” Bassett said. “But that drove me to work hard and get up to their talent level. I’ve really learned the difference between going to the gym to shoot around as compared to going to the gym with a goal of improvement in mind and working on something until its right.”

Bassett also is a quality student. And that extends to the court. There really is no such thing as a weak opponent or weak player in college. Everyone was picked to go there for a reason. Unlike high school, a gifted athlete cannot take the court against someone and simply dominate because of a wide talent gap.

Bassett understands this. That is why she studies so much film and lifts all those weights. That is why she shoots all those shots when nobody else is watching and why she is in the best shape of her life. Whatever price it takes to excel, Bassett is paying it.

“Anyone can play and you have to work hard for all forty minutes of the game or else someone will expose you. The same goes for practices. All my teammates are great players which makes practices just as hard as a game because you can never take a possession off,” Bassett said. “In preseason, I was very nervous and didn’t think I was nearly good enough to be playing college basketball. But as I completed each timed condition run, learned the plays, and began understanding our defense I realized that if I could just do those little things and be a good teammate, then I’d be OK and maybe get some minutes.”

Instead of playing just some minutes, Bassett played all but one minute in that opener against New Haven. She immediately earned her coaches’ and teammates’ trust. There are no freshman dues to pay. If one can play, she immediately will play.

Bassett can play. She proves it every time she takes the court.

Still, each game presents a new challenge. Each day provides another proving ground. The work is never done. Bassett has started strong, but all she cares about now is becoming better.

Balancing academics and basketball, especially as a freshman, can be a daunting task. Bassett is embracing this challenge instead of running from it. There is no place she would rather be, no other thing she would rather be doing. Bassett has shown she belongs and the future looks mighty bright.

“As hard as some days may be, I must remind myself that this really is my dream and I’m thankful enough to be at ESU living it. I feel relaxed, I’m playing with more confidence than before,” Bassett said. “I’m nowhere near my basketball capabilities peak and have a lot of work to keep doing but I’m so happy to do it. This type of basketball is meant for me. This is what I’ve wanted for so long, but now that I’m here I can’t help but to think of where I could be in a few years, too.”

PUTBACKS: Lewisburg is putting on a defensive clinic each time it plays and delivered its best performance yet in Friday’s 37-23 win over Jersey Shore. The Green Dragons (4-1) held one of the area’s highest-scoring teams thus far to five first-half points in a showdown between 2017 Class AAAA state qualifiers. Lewisburg has won three straight, not letting an opponent score more than 25 points in any of those wins. No team has scored more than 35 against the Dragons who are surrendering just 27.6 points per game … South Williamsport (6-2) continues making big strides and captured the North Penn-Mansfield Tournament championship with blowout wins against Galeton and the host Tigers. South surrendered just 50 points in those games and sophomore Haley Neidig earned MVP honors. Jaela House and Megan Weber combined for 27 points against North Penn-Mansfield and South already has eclipsed last year’s win total … Galeton senior Makaya Shadle scored 20 points in a 52-25 win over Montgomery as the Tigers finished third at the NP-Mansfield Tournament. Shadle has topped 20 points in four of Galeton’s seven games.

Dr. Masse’s top five in girls basketball

1. Wellsboro (7-0): The Green Hornets were idle last week since snow postponed its scheduled Saturday game against Danville. Wellsboro is the only undefeated team remaining in District 4 Class AAA and is off to its best start this decade. Tory Self and Emma and Lizzie Poirier all are averaging more than 14 points per game and Rachael Tuttle is averaging more than 10 rebounds a game for a second straight season.

2. Loyalsock (6-2): Beating perennial power Marian Catholic, 49-45 last Friday was impressive enough. It was how Loyalsock did it that especially stood out. Loyalsock thumped rival Montoursville, 65-38 Thursday night but had little time to celebrate as it made a two-hour trip for a 1:30 game the next afternoon. The Lancers struggled early and were down nine at halftime, but dominated the second half and allowed just 16 points. It was a strong two-game performance in less than 24 hours. Maddie Fox scored a game-high 15 points against Marian Catholic and freshman Summer McNulty matched her season-high with 14 against Montoursville. Sarah Van Fleet is a threat inside and had 13 in the Marian win.

3. Hughesville (7-2): Make it five straight wins for the surging Spartans who seemed to have responded well to some early-season defensive struggles. Hughesville has gone back to its roots since then, holding four of its last five opponents to 30 points or fewer. The Spartans capped their week with a 39-30 win against Williamsport and feature a balanced offense to complement the swarming defense. All five starters have produced double-digit games and four starters are averaging at least eight points per game. Emily Akers scored 12 against Williamsport and Kendra Smith had 20 in two wins last week.

4. Sullivan County (6-0): The Griffins have won 17 straight Mid-Penn games going back to last year and have yet to let a team reach 40 points this season. Sullivan has several offensive weapons and can do damage inside, in transition and from the perimeter. Jessica King was outstanding in Friday’s 46-30 win at Neumann and has recorded consecutive double-doubles while producing 27 points, 35 rebounds, 12 blocks and 10 steals. Mykenzie Malacusky is one of the area’s premier guards and Alexis Randall and Stef Kramer can hurt teams inside or with their shooting.

5. Warrior Run (6-1): While they play in Class AAA, the Defenders have shown they could be quite a 4A district title contender as well. Warrior Run has recorded quality wins against 2017 4A state qualifiers Lewisburg and Mifflinburg while also beating six-win Shikellamy. The Defenders went 3-0 last week, capturing their Christmas Tournament championship by downing Juniata and Mifflinburg. No team has reached 40 points against Warrior Run which received 11 points each from Sydney Hoffman and Hayden Divers in two of last week’s three wins.

Players of the week

Jayden Leighow, Hughesville and Megan Zimmerman, Warrior Run: Leighow is a super competitor who always is hustling up and down the court. Her emergence last year was critical to Hughesville reaching the district final and she is playing some of her best basketball entering the new year. Leighow recorded double-doubles in both wins against Midd-West and Williamsport. The senior scored 26 points and grabbed 21 rebounds while helping ignite the team’s defense. Zimmerman has been one of the area’s premier post players throughout her scholastic career and the senior center is having her best season yet. Even with defenses gearing everything toward slowing her down, Zimmerman averaged 21 points in three wins last week while also pounding the boards. Zimmerman scored 24 points against Mifflinburg and outscored Neumann by herself Saturday, producing 22 points in a 43-21 win.

Game of the week

Hughesville at Loyalsock: Both teams reached last year’s Class AAA state tournament and both teams have strong groups back from those teams. That and both teams’ early-season success makes Saturday’s game especially intriguing. These rivals split last year’s series with the road team winning each time. Expect another hard-fought and fun game as Round 1 unfolds.