Giving the gift of inside presence

Basketball: Arundel junior Najmah Fauntleroy has taken her game to new levels this season, averaging 17 points and 14.3 rebounds for the No. 3 Wildcats, who are 9-1.

January 14, 2000|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

When Arundel's Najmah Fauntleroy leaves the floor the first time -- to grab a rebound or block a shot in basketball, or stuff a volleyball -- it's impressive enough.

But it's how fast the 6-foot junior can get back up a second time, return to the air when necessary, that's really impressive.

"Najmah's very active inside and because she's so quick off the floor, she can get a piece of a shot or make people change their shot. That also makes it hard for teams to keep her off the glass," Arundel coach Lee Rogers said.

Fauntleroy, who plays forward and center, enjoyed a breakthrough season last winter as a sophomore, recording double doubles in points and rebounding in nine of the last 10 games to earn first-team All-County honors. This season, she has taken her game to an even higher level, averaging 17 points and 14.3 rebounds to help get the No. 3 Wildcats off to a 9-1 start.

"Coach Rogers has us working hard in practice because we all want to get to that next level," Fauntleroy said. "I'm a team player and don't worry about the individual stuff. If I have a good game and we lose, I don't take credit for anything because basketball is a team game. And if I'm having a bad game, I can say `Help me,' and they do. The whole team steps up for one another and that's what makes us successful."

The Wildcats called on Fauntleroy for help when they trailed by two in overtime against county-rival Meade in the third-place game of the Holiday Hoops Invitational last month. And she was there -- a couple of feet past the three-point line -- to provide a 59-58 win.

"It was an out-of-bounds play where I passed it in and got it back. I shot it, and it went in. That was the first time I did anything like that. It felt really good knowing the coach had confidence in me."

The three-point shot is just one added dimension to Fauntleroy's ever-expanding offensive game. The soft turnaround is a favorite, but Fauntleroy understands she can't rely on that alone.

"One of the things I'm working hard on in practice is some new moves, but I can't tell you what they are. Nope, no hints," she says semi-jokingly. "The turnaround jumper is still going in, but it's getting old because defenders know it's coming. I'm trying to take whatever comes and that depends on how defenders play me."

Fauntleroy helps give Rogers plenty of options. He can count on her to play the middle when the Wildcats go with a small lineup or he can bring her out on the wing, where she'll likely play in college, when they play big.

"The more she plays, the more comfortable she's become," Rogers said. "We are trying to improve her decision-making with the ball to get her ready for the next level. We're challenging her to do new things, and I'm tough on her because I expect so much from her. She's responded very well."

When volleyball coach Greg LeGrand went looking in the hallways for some new talent, Fauntleroy was already in his mind. In her first season playing the sport this fall, she set a school record with 249 kills and added more than 100 blocks. The Wildcats finished the season with a 13-5 mark and Fauntleroy made first-team All-County honors in a second sport.

"As soon as she walked onto the floor the first time in practice, she was the best player we had. And we had some real good players this season," said LeGrand, also an assistant to Rogers in basketball. "What separates her from a lot of the others is how quick she is off the floor. And she's so quick getting up a second time to put balls down. Another big thing is how great her timing is. We tried to keep the technical part [of volleyball] simple and once she learned how to do the things we asked, she was a dominant hitter and blocker."

Said Fauntleroy: "Timing was the most challenging thing, when you had to hit and block. It's helped me get a lot better with my timing on blocks [in basketball] and also has improved my footwork."

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