Strickland chooses a waiting game

Guard values learning over starting at UM


February 07, 2007|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Reporter

Marah Strickland could have settled for an easier route.

Instead of signing with Maryland's defending national champion women's basketball team, the Towson Catholic senior could have chosen to play somewhere else.

Plenty of other top-notch programs recruited the smooth 6-foot guard, last season's All-Metro Player of the Year and a Street & Smith's preseason second-team All-American. On some of those teams, she could have stepped right into the starting lineup, their superstar apparent.

Instead, Strickland chose the road most challenging, opting to join an already loaded Terrapins roster.

"It was about what I could learn going there, playing with such great players," she said. "Not so much about how much time I would get, but when I did get time, it would be quality time with great athletes, All-Americans. Then, develop and as the years pass, get more time, step up and have that leader role."

As the youngest of three athletic siblings, Strickland is used to waiting her turn.

She didn't get to play organized basketball until she was 11 years old.

Until then, Joanna and Marshall Strickland Jr. were too busy ushering their older two children - Marche, now 26, and Marshall III, 23 - around to basketball and soccer games.

"We didn't have time," said Joanna Strickland. "It was a little sad, because we had to make her wait and she always wanted to go to camps and do everything so young. I guess there's a danger in that when you push them back, you don't know if they're going to lose interest or even develop."

The Stricklands needn't have worried.

At this point in her career, their baby girl is surpassing her siblings - Marche, who played at Maryland and was drafted by the WNBA, and Marshall, an All-Metro guard at South Carroll who went on to play at Indiana and now plays professionally in Turkey.

After her final game for Towson Catholic in next week's Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland tournament, she will play in the Women's Basketball Coaches Association High School All-America Game March 31 at the NCAA Final Four in Cleveland.

She is also one of 50 finalists for the McDonald's High School All-American Game on March 28 in Louisville. Tonight, she almost certainly will score her 2,000th career point when the No. 2 Owls play at No. 3 Seton Keough at 6 o'clock.

Averaging 21.3 points a game, Strickland has 1,998 career points.

Following her siblings

"She has a great passion for the game," said Owls coach Matt Fisher. "And she's really, really humble. A lot of times I tell her things she does really well, and she just takes it in stride. She's not looking for adulation and people to tell her how good she is. I try to teach her how to have that swagger, but she just goes about her business."

Getting into the game later than most of her peers probably helped her in the long run, said Strickland, who spent a lot of time watching her siblings play ball.

"I think it might have made me more hungry," she said. "Watching my sister and my brother, I already had so much energy toward it, watching how into it and determined they were. Getting to see [Marche] right when she went into college and thinking one day I could do that, that was great."

From the time she was 4 or 5, she wanted to play, always striving to outdo her siblings.

When their father put the older children through their paces, she worked out right alongside them.

"No matter what they did," Joanna Strickland said, "if they would be dribbling, Marah would always be, `Look, Dad. I can do it.' If they did five, `I can do 20. I can do 30.' She always wanted to do more than they did. If they would do calf raises, `I can do 50.' The other kids would be like, `She's such a showoff.'"

As they got older, Marah jumped into basketball games at the backyard hoop with 5-foot-9 Marche and 6-foot-2 Marshall III.

Some of those games weren't pretty.

"I had to pad that pole. I mean, they would jam each other into the pole. We [the parents] would go out there and it would be `Game over,'" said Marshall Strickland.

Strickland excelled early.

At 8, when the family still lived in Massachusetts, she won a shooting contest at a Boston Celtics practice at the old Boston Garden and was featured on television.

By 11, she knew she wanted to play in the WNBA.

Those fierce backyard games helped improve her skills.

"Just picking up their skills, of course," she said, "and giving me that extra competitive edge."

Not that she needed much help with her competitive streak. Today, it comes over so strongly on the court that opponents who don't know her mistake her unrelenting on-court persona for her personality.

"Marah shows a lot of emotion on the court," said Owls teammate Candice Walker, "but she is sweetest girl you could ever meet. She is not at all like she is on court."

Fisher said Strickland outworks everyone in practice. That work ethic, her athleticism and an ability to focus make her one of the best high school players in the nation.

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