Brunson leads Georgetown into the future

By the

February 8, 2001

The walk from the Sports Information Office to the floor of McDonough Arena is a long one, but one that is even longer when you’re not sure what’s awaiting you on the other end. The stories are there. You know she raced the length of the court in a game during her senior year at Oxen Hill to score the winning basket, then swiped the inbounds pass to seal the victory. You know she’s recorded more rebounds in a single game than anyone in five years at Georgetown. You know she’s finally given Head Coach Patrick Knapp a second reliable scoring option to All-America candidate Katie Smrcka-Duffy.

Her presence on the court is undeniable, and you know this. And as you wind around by the trainer’s room, passing sweaty lacrosse players and iced-down swimmers, you wonder what she is like.

Then the doors are pushed open, and there is Rebekkah Brunson, the 6’ 3” freshman on the Hoyas’ Women’s Basketball team. She leans against the basket, focusing in on every word that Knapp says as he bounds around in sweatpants, showing his girls some of Villanova’s plays. Other players sip water and mill around. Brunson, however, stays focused.

When Knapp calls her into the practice, she moves at game speed. This is unreal. Game speed movement six hours before a tipoff? You scribble notes furiously.

Then Knapp calls an end to the practice, and the team breaks it down center court simply on the word “Team.” A huge game awaits: nationally ranked Villanova, one of the highest RPI-ranked teams that the Hoyas face down the stretch. A win would raise the stock of Knapp’s 13-8 (5-5 Big East) program immensely. As the other players loosen up by humming verses of “Rump Shaker,” Brunson turns and faces you. She begins walking over, her presence looming large.

Then she extends her hand, drops a simple “Yo, ‘sup” and gives you the pound. She plops down in a chair and begins nibbling on her jersey, occasionally shooting glances down at the floor or yelling encouragement to passing teammates on their way into the locker room.

It’s then you realize something. She’s just another girl. Another girl, but a demon on the court.

Brunson had been playing competitive basketball since 7th grade, with a 9th grade stopover in the volleyball domain, which greatly improved her timing. She played her high school ball at Oxon Hill in Maryland, the same origins as another Georgetown freshman basketball sensation, Michael Sweetney on the men’s team.

“Oxon Hill was in a tough league,” said Brunson. “But really, I don’t think the transition for me to Big East basketball has been that hard. The toughest thing about freshman year has been the academic transition.”

Brunson has been influenced by many over the course of her career. There was her mother on a personal level. On the courts, it was Therman Watson and Deborah Watson, her AAU and Oxon Hill coaches, respectively.

“My mother has taught me so much personally and influenced me in so many ways,” said Brunson. “Watson and Anderson taught me everything I know about the game of basketball.”

That amount of hardwood knowledge far surpasses most players her age. Despite playing center at Oxon Hill, Brunson was shifted to the small forward/power forward role in college. For someone who had previously never been expected to provide points from the wing, her outside shot is quite adept.

“It’s still something I could use improvement on,” said Brunson of her outside game.

Knapp doesn’t even want her on the wing, though, as Brunson is leading the Big East conference in rebounding, the basis of her greatest pride. When asked to name her best game of her season, a teammate walks by and screams “28,” referring to her career high 28 points against Pitt on the road. She shrugs that off playfully.

“Nah, 17,” she says, referring to 17 rebounds at home against Providence. “There’s no real secret to my rebounding. You just need to go after the ball. Before each game, I tell myself that I’m the best player on the floor. No one can run faster, no one can shoot better, no one can jump higher. Then you just go out and play the game believing that.”

It strikes you funny at this moment, how this girl can be the essence of supreme confidence on the court, yet be sitting here, looking down, using slang left and right, chewing and folding over her practice jersey.

“Sometimes I get unfocused,” admits Brunson. “I think that’s the biggest thing Coach Knapp has helped me with. He has been influential in helping me keep my focus. I get extremely hard on myself for every flaw on the court.”

She’s a perfectionist. She doesn’t have much higher to shoot, however, because as far as Big East rookies go, she’s near perfect. A five-time selection as Big East Freshman of the Week, she has led the Hoyas in scoring and rebounding four of the past five games and is fourth in the league in field goal percentage.

Then she bounds off, dancing with some of the guards, and McDonough is empty. You stand there, thinking back on everything you just saw.

You know that challenges await for the laidback frosh, who often ends answers with “Ya know what I’m saying?” There’s 15-5 Florida International, nationally-ranked Rutgers and of course, the top team in the nation, Notre Dame.

“I would say more than anything else right now, I’m looking forward to that Notre Dame game,” said Brunson, who will likely be matched up with All-American Ruth Riley in South Bend. “They are number one and we need to show them something.”

That should be no problem for Brunson. She’s been showing people something for her whole life.

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