Mikayla Venson didn’t originally commit to play basketball at Georgetown. And when she did, she didn’t sign up to play under now-head coach James Howard. But in her fifth year of eligibility and back at her natural position of point guard, she is poised to bring her team into the upper echelons of the Big East and make a run at the NCAA Tournament.
The Arlington, Virginia native graduated from Yorktown High School as a five-star recruit. Though she only played on her high school team her freshman year, Venson played AAU ball and was nationally ranked 33rd overall and seventh at her position in her class by ESPN. For her first two years of college, she went to the University of Virginia, where she excelled on the court. In her freshman year, she made the All-ACC Freshman team and went on to score 15.1 points per game as a sophomore, leading the Cavaliers. Venson established herself as an elite shooter, setting a new program record for 3-pointers made in a season her sophomore year. She finished with 70 that season.
Despite her enormous success at Virginia, Venson was not satisfied. In a 2016 interview with the Daily Progress, Mikayla’s mother Pia Venson said that a change of scenery made the most sense for Mikayla’s basketball goals. At the end of the 2015-16 regular season, before that year’s Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT), she announced that she intended to transfer elsewhere.
Venson chose Georgetown, committing to play for former head coach Natasha Adair. Due to NCAA transfer rules, however, Venson watched from the bench in what turned out to be Adair’s final season, a year in which the Hoyas earned a spot in both the Big East quarterfinals and WNIT first round, but were unable to win a postseason game.
When Venson finally donned the blue and gray in 2017 under Howard, she made an immediate impact. As a team captain, she averaged 13.8 points and 2.8 assists per game, finishing second and third on the team, respectively. Venson was also the Hoyas’ most effective threat from deep, recording a team-leading 36.8 percent 3-point percentage and sinking 51 3-pointers. Her efforts were integral to Georgetown’s wins in both the Big East Tournament and the WNIT.
Although Venson spent substantial time at point guard with the Cavaliers, DiDi Burton (COL ’18) was the primary point guard and ball handler last season, while Venson mostly played off the ball in her first year at Georgetown. Following Burton’s graduation, Venson is expected to to return to her old position and take over as the Hoyas’ floor general.
Venson will be tasked with spacing the floor and setting her teammates up to score. Last year, Burton led the team in this regard with 4.1 assists per game, but Venson was not far behind with 2.8 per game. Though her position is different from last year, she will have a familiar face alongside her in senior guard Dionna White. Venson and White are the only returning starters from last year, and their chemistry and experience playing together in the backcourt will help the offense run smoothly. Howard expects the transition to be easy for Venson and the team.
“Mikayla has been a point guard all her life. Now [she’s] just taking the time of getting her feet back wet, being able to communicate with her teammates, get everybody in sets and knowing what sets the run for her scorers,” Howard said. “I saw it last game. We scrimmaged Coppin [State] and I saw where she was looking [to] pass and getting her teammates involved more so than herself, and that’s what a good, solid point guard does.”
However, switching to point guard on offense could bring challenges defensively. Last year in the two-three spot, she mostly played defense against players who were bigger, but slower, than her. But this year, her opponents will be fast and agile, a challenge that Howard thinks she’s ready for.
“There are going to be times where you’re going to have quick point guards, but she’s so crafty, she plays angles very well, so I don’t think that’s going to be a big problem for her because she’s a smart IQ player,” Howard said. “I think she’ll be fine.”
Venson’s new role on the court also presents an opportunity to take initiative as a team leader. A graduate student, she has been through the ups and downs of four years of college basketball. She has seen the Big East, the ACC, and the WNIT. With all of this experience, Venson has become more vocal on the court, which has been a large part of her maturation as a college ball player.
“For me, freshman and sophomore year I was a point guard, but I wasn’t truly the leader on the team,” Venson said. “I have to step outside the box and step outside of my comfort zone because I’m not the biggest talker, but I have to learn how to lead and fire my team up whenever possible.”
With six incoming freshmen and a host of inexperienced sophomores, Venson has stepped up as a leader by being a role model and mentor for younger players.
“Honestly, I try to take everybody under my wing,” she said. “I’m huge on bringing people in and making them feel like we’re a family at the end of the day, so whether they need me on or off the court I’m always there to talk.”
It has been a long road for Venson. She is at her second school, in her fifth year of eligibility, neither of which is the norm for a college player. Now she is stepping into her greatest challenge yet—taking on more responsibilities, both on the court as the point guard and off the court as a mentor, on a team with a chance to make a real postseason run.
Venson’s pairing with White in the backcourt, along with the return of graduate student guard Dorothy Adomako, who missed Venson’s first Georgetown season due to injury, gives the Hoyas the talent and depth they need to contend for a Big East championship and make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012. Venson will play a key role as the starting point guard and a veteran player for the Hoyas. Despite their lofty goals, Venson isn’t letting her team get ahead of themselves.
“I think we are really valuing just every single game and knowing that we can’t sleep on any team, no matter what.”