Thursday, 15 Nov 2018
Sport

Maryland women's basketball still runs through Kaila Charles, even if her role as shifted.


Kaila Charles averaged a team-high 17.9 points last season goal Coach Brenda Frese said, "I spend a lot of time talking to her about, 'Your score is going to go down,'" this offseason. (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

Kaila Charles spent a lot of time in the gym with the Maryland women's basketball coaching staff, and when the daily workouts did not satisfy her cravings the Junior Terrapins started scheduling two extra sessions a week with the personal trainer she's had since high school.

To be sure, Charles had a lot to learn. She has been trained to play ball games for the first time, and she has been training in the field of training. It was a summer of late last year, when Charles's role for the Terps was neatly defined: Get to the basket and score.

"Now, I have to learn how to get my teammates open and make my teammates better," Charles said.

As Maryland kicks off what he hopes will be a resurgent season Friday Against Coppin State, its alpha player has found itself occupying a new role.

Charles's job last year was difficult and important but at the same time simple. She was the program leader and offensive engine, averaging a team-high 17.9 points per game, not by choice but by necessity. Maryland was inexperienced and thin on consistent shooters.

This season, junior's task is more nuanced. The Terps have been attacked by Charles.

What she's asking for is something that requires a bit more gradation and a bit more maturity on Charles's part. Frese is asking for the Terps' best player to lead by giving up the ball more.

"You're going to talk about it," "Your scoring is going to go down," Frese said Tuesday. "Her role for us this year has changed, and I spoke to Alyssa Thomas and how best to make everyone better. She should be a stat-sheet stuffer when you talk about her ability to score and get steals and assists – we really just talked about rounding out her game to make the right play. She gets it. She's a winner, she wants to win. "

Maryland, ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press preseason poll, is coming off a lot when it's finished 26-8, its worst mark since the 2012-13 season, and was knocked out in the second round of the NCAA tournament . The Terps shored up last season's weaknesses by adding three critical elements to their lineup.

The Terps two freshmen forwards, Shakira Austin and Olivia Owens, measure 6-foot-5 and 6-4. Guard Taylor Mikesell won the nationally contested American Family Insurance three-point championship in spring and Sara Vujacic shot 45 percent from beyond the junior college. Sophomore Channise Lewis has a season of excellence.

That means Charles has been shifted, literally, out to the perimeter more often, where the expectations of the future are greater than that of the future.

"We have so many more pieces offensively and defensively, so it's knowing that team success is more important than scoring so-and-so points," Charles said. " . . It's going to help me become a more comprehensive player in terms of learning how to get better, learning how to read the defense, when to take my shot, to know when I need to get away from it. "

Frese said that becoming a complete player has a lot to do with Charles's contributions. The coach, entering her 17th year at Maryland, exposes her to the role of a leader in the management of her life, despite her experience, still skews young.

The Terps' roster three freshmen, a student transfer and just one senior, Brianna Fraser. Frese is depending on the year, and more importantly, set the tone ahead of every game with her energy level.

Charles's job is changing for the Terps. But in their preseason individual meeting Tuesday, Frese made it clear that the junior is still Maryland's go-to player.

"We go as she goes. … She's our voice on the court, she wants the responsibility, "Frese said. "We spoke after our first exhibition game, and we were not high. But the thing I love about her responsibility, and she got that leadership role at a young age when you talk about her sophomore year. She's here in the past year, but these last two years, in my opinion, it's her team just with the responsibility we put on her shoulders. "

Charles did not blink when it was explained to the team. She was a senior in high school at nearby Riverdale Baptist the last time the Terps went to the Final Four, and her second-to-last year in college. Charles is eager to do whatever Frese and team needs.

"Last year we did have a young team, but I feel like we worked hard and made the best of our situation. This year, we've learned from our mistakes, we really do not lose that many people, and we're just ready to work, "said Charles. "… If we just keep building, keep working to build our chemistry, then we can get back to that standard Maryland."

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