Practice was just about over, with one last task, a few sideline-to-sideline gassers.
Morgan Sullivan, a guard, sprinted well ahead of her teammates so quickly it looked like she might just run through one of the Schenectady YMCA walls and keep on going.
And, in a sense, she has.
The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake graduate completed her second season with the Schenectady Community College women’s basketball team on Saturday having averaged 24.0 points per game, including a Region 3-record 43-point tour de force in an 82-76 loss to Herkimer County Community College last Wednesday.
In two short years at SCCC, Sullivan has improved her game so much that she led the region in scoring and was third for all of NJCAA Division III.
Community college basketball at this level doesn’t always lead to bigger and better things, but Sullivan has taken full advantage of the opportunity and worked her way out of Schenectady and onto an NCAA Division II roster. She’ll play for The College of Saint Rose next season, a pretty substantial leap for a D-III juco player.
“I think I’ll be a good contributor to their team,” Sullivan said after practice at the Y last Thursday. “Not just, ‘Oh, I’m the star.’ More like I’m going to help other players get a basket, or another player is going to help me get a basket. It’s going to be more of a team than what I’ve dealt with.
“I’m excited to play with the team, to have other teammates that I can trust to have the ball, and they’re going to trust me.”
At both Burnt Hills and SCCC, Sullivan played on teams with barely a bench, and teams that weren’t cranking out wins on a regular basis.
In four years of varsity with the Spartans, her single-game high in scoring was 17 points as a senior.
When she got to SCCC, head coach Dayna Torino-Newton and assistant Zoe Naylor saw a player with a high ceiling for improvement, if she was willing to accept the extra work. She was, although she admits that being moved to point guard (after the starter no longer was on the team) was not her favorite way of achieving that.
In the end, having the ball in her hands last season helped her learn to see the floor better.
“I hated it,” Sullivan said with a laugh. “And they know that I hate playing point guard. That’s why I wanted the girl to stay, but it didn’t work out.
“I like to get open for the ball so that I can cut to the basket. It’s hard to set up a play for yourself [at point guard]. They taught me how to do all these other things. That makes players not know how to guard me. So that helped me.”
“She was forced to do something that was out of her comfort zone, ball-handling, looking at the floor, making decisions,” Torino-Newton said. “She didn’t make those decisions two years ago.”
Newton saw Sullivan play in the exceptional seniors game when she was finishing up at Burnt Hills and identified a player with plenty of untapped potential.
Once she got to SCCC, Sullivan was asked to fill out her game by working on her left hand, for example, and add a pull-up jumper on the fast break to her scoring repertoire, instead of simply continuing on to the rim all the time.
“I’m looking at this girl from Burnt Hills that nobody was paying attention to, and I’m watching her play and thinking, ‘God, there’s basic fundamentals there that I think can be improved upon and she could be really good’ ” Torino-Newton said. “I didn’t even think, when I saw her, that she would go D-II, and then she came here, and I saw how hard a player she is, so coach and I started pushing her.”
“Out of high school, I was not the player I am now,” Sullivan said. “I changed everything.”
SCCC’s opponents noticed.
Sullivan was such a prolific scorer this season that she routinely started seeing double-teams and gimmick defenses, like the box-and-one, during the second half of the season.
Nevertheless, she was still able to get her points, with an improved outside shot, terrific free-throw shooting (74 percent) and her bread-and-butter — drives to the rim. Sullivan said she hits the deck about five times a game because of teams trying to body her, but Torino-Newton doesn’t even bother checking on her because Sullivan bounces back off the floor before anyone can help her up.
She had 13 points at halftime against Herkimer last week, then nailed two three-pointers to start the second half, after which Herkimer tried to guard her more tightly. All that did was give her driving opportunities that led to baskets and fouls.
She scored 30 in the second half.
“Usually, by the end of the game, they’ll play a defense where it’s just on me,” she said. “I knew in the first half I had maybe 11, nothing crazy. And once the third quarter started, I hit two threes in a row, and then it just went from there. I had no idea. I thought I had 30. Then I sat down and they told me, and I was, like, shocked.”
“All 43 of her points were contested,” Torino-Newton said. “She was on the foul line a lot, too.
“Plus, she’s hard to be physical with because she never stops. She’s constantly driving, cutting, running. It’s very hard to get a piece of her.”
Schools like Saint Rose, which has been to the Division II NCAA tournament four times in the last nine seasons under head coach Karen Haag, usually fill their rosters with players they see in high school.
You don’t see a lot of four-year college coaches in the stands at community college games.
So Torino-Newton and Naylor had to make a sales pitch to get an opportunity for Sullivan.
Part of the pitch was sending a highlight video to the Saint Rose coaches.
“We definitely had to sell her, between my assistant coach and me, because they were really done recruiting for next year,” Torino-Newton said. “We knew how skilled she was and had that potential. We just needed someone to look at her.”
“I was interested in going there, so I met with admissions and wanted to see if the coach was there just so I could meet them, but they weren’t there,” Sullivan said. “Admissions emailed the coach, and then the coach emailed me. Then I brought them my tape and got to meet them.
“Then they decided to come to the Adirondack game and talked to my coach there and told me they liked me, and it went from there.”
What Saint Rose will get is a lightning-quick, indefatigable player who is tough to guard.
But perhaps most important, they’ll get someone who is hungry to be on a good team, as just one part of that team, and not a scoring machine who is required to carry a heavy burden on offense.
“It’s going to be hard to adjust, but it’ll help me,” Sullivan said. “I think going to Saint Rose will help me get better in everything, not just scoring.”
“Coming to Schenectady and to a community college, my coach and I, we fight for the girls all the time,” Torino-Newton said. “And if we see somebody with the potential like Morgan, we told her what she needed to do, and she did it.
“We’ve had a lot of players who we told what they needed to do, and they haven’t done it. It just goes to show that if you fight that hard and get yourself noticed and prove yourself, you can do it.”
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