Terps’ Charles charged with bigger role
Kaila Charles spent almost every day this summer in the gym with the Maryland women’s basketball coaching staff, and when the daily workouts didn’t satisfy her cravings the Terps junior 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 cycled through ballhandling drills designed for perimeter players, practiced drawing double teams not while driving in the paint but far from the basket, and she trained her mind to read defenses more quickly than before. It was a summer’s worth of fine-tuning skills that all but laid dormant last year, when Charles’ 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 instead of trying to score every possession,” Charles said.
As Maryland tips off what it hopes will be a resurgent season tonight against Coppin State, its alpha player has found herself occupying a new role.
Charles’ job last year was difficult and important but at the same time simple. She was the program’s leader and offensive engine, averaging a team-high17.9 points per game (four points more than the next-leading scorer), not by choice but by necessity. Maryland was inexperienced and thin on consistent shooters.
This season, the junior’s task is more nuanced. The Terps have offensive threats all over the floor and Frese is no longer asking Charles to drive the offense all by herself.
What she’s asking for is something that requires a bit more gradation and a bit more maturity on Charles’ part. Frese is asking the Terps’ best player to lead by giving up the ball more. “I spent a lot of time talking to her about, ‘Your scoring average is going to go down,’ ” Frese said Tuesday. “Her role for us this year has to change, and I spoke her to about Alyssa Thomas and how the best players out there make everyone better. She should be a stat-sheet stuffer when you talk about her ability to score and rebound 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 relatively down year in which it 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: size, 3-point shooting and experience at point guard.
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 arc in her last season at junior college. Sophomore Channise Lewis has a season’s worth of experience running point.
That means Charles has been shifted, literally, out to the perimeter more often, where Frese hopes to expose mismatches, take better advantage of the 6-1 guardforward’s versatility and put Charles in position to distribute the ball more if need be.
“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 complete overall player in terms of learning how to pass better, learning how to read the defense, when to take my shot, to know when I need to pass it or when I need to slow down the offense.”
Frese said that becoming a complete player has a lot to do with Charles’ contributions off the court as well. The coach, entering her 17th year at Maryland, expects Charles to take a step back from scoring without sacrificing her leadership duties on a team that, despite its added experience, still skews young. The Terps have three freshmen, a transfer student and just one senior, Brianna Fraser. Tonight, 7 TV: BTN Plus