Anjale Barrett makes Terps better
Senior from Bronx, N.Y., has grown into selfless, consistent point guard
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Institutional memory is a familiar phrase in these parts, where a wrong turn on the way to see Maryland at the Comcast Center can land you at the gates of places like NASA's Goddard Space Flight Institute or the National Security Agency. People come and go, but what they absorb from those who preceded them and pass on to those who will follow shapes the permanence of the institution.
Maryland's starting point guard and the ACC co-leader in assist-to-turnover ratio, Anjale Barrett, packs a lot of institutional memory into a 5-foot-10 frame. Even by Beltway standards.
Five years is as close to an eternity in college basketball as it is in the D.C. area's other obsession. In the case of Maryland coach Brenda Frese, five years is half her tenure with the Terrapins, difficult as that is to believe about the relative newcomer who won a national title with a bunch of freshmen in 2006. But for Barrett, five years is just long enough to get her story started.
"It feels like it was just yesterday," Barrett said of her first days on campus.
It was, in fact, nearly two thousand days ago that Barrett arrived at Maryland. A highly touted point guard from the Bronx with a strong basketball background -- her older brother Andre played at Seton Hall and in the NBA, and her father still referees college and high school games -- she was the heir apparent to All-American Kristi Toliver in the Terrapins' backcourt.
Right from the start, Barrett had obstacles to navigate. She suffered a right knee injury late in her high school career, and an initial surgery shortly after her final game for St. Michael's Academy failed to get her back to full speed. A second surgery, this one performed not long before she was to begin summer work at Maryland, meant redshirting her first year. (To this day, Frese notes, Barrett doesn't have 100 percent flexion in the knee.) Ranked as high as No. 11 overall by some recruiting analysts, Barrett watched from the bench in street clothes during that 2007-08 season, and she watched in uniform for much of the next season, averaging just 16.7 minutes per game as a redshirt freshman.
The Terrapins of Toliver, Marissa Coleman, Laura Harper and Crystal Langhorne never made it back to the Final Four, but Barrett did at least get to observe two trips to the Elite Eight while struggling to find her place.
"I had great players to learn from," Barrett said of missing her first season entirely. "I had all those people to sit and watch and see what, exactly, college basketball is about. So being able to just be around the game, watching it from the bench and being able to make my basketball IQ better, I think that gave me an edge coming in. It was a blessing in disguise."
That's her perspective now, but it took some time for the disguise to be shed. Even after Toliver moved on to the WNBA, Barrett had to fight Dara Taylor for playmaking minutes and started just 11 games as a redshirt sophomore in 2009-10, a Maryland season that ended short of the NCAA tournament for the first time under Frese. It wasn't until last season that Barrett claimed the starting job for herself, leading the Terrapins back to the NCAA tournament.
"Early in her career, she was inconsistent," Frese said. "One day she'd be in a good mood, one day, not so much. She had mood swings. And they were difficult when she was young. But to be able to see that level of consistency this year, she makes it all go, and we feed off of her when she's in a confident, aggressive state.
"She's grown into this selfless, consistent point guard, where Anj is all about wanting to make the big assist and setting people up, that playmaker, peacemaker."
Barrett is not the same kind of point guard as Toliver. She isn't that kind of scorer, but she doesn't need to be with Alyssa Thomas and Laurin Mincy emerging as stars in their sophomore seasons. A recent loss at home against Miami was a reminder of what happens when the Terrapins get sloppy with the basketball, as 21 turnovers and numerous missed layups offset the size advantage they had inside against the Hurricanes. But the Terps, like their point guard, have generally counted efficiency as an asset. Much of that comes down to a star, Thomas, who isn't careless with the ball and passes extremely well for an attack-minded player. But not all of it is due to Thomas.
"Anj is our leader," Thomas said. "We look for her to get our offense running smoothly. She tells us where we need to be, and if we mess up, she's right there for us to bring us back up."
Second in the ACC in assists at 5.4 per game, Barrett makes an impression in the box score on at least that count, but even that doesn't always tell the full value of a point guard. It's a position that demands a lot of things, but at its core remains centered on one task. Thomas made Maryland better the instant she arrived, and Mincy did the same once fully healthy this season. It's the point guard's job to make them better.
"I know where they like to be successful at," Barrett said. "I know where Alyssa's strong and at her best, and I know where Lauren's at her best. Just being a point guard, being able to have that feel for your teammates, knowing where they're going to be at on the court, knowing where her sweet spot is, where I can get her the ball, to me, that's something really special we have here."
Barrett's potential successor is already in place. That's the way the timeline works in college sports. Like her elder counterpart, freshman Brene Moseley arrived at Maryland with a freshly repaired ACL, but the local product has been able to play in all 25 games this season and has emerged as a valuable rotation player. Barrett, far from giving her competition the cold shoulder, has taken the newcomer under her wing, even when that means taking her to task, as she did in a recent game against Clemson.
"I didn't get over a screen, and I had an excuse," Moseley said. "And she let me know, 'Don't make an excuse; get over the screen.' That's not something I want to hear, but I need to hear it. That's what great point guards do, that's what great leaders do. They tell you what needs to be said. They're trying to win and they're trying to make you the best you can possibly be. I think that's what makes Anj so great is that she wants to make me the best point guard I can be, so when she leaves here, I can continue what she's doing."
Before she leaves, Barrett is going to have a lot to say about whether the institution of Maryland basketball under Frese is well and truly back. It's a task for which she is certainly qualified.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Email him at Graham.Hays@espn.com.