Jan. 27, 2010
FAYETTEVILLE - When Eva Patterson-Heath was hired on July 6, Danielle Russell admits she was a little nervous.
Entering her senior season, Russell didn't want the usual growing pains that come with coaching changes.
Six months and 10 wins later those thoughts are distant and fading memories.
Russell, Fayetteville State's starting point guard, is averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, assists and free-throw percentage. Her 5.1 assists per game are the best in the CIAA and rank 21st in the country.
However, Russell's improvement isn't really about the numbers. It's the development of intangible qualities desired in a senior leader and the team's point guard that's been the biggest difference.
"I talk a lot more on the court," said Russell. "I'm kind of learning Coach P (Patterson-Heath) more and I'm being a lot more vocal this year."
Her coach echoes those sentiments.
"There's more conversation between the two of us within the game," Patterson-Heath said. "We need that because the point guard is the coach on the floor. They should always be in constant contact with the coach to make sure what needs to be done is being done."
Russell is at the controls one of the conference's top offenses. The Broncos (10-6, 6-4 CIAA) rank in the top three in the CIAA in assists per game, points per game, 3-point shooting and field goal percentage.
"You've got to have a point guard to be successful," said Patterson-Heath. "You have to have someone that has a high basketball IQ and that can break the other team's defense down. Without one like Danielle there's total chaos. She sets the tone offensively and defensively."
FSU's first-year head coach said that Russell's best attributes are her speed, quickness and explosiveness.
"Sometimes she'll get in the paint and what she thinks is going to develop doesn't," said Patterson-Heath. "She can see the play before it happens."
When Russell drives past defenders and into the lane, her presence draws the attention of the entire defense creating a myriad of opportunities for her teammates.
This season, they've taken full advantage of it.
Senior forward Tiffany Haywood, LaQuasha Jordan, Deja Middleton and Mercedes Humphries are all averaging career highs in points this season.
"The success of the team really depends on the point guard," Patterson-Heath said. "If you have a post player and you don't have a point guard to get the ball to them, what good is a post player?"
A business administration major, Russell will graduate next year and hopes to one day run her own business or play professional basketball overseas.
Still, she's got a bit of unfinished business to attend to before hanging up her No. 23 jersey for the final time.
"I can't wait until February and the CIAA tournament," said Russell. "I think we can win."