Priceless Point Guard

Summerville’s willingness to adjust to new role helps Titans climb

by Chris Hunt

Hopewell girls basketball player Karoline Summerville will be vital as the Titans make a push for their first state championship in the sport.

Some people think statistics never lie. Those people probably haven’t met senior Karoline Summerville or understand the impact she’s made on the Hopewell girls basketball team without filling up the Titans’ scorebook.

The Titans’ starting point guard doesn’t grab a lot of attention. She’s never scored in double figures like her all-conference, and more heralded teammates Hannah Early, Sharee’ Boyd and Hunter Meakin. Standing just 5 foot 3 with a meager scoring average of 2.6 points per game, Summerville probably is one of the last players opposing defenses worry about during pre-game strategy sessions.

But if you ask Hopewell coach Gary Richmond, Summerville is just as important as her more recognized teammates. She’s one of the biggest reasons Hopewell has won at least a share of the past two I-MECK 4A conference regular-season championships.

“Karoline is just as important as Hannah, Hunter or Sharee’,” said Richmond. “Those three get the bulk of the attention – and rightfully so – but Karoline allows them to do what they do.”

Summerville is a facilitator. She’s the burning coal for the Titans’ hard-charging locomotive that has won more than 20 games in each of the past two seasons. Her impact often goes unnoticed, but without her, sharpshooter Meakin’s opportunities to sink a game-changing 3-pointer would be limited. And when the Titans’ top two scorers, Early and Boyd, finish a possession with a basket, it’s probably because Summerville maneuvered past the aggressive defenses in the I-MECK 4A to set up the play.

Needless to say, Summerville’s efforts won’t fill up the box score – she’s only connected on one 3-pointer in five attempts this season. Then again, Summerville has her eyes on more important accomplishments than statistics.

“As long as we get a win, I’m happy,” said Summerville. “If my teammates fulfill their goals, I know I helped them achieve them. As long as they walk off the court happy; I’m happy.”

And Summerville has plenty to smile about in her senior season. The Titans completed the regular season with a 22-3 mark, and after finishing in a three-way tie last year with I-MECK rivals Mallard Creek and Lake Norman, their 13-1 league mark won the title outright this year. It was the first time the Titans had done so under Richmond, and that was Summerville’s top priority before graduation this summer.

“Winning the conference championship was my main goal for my senior season – even over academics,” said Summerville, an honor student who takes Advanced Placement courses and sports a 4.33 GPA. “It was all I could think about this year.”

Long ago, Summerville had a different perspective. As a freshman, all she could think about was putting the ball in the basket. During the 2007-08 season, Summerville was the leading scorer on Hopewell’s junior varsity team. Back then, she used her blazing speed to find openings in the defense for a slashing lay up or even her pull-up jumper.

Summerville would soon learn, however, that scoring wasn’t what Richmond was looking for from his floor general.

“All kids think they can impress a coach by scoring,” said Richmond. “I don’t like scoring point guards who think shoot and not pass. I am not a fan of (former NBA star) Allen Iverson, who passes only when he can’t shoot. I hate it when a point guard comes down and jacks up the first shot and didn’t set up the offense. There could have been a chance for an easier shot.”

Throughout the years, Richmond had ­always relied on an established point guard. At Vance, where he coached the Cougars to the 2002-03 state championship game before taking the Hopewell job four years ago, Richmond turned over his offense to skilled point guards Shantia Washington – an eventual three-year starter at Davidson College – and then Monique Dawson – who became a three-year starter at Western Carolina. But at Hopewell, Richmond suffered through two frustrating seasons because he didn’t have a true point guard.

In Richmond’s first two seasons at Hopewell, Summerville certainly didn’t fit the bill of his kind of floor general.

“Back then, Karoline created for Karoline,” said Richmond, who had a record of 26-25 in his first two seasons with the Titans. “When she moved up to varsity, she still had that mentality.”

After her freshman season on the junior varsity squad, Summerville struggled to change her game to earn minutes under Richmond. She had to change her shot-a-holic tendencies to become a distributor. That was quite a request of a young player still trying to find her way in her first varsity season, and it took some time to see the light.

It didn’t help that she wasn’t getting much playing time as a sophomore.

In Summerville’s first season of varsity action, she was forced to split minutes at point guard with Meakin, former Titan T’Shea Glenn and even Early – who at the time was a 5-foot-7 forward/guard. All but the inexperienced Summerville were in their second season at the varsity level. Each player offered one of the skills Richmond was looking for in a point guard, but neither was the total package.

Changing her game

Prior to Summerville’s junior year, Glenn transferred and Early sprouted into a 6-foot-1 power forward. It also became obvious that Meakin was much more valuable to the team as a shooting guard who stretched defenses instead of bringing the ball up the court.

That left Summerville as the only player left to run the point.

Richmond’s hand was forced. He knew that for his team to be successful, Summerville would have to blossom into the point guard he needed to run his offense. With that in mind, Richmond called Summerville into his office before the season. There, he presented her with a challenge.

“I wasn’t happy coaching the first two seasons without a quarterback for the team,” said Richmond. “Before her junior year, I told Karoline, ‘This is what I need from the point guard position.’ It was her job to lose.”

Summerville left the office with a new sense of purpose. Richmond defined her role on the team and she would accept his challenge. That afternoon, she became the starting point guard, a role she holds to this day.

“When I came out of that conversation, I was proud he chose me,” said Summerville. “I felt it was my responsibility to take care of the team. It was a challenge and I wanted to step up and take it.”

To help Summerville understand her new role, Richmond set restrictions for her in games, such as preventing her from crossing the free-throw line with the ball in a halfcourt set. At first, Summerville struggled with the concept. Richmond’s parameters were as confusing as the chores Mr. Miyagi required of his young pupil, Daniel, in the movie “The Karate Kid.” But just like that 1980s classic, there was a purpose behind Richmond’s unorthodox demands. Whether Summerville knew it or not, Richmond was teaching her how to play point guard – his way.

“It was difficult mentally,” said Summerville. “At first, I couldn’t go below the free throw line. I couldn’t understand why, but he made me understand it was necessary for the team.

“I drove to the basket a lot when I was playing junior varsity. Now, I don’t attack the basket as much. I set up the offense. I was needed to score as a freshman, but with all the talent we have on this team, it would be foolish not to (set my teammates up).”

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing the past two seasons. Even though she’s entrenched as a starter, there are still times when Summerville gets nervous, especially before a big game. After all, the weight of her team rests on her ability to get the offense on track.

Summerville admits she enjoys practice more than games because she doesn’t feel the pressure of perfection. In practice, she’s free to follow her instincts without fear of a game-changing turnover. In a game, there’s more on the line.

From the sidelines, Richmond can see the pressure his point guard puts on herself. He’ll take the nerves, knowing it’s a side effect of her desire to win. These days, even Richmond is a little more accepting of a turnover or two.

“Karoline gets one freebie (turnover) in the first quarter of each game,” said Richmond. “When she turns it over early, she’ll look at me and touch her chest like it was nerves that caused the mistake. After that, I know she’s good and we got it out of the way.”

Richmond can be a little more tolerant of mistakes because he demands so much from his senior point guard.

“We had to make her make it because we had no choice,” said Richmond. “Last year, she had to play 31 of the 32 minutes a game because we didn’t have anyone else. We told her to do all this stuff without getting hurt or getting into foul trouble. She had nine turnovers in the first game of the season, but since then, has had one or two turnovers a game.

“I can live with that.”

And so can the Titans.

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