Not long after her Kansas University women’s basketball team returned from winter break, coach Bonnie Henrickson decided it was probably a good time to have a talk with forward Aishah Sutherland.
Sensing her only active freshman was a little down about her limited workload, Henrickson took Sutherland aside and tried to help her understand something.
“I had a little heart-to-heart with her after we came back from break, and the position coaches had the same thing,” said Henrickson, whose team will take on Fairfield at 7 tonight at Allen Fieldhouse. “(We’re) trying to help her realize that just because you haven’t played much doesn’t mean that you won’t play.”
The talk seemed to help ease Sutherland’s concerns, and it wasn’t long before the coach made good on her promise that a more consistent practice performance likely would result in more floor time.
After playing just 32 total minutes in the Jayhawks’ first 12 games combined, Sutherland saw a significant increase in minutes during the Jayhawks 91-49 victory over New Mexico on Sunday.
In a career-high 16 minutes of work, the freshman from Perris, Calif., scored six points, grabbed four rebounds and finished with two assists for the Jayhawks, who improved to 10-2.
“I got pretty nervous when they first called my name,” said Sutherland, who entered the game with 16:10 remaining in the first half. “But once you get into the game and into the rhythm, it just flows. I’ve been playing so long it just comes to you.”
While consistency — particularly in practice — is still an area for improvement, and while Henrickson says Sutherland’s workload will depend largely on her ability to rebound on both ends of the floor and limit her defensive mistakes, teammates are convinced the youngster is moving in the right direction.
“I think she’s really embraced it,” said junior guard/forward Danielle McCray, who’s leading the Jayhawks with 19.2 points per game. “She’s really embraced the fact that you have to work hard in practice, you have to work hard in games. It’s not high school, where you can just play however and run around and just block shots.”
Considered one of the Jayhawks’ most athletically gifted players — Henrickson was surprised when Sutherland attempted (and nearly completed) a dunk during a high school game with Henrickson in the stands — Sutherland hopes her recent bump in minutes continues, especially as the Jayhawks prepare to enter the Big 12 portion of their schedule.
What’s more, with three years left in the program, and with heralded freshman Angel Goodrich set to return next year after missing the 2008-09 season because of a knee injury, Henrickson could find herself with a formidable duo.
“Aishah’s very, very talented,” Henrickson said. “She’s been talented since we got her. The question now is, can she evolve into a Big 12 type of player and play with the consistency it takes to do that?”