<
>

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough has third-seeded Terps ready for NCAA tournament

play
Wilson talks NCAA Tournament, playing without Coates (2:36)

Gamecocks' A'ja Wilson joins ESPN's Matt Schick to talk about the impact of playing without teammate Alaina Coates and how the team is prepping for the postseason. (2:36)

It's not that Shatori Walker-Kimbrough wasn't a promising prospect when she got to Maryland. But the thing is, she wasn't really sure of that.

Her coach, Brenda Frese, never had any doubts.

"She's hungry, and she wants to be great at as many things as she can be great at," Frese said. "You can be really direct with her, and she's always up for the challenge."

The Terps (30-2) are the No. 3 seed in the Bridgeport Regional and open NCAA tournament play Friday against No. 14 Bucknell in College Park, Maryland. Walker-Kimbrough is averaging 18.6 points per game, second on the team to fellow senior Brionna Jones (19.8).

And the 5-foot-11 Walker-Kimbrough has helped empower fellow starting guards Destiny Slocum and Kaila Charles, both freshmen who've played big roles for the Terps.

Walker-Kimbrough scored 27 points and Jones 24 in their final regular-season home game, a victory over Minnesota on Feb. 26, and both had their jersey numbers raised to the rafters, joining other Maryland greats. Then they helped lead Maryland to a third consecutive Big Ten tournament title.

But the way Walker-Kimbrough explains things, it's almost as if it were happenstance that she got noticed by the Terps at all. While a youngster in high school in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh, she was a standout in basketball, volleyball and track and field.

Then her AAU coach asked a favor: One of her teammates was going to Maryland's elite basketball camp, but didn't want to do so by herself. Would Shatori mind keeping her company?

"I was like, 'Well, I don't really want to, but ...,'" Walker-Kimbrough said, smiling at the memory. "But I did, and I said, 'As long as I'm here, I might as well show my stuff and play hard.' And Coach got interested."

Indeed, Frese -- who has seen her share of exceptional guards at Maryland -- could tell that Walker-Kimbrough had incredible potential. By the time she was a prep senior, she was the Gatorade girls' basketball player of the year for Pennsylvania -- while still excelling at volleyball and track, where she was a triple jumper.

Still, Walker-Kimbrough wasn't entirely certain she had what it took to play at Maryland. She thought maybe hometown Duquesne in Pittsburgh might be a better fit. More than once, she asked Frese, 'Coach, are you sure you want me?"

"She could have gone to [college] in any of her sports," Frese said. "But I think that's kind of a fun thing for us: We develop kids. To see Shatori's progression from her freshman year -- where she couldn't dribble and look up the floor -- to where she is now, it's all the hard work she's put in. She comes in early; she stays late."

Walker-Kimbrough came off the bench as a freshman and was the Terps' third-leading scorer in their 2013-14 Final Four season. She was a starter and one of the Terps' triple threat of guards in 2014-15, along with Laurin Mincy and Lexie Brown, as Maryland went back to the Final Four.

Then Mincy graduated and Brown transferred to Duke. Maryland was still the Big Ten champion and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament last year. But the postseason came to an abrupt end at home as the Terps were upset 74-65 by No. 7 seed Washington, which went on to the Final Four.

That loss still bugs Walker-Kimbrough, and to a degree it's something that can help fuel her in this NCAA tournament. But Maryland as a team isn't lacking for motivation. The Terps have felt underestimated the whole season by the NCAA selection committee, which projected the top-16 seeds three times.

Maryland was ninth, ninth and seventh in those reveals in January and February, so their No. 3 seed when the bracket came out Monday didn't come as a surprise. It irked Maryland fans in particular, though, that they were seeded behind former ACC rival Duke, which didn't win its conference regular-season or tournament titles.

And it could turn out that Walker-Kimbrough and the Terps face former teammate Brown and the Blue Devils in the Sweet 16. That would be interesting.

To get there, though, Maryland will need to defeat No. 14 seed Bucknell of the Patriot League, and then either No. 6 seed West Virginia or No. 11 Elon, the Colonial Athletic Association champ making its NCAA tournament debut.

West Virginia was 8-10 in Big 12 play, but then went on a major run in the conference tournament, beating the top three seeds -- Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma -- to win the championship.

Then, of course, No. 1 overall seed UConn is likely ultimately waiting in Bridgeport. The Huskies beat the Terps 87-81 in their Dec. 29 game in College Park, with Walker-Kimbough getting 10 points and 5 assists in that game. Maryland was one of just three teams this season to keep UConn within single digits.

The Terps will have their hands full just getting to the Elite Eight and a potential rematch with UConn. But Walker-Kimbrough has proven in her time at Maryland that she can rise to the occasion. She has turned herself into a viable WNBA draft prospect, especially with her quickness and 3-point shooting ability.

Frese laughs remembering Walker-Kimbrough's freshman year: Her footwork was off enough times when she was spotting up for 3-pointers, that she was called, "Long Two." Walker-Kimbrough fixed that. She has made 67 of 150 from 3-point range (44.7 percent) this season, and 181 of 395 (45.8 percent) for her career.

"I love kids that play more than one sport; I'm against them specializing too young," Frese said. "But we knew once Shatori was only going to play one sport, her work ethic and study of the game would help her progress really well in basketball.

"She spends a ton of time just getting better. She shows you, through such hard work, the kind of amazing numbers you can put up."