Working On Her Lead
Dec. 20, 2007
by Jeff Smith
Marscilla Packer knows a little something about senior leadership. After a successful stint as a senior leader in high school in Pickerington, Ohio, a community just 15 minutes southwest of Columbus, Packer has been provided a chance to play a similar role as a member of the Ohio State women's basketball team.
As a highly-touted in-state recruit, Packer was a 2004 McDonald's All-American, having scored more than 2,000 career points in high school, while averaging 22.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as a senior. Despite the fact that the proximity of Ohio State to her hometown was a bonus, Packer says it was not a factor in her decision to come play for the Buckeyes. She just simply wanted to win, and help make OSU one of the elite women's basketball programs in the country.
However, her impact on the team would not be immediate. Packer became a role player on the team and although being used in 31 of the Buckeyes' 35 contests in 2004-05, the freshman averaged only 8.8 minutes per game and 2.7 points per outing. She did not earn her first career start until a road game at Illinois on Jan. 30.
But Packer played sparingly behind All-Conference guards Caity Matter and Brandie Hoskins. A major cog in the Buckeyes' offensive wheel was center Jessica Davenport, who eventually ended her career as the Big Ten's first three-time Player of the Year. As a team, OSU celebrated the program's 40th season that year by capturing a share of the conference championship and advancing to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 for the first time since 1993.
Matter was considered the Buckeyes' deep-threat having led the Big Ten in individual three-point shooting with a percentage of .445, while helping OSU to the conference's top-team mark from beyond the arc.
Following the season, Matter graduated from the OSU program, which left a need for a perimeter shooter. With both Hoskins and Davenport returning, this three-point void was to be filled by Packer.
And was it ever.
Packer finished her sophomore campaign in Columbus as the top three-point shooter in Big Ten, making 79 of her 171 attempts for a .462 percentage that shattered that of Matter's from a year ago. In fact, her long-distance percentage ranked second all-time in conference history for a single season. She was honored as a third-team All-Conference selection by both the coaches and the media and upped her career three-point percentage to .427 (99-232), which at the time ranked first in school history.
When asked what makes the three-point shot so appealing to her, Packer replied with a relatively simple response.
"It's worth the most points," she said. "I've always been a shooter, so I figure, `Why not go big?'"
Playing alongside Hoskins and Davenport presented many open looks for Packer. Hoskins was known to drive hard to the basket, which either resulted in her going to the line or the ball being dished out to the wing where a wide-open Packer awaited. When Davenport was fed the ball in the post, she would almost always draw double- and triple-team coverage from the defense, which also left Packer without a defender.
In the 2006 Big Ten Tournament final, Packer emerged as the Buckeyes' star when she scored eight of OSU's last 10 points in a win over Purdue, which included the game-winning three-pointer with 39 seconds left in the game. She finished with 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc, but also played a much larger role during the season in helping the Buckeyes win their second-straight conference title.
A third championship came last season when Packer was tabbed to the All-Big Ten third team, having ranked again as the team's top perimeter shooter, making 38 percent of her shots. She was slowed by a left ankle injury in Big Ten Tournament, yet still managed to guide OSU to a 20-1 record when she hit three or more three pointers in a game. The Buckeyes captured their fifth-straight NCAA appearance after boasting a 15-1 mark in conference play to win the league's title.
However, OSU was upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Marist, suddenly ending the Buckeye careers of Davenport and Hoskins.
And with that bitter reminder of how the season ended, Ohio State opened anew this year with Packer in charge, wearing the not-so-coveted bullseye.
"I don't expect any one person to fill that role," OSU head coach Jim Foster said of the void left by Hoskins and Davenport to graduation. "But Marscilla is now the one of the court that the other team's best defensive player is guarding. Getting open is going to be a little harder now."
Packer welcomes the challenge, noting that she has been in this position before.
"It's definitely changed a lot," Packer said of her role, "but it just takes me back to my high school days. It's making me becoming a player and I like being the go-to player. I can't depend on Jess or Brandie anymore. I was just a three-point shooter then, but know I'm going to the basket and drawing fouls or stopping and pulling up."
Foster says Packer has had to become reliant on her new teammates and not only take advantage of the opportunities that are presented, but understand where those opportunities are coming from.
"Now she is the focal point and she needs to learn how to move without the ball and get open by reading and coming around screens. She is starting to understand it."
Packer has without question improved as a player while in Columbus surrounded by Davenport, Hoskins and certainly Foster. But the Buckeyes' mentor points to the international experience she has received in the past two years that has really helped develop her game.
Following her sophomore season, Packer played for the Team USA Under-20 squad that captured gold at the 2006 FIBA Americas U20 Championship for Women in Mexico City. There she finished with a team-high 13.6 scoring average, including making 20 of her 29 attempts (.689) from long distance in a five-game span. She also set a Team USA single-game scoring record against Canada with 20 points, featuring a 6-for-8 mark from beyond the arc. This past summer, Packer played with the USA Basketball U-21 team.
"It's the practices leading up to the games," Foster said. "You are playing against a lot of high-level players every day and just getting open in the practice is a lot more difficult to do than during the season."
For Packer, who admits the international experience certainly brought her game to another level, just being able to wear the USA jersey was enough for her.
"To play for USA basketball is a dream come true," she said. "The first time I put the jersey on, I was like, `Wow, I am representing the country.' You can't help but get better when you are playing with them."
With this season nearly halfway completed, Packer ranks first in the conference in three-point field goals made (2.89), fourth in three-point percentage (.406) and fifth in scoring (15.2). Still, she remains focused on leading the team to its fourth-straight conference championship and making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
"We want to establish ourselves as one of the top teams in the nation," she said.
Following graduation there will surely be a possibility to play professionally, but Packer is also hopeful to become a sports reporter or freelance writer for the NFL one day.
Fitting, seeing that ever since high school Packer has been working on her lead.
And now what a story this is turning out to be.