Junior Tricia Liston has seen career highs with 12.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 90.6 free-throw percentage this season.
Brittany Zulkiewicz / The Chronicle
Junior Tricia Liston has seen career highs with 12.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 90.6 free-throw percentage this season.

In high school, success came easily came easily for Tricia Liston.

A top-50 recruit and two-time Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year, Liston was a natural, averaging 28.8 points as a senior at Fenwick High School, and she seemed ready to continue this success at the next level for Duke.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of going to a big basketball school, like Duke and Tennessee,” Liston said. “When it actually became a reality, I was thinking it was the best of both worlds. It had the best academics, and it had the best athletics.”

Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie knew she was getting a good player when she recruited her, but the transition from high school to college hit Liston harder than she anticipated. Suddenly, every player was faster and had the same skill set as Liston, forcing her to adjust to the competition that lies within the rigorous ACC.

The initial issue did not take place on the basketball court, but rather in Liston’s personal life where she, along with the majority of college freshman, felt the pressure of moving away to somewhere completely new.

“There were ups and downs being away from home for the first time with no family around me,” Liston said. “It was a big adjustment just having to meet new people and meet that new group of people to have a comfort zone.”

Liston is not the first freshman to experience homesickness, but for her failure had never been an issue. Entering college, Liston was accustomed to success both on and off the hardwood. She had never struggled, averaging double-digits in scoring every year of her high school career.

This made her first year at Duke all the more challenging, as she took the unfamiliar role of coming off the bench for the Blue Devils. Liston played in 34 games that season, but only started two and averaged a 5.5 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.

“On the court it was a challenge. It was a big difference from high school. The game’s a lot quicker, and a lot more intense and physical, so that was a big adjustment that I had to make,” Liston said.

The 2010-2011 campaign ended at the hands of a Maya Moore-led Connecticut team that would go on to win the NCAA Tournament. Liston only managed two points in the contest on a pair of free throws.

But the struggles did not last long, as Liston spent the off-season working hard to improve multiple facets of her game in order to catch up to the fast-paced play of Duke’s opposition.

“It was just a little bit of getting the experience from my freshman year that really got me confident for my sophomore year and came in ready to play bigger minutes,” Liston said.

After an off-season of working on her ball handling and mid-range game, Liston entered the 2011-12 season with a year under her belt and a season to avenge. She increased her output in points and rebounds by almost twofold, averaging 12.0 and 3.9, respectively. Her playing time increased along with her success, as she started 17 out of 33 games and doubled her minutes per game, going from 12.0 to 26.4.

Keying her development was the growth she experienced alongside her fellow classmates on the team.

“I think our class especially has grown up a lot, especially grown up together a lot,” Liston said. “We’ve been through a lot of things that most other teams haven’t from our freshman year. A big part of it is the experience and the maturity that we’ve shown since our freshman year.”

Liston maintains that although the past is key to her growth, she is focused on the task at hand. The Blue Devils are currently 21-1 overall, including an 11-0 record in the ACC, with Liston stepping into a leadership role, along with teammates and fellow juniors Haley Peters and Chelsea Gray.

“[I’ve gotten better at] dealing with different situations and being able to be more confrontational—being able to speak up when I know something is wrong,” Liston said. “I think I’ve grown into my leadership role in this team.”

This season has been particularly successful for Liston, whose 12.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 90.6 free-throw percentage are all career highs. She has already started 17 out of Duke’s 22 games, but has thrived in the games off the bench as a dangerous sixth-man.

These career highs combined with the Blue Devils’ success have made for a plethora of special moments for Liston and her teammates. It was obvious that the favorite, so far, was this past week’s game against North Carolina, which Duke won 84-63.

“We also shut them down completely on defense. They couldn’t score against us. That was really fun to see, the potential that we had in that game,” Liston said.

As Liston has improved on defense, she has done the same on offense. In their contest against Miami, the teams entered halftime tied at 29. Duke went on to outscore the Hurricanes 53-14 in the second half to win 82-43, with Liston pouring in 17 points in only 22 minutes of play.

“If I could put 40 minutes together, I’d say the second half of the Miami game and the first half of the Carolina game,” Liston said. Although the past has been the majority of the focus, Liston’s future certainly seems bright as she feels her ceiling has not been reached yet, in both basketball and her professional life.

“I’ve thought about it, but I’m still confused about what I want to do. Maybe basketball for a little bit after that, but I know basketball isn’t going to be my whole life after college,” Liston said. “I think maybe something in the marketing area, I definitely want to stay involved with sports because that’s been a passion of mine since I was a kid.”

The obvious option for someone who wants to stay involved with sports and has played collegiately is coaching. But Liston insists that as far as the collegiate-level goes, playing is good enough for her.

“I don’t know, I could see [coaching] maybe with little kids. I don’t think at the college level, though,” Liston said.