Moments before the start of the Jan. 8 battle between two top-10 teams, Maryland's freshman phenom Marissa Coleman looked over at her Duke counterpart, rookie Abby Waner. In the midst of the intensity surrounding the ACC matchup, the two friends began laughing.
It was a strange feeling for the two players to be competing against each other after being teammates the past two summers, Coleman said.
The pair met two summers ago when both played for the United States U-19 national team. While leading the U.S. team to the gold medal in the FIBA Women's U19 World Championship in Puerto Rico and again the next summer in Tunisia, the two became close friends on and off the court. They still speak on a regular basis, although Coleman said the two rarely discuss basketball.
"It gets really hard because we're both so busy, but I talk to her once a week or at least once every other week," Coleman said. "It's hard to play against each other because we're such good friends, but at the same time it's more fun too."
But unlike Waner, who has often deferred to her older teammates during her first year at Duke, Coleman has assumed a starring role on the young but talented Terrapins. Coleman has averaged 14.6 points per game and has racked up many awards of late, as she was named ACC Rookie of the Year and was selected to the All-ACC second team.
The freshman has shown amazing inside-out versatility, leading the conference in three-point accuracy while ranking sixth in rebounding at 7.5 per contest.
"She is really the full player," Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. "We knew she was talented but I think the exciting thing about Marissa and Kristi [Toliver] is they haven't played or acted like freshmen. They have come in just with a tremendous amount of confidence."
Despite her offensive excellence, Coleman had to adjust to the college game on the defensive end. She came off the bench for the first eight games of the year as she struggled with her defensive intensity, before cracking the starting lineup Dec. 11 against Arizona.
"I had to realize that this isn't high school, and you can't pick and choose when you want to really play defense," Coleman said. "You have to bring the defensive effort every play of every game because we play so many great scorers."
A Parade and McDonald's All-American in high school, Coleman was heavily recruited by many of the perennial powers, including Duke, but said she chose Maryland because of the opportunity to develop a budding program.
"They had a chance to win a national championship, but they hadn't done it yet," Coleman said. "I didn't want to go somewhere where winning a national championship is like, 'Ok, great, another national championship.' UConn and Tennessee have won so many, and it is just when they haven't won, it's more of a big deal."
Despite losing her in the recruiting battle, Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors got a chance to coach Coleman this summer, when Goestenkors served as the head coach of the U19 national team. Coleman said Goestenkors never held a grudge against her for choosing Maryland, and the 6-foot-1 forward produced 8.1 points per game on 58.1 percent shooting as the United States cruised to the gold medal.
"She is one of the most versatile players that I have ever had the privilege to coach," Goestenkors said. "When we were recruiting her I remember telling her I thought she was a combination of Alana Beard and Monique Currie. She is smooth like Alana was, yet she has that physical strength as a freshman that Monique had."
Coleman showed those skills in two regular-season games against Duke, including a 20-point performance at Cameron. The Blue Devils claimed both victories, however, winning 86-68 in College Park Jan. 8 and 90-80 in Durham Feb. 13. The third-seeded Terps could meet second-seeded Duke again in the ACC semifinals Saturday, a matchup that will likely fuel the healthy amount of trash-talking Coleman said goes on between her and Waner.
"We always kind of talked about, it would be so much fun if we played together, or just went to college together," Waner said. "It's also a lot of fun playing against her... but in the end, really, it's about whose team wins."
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