She’s Assisting in UML’s Rebuilding
LOWELL -- As a third-grader on a park basketball court in a suburb south of Chicago, Ren’Cia Rolling first developed her love for passing the ball.
She doesn’t take full credit for that epiphany. After all, the initial allure of basketball to any youngster is the thrill of putting the ball through the net. But Rolling’s uncle, Cleveland Anderson, who would accompany her on the frequent trips to the park, stressed the importance of facilitating and seeing the floor.
“He’d tell me not to shoot the ball, just pass it,” said Rolling, who was raised in Lansing, Ill. “I used to play ball all the time, work on my dribbling through potholes and stuff like that, and he would just say, ‘Keep passing.’ I enjoyed that.”
The reasoning behind the philosophy?
“You have a lot of shooters in the world but you don’t have a lot of people with high IQs, who can set the game up,” Rolling said. “It taught me how to be a floor general and how get the ball to my teammates.”
Rolling is now a junior point guard for the UMass Lowell women’s basketball team. That unselfish style of play has been her bread and butter throughout a career that has seen her star in high school at Seton Academy and then at State Fair Community College, where she led the junior college nation in assists in 2017-18 with 248 (8.9 per game).
The 5-foot-2 Rolling has started all 11 games for the 3-8 River Hawks and has been filling up the stat sheet. Entering Friday’s game at UMass, she’s averaging 8.1 points, 5.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds in 35.1 minutes per game.
“She has the consummate point guard mentality -- a good ball-handler, who is a good decision-maker and can score when the defense allows her to,” said first-year UML head coach Tom Garrick. “As a pure point guard, that’s kind of what the job description is. But with the new wave and the new era of basketball, the point guard also has to be someone who can put the ball in the hole, too. You have to be well-rounded and she’s capable of doing that. She’s a really good scorer, probably one of the best shooters on our team.”
Rolling has kept defenders honest by knocking down 3-pointers at a clip of 34.1 percent. But she freely admits that nothing gets her more hyped than a sweet feed to a teammate for an easy bucket.
She doesn’t want to simply be known as the best passer on her team, she wants her name to be mentioned amongst the best in the country.
“Coming over from JUCO and leading the team in assists, I really want to do that here. I want to break records and continue to lead the nation,” said Rolling. “I enjoy passing. If I have to score, I will. But it’s not the main thing I’m trying to do.”
Rolling was drawn to UMass Lowell in large part because of its excellent criminal justice program. She also wanted to play for Garrick and help turn around a program that finished just 4-26 last season and won just 11 games in the previous three seasons combined.
As the floor leader for a team undergoing a system and culture change, Rolling’s role is made even more daunting. But she’s embraced it and her play hasn’t suffered at all.
“Coming into a program that already had so many players returning, it’s not as much the players who were here fitting into what I need as much as it’s what I can do to adapt to their skill sets,” said Garrick. “With Ren’Cia, the way I see us playing with the team that we have is to get as many opportunities as possible, so we have to keep the ball. It sounds like a small thing, but we want to get as many opportunities as we can with as many times as we have the ball. So we’ve slowed it down, we’re not running as much as we will in the future. Because of our makeup, it’s more important to get defensive stops and then an offensive set every time. So (Rolling) is learning because she’s more of a fast-paced player. I’m asking her to adjust so that everyone else on the team can be the best version of themselves.”
Rolling is the only UML player averaging over 30 minutes per game and she’s on pace to have a legitimate chance to break the program’s single-season assist record.
Her River Hawks teammates are quickly learning to always be ready for the pass.
“I think we’re all adjusting, but our confidence is growing,” said Rolling.
Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone