The top-ranked Connecticut Huskies, who have won four straight NCAA women's basketball championships, were the opponent. A national television audience was tuned into the Dec. 29 game on ESPN2, and the first capacity crowd for a women's basketball game at the University of Maryland's Xfinity Center in nearly 10 years was on hand.
None of that seemed to matter to Destiny Slocum. The Terps' freshman point guard played with a level of confidence usually reserved for seniors, scoring a career-high 23 points and handing out seven assists all while playing 40 minutes. Following a 14-0 UConn third-quarter run that gave the Huskies a seemingly insurmountable 50-31 lead, Slocum went to work. She scored 19 second-half points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, to cut the Maryland deficit to five points. Although the Huskies extended their winning streak to 87 games with an 87-81 victory against Maryland, Slocum's performance was one to remember.
"Everybody got to witness tonight what makes her so special," Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said after the game. "She's poised beyond her years. Her spirit and energy are contagious."
The 2016-17 Terps roster contains two of the best players in school history. Senior center Brionna Jones and senior guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough are All-Americans who have guided Maryland to a pair of Final Four appearances during their standout careers. But the 5-foot-7 Slocum has become a guiding force for the Terps during the first half of her freshman season.
"For me, the hardest transition was starting over," Slocum said. "You're established with your AAU team for almost your entire life and for four years with your high school team. Everyone on [AAU] was the best player on their high school team. Then you come here, and combine all of those best players onto one team. It can be a little intimidating, and you've got to find that confidence again. You've got to go out there and prove yourself."
Slocum has already accomplished that goal. Following Maryland's 93-49 Big Ten victory at Nebraska Jan. 4, Slocum's 11.1-point average trailed only Jones (17.9) and Walker-Kimbrough (16.6) on the team's scoring list. Slocum leads the squad with 4.5 assists per game, with a 68-38 assist-to-turnover rate. She is also one of the squad's most accurate 3-point shooters, connecting on 40.6 percent of her attempts from beyond the arc.
Slocum didn't get to Maryland in the traditional way. She had verbally committed to the University of Washington during her junior year of high school. But instead of attending the Pacific-12 school in Seattle, the native of Meridian, Idaho, changed her mind and found her way to Maryland's campus.
"The school was the biggest thing for me, academically and athletically," Slocum said. "I felt that I had a good opportunity to grow, both as a person and as a player."
Slocum's decision to broaden her college search offered the Maryland coaching staff a unique opportunity.
"Her recruitment was different than most," Frese said. "After she reopened her search, I flew out to see Destiny, and then she came for her official visit with her parents. We recruited her from April until she committed in June ."
Before coming to Maryland, Slocum earned All-State honors during each of her four years at Mountain View High School. Slocum led Mountain View to a 26-1 mark and the 2014-15 Class 5A state title during her junior season, which culminated with her selection as the Idaho Player of the Year.
During the summer of 2015, she was a member of the USA U19 team that captured a gold medal at the FIBA World Championships in Moscow, Russia.
"USA Basketball was a huge perspective change for me," Slocum said. "I didn't get a lot of minutes. I remember being happy that we won the gold medal. But I also remember thinking that this is exactly why I worked so hard, so I could play in games like this. I realized that the next time I put on a USA jersey, I wanted to be able to play and be a big factor. It really changed my perspective on how hard I have to keep working, because I wanted to be on the floor so badly but knew that it just wasn't my time."
Back at Mountain View, Slocum averaged 24.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists during her senior year while guiding the Mavericks to a 23-4 record and their second consecutive 5A state championship.
Slocum was named the Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year and earned WBCA All-America honors following her junior and senior seasons. She capped her prep career with a spot on the 2016 McDonald's All-America team.
"Basketball was my best friend growing up," said Slocum, who credited her father for inspiring her interest in the sport. "When I'm on the court, everything else just goes away. I feel that all of the reps that I've put in at the gym my entire life have paid off."
Then it was on to Maryland, where Slocum was a key member of the nation's top-ranked freshman class. She has started every game during her first collegiate season, while helping the Terps to the nation's No. 3 ranking.
"I feel like this program is a lot different," said Slocum, who is majoring in kinesiology. "We're not here just to be basketball players but are expected to be student-athletes. [Coach Frese] puts just as much pressure on us to be successful off the court as we are on the court. I think that, at a lot of places, you would not get that mindset. She's making us into great women and also great players."
Frese, who has coached four All-American players during her 15 years at Maryland, is most impressed with Slocum's poise and leadership ability.
"She has all of the intangibles," Frese said. "Destiny knows who to get the ball to and when to take over herself. Coming in, you expect freshmen to have ‘freshmen moments.' But Destiny has never shown any nerves outwardly. She's very secure in who she is and how she plays the game. Her motor and her passion just jump out at you. Destiny is always going to play one way, and that's all out."
Issue 229: January 2017