FLORENCE — Lauren Faris’ freshman statistics offered little evidence that she was ready to step in as North Alabama’s starting point guard this season.
With two veteran point guards ahead of her, playing time was hard to come by last season for Faris. The Louisville, Ky., native appeared in just seven games, scoring eight points and dishing out five assists.
But starter Jasmine Horne graduated and understudy Jazmine Saxton left the team, opening a window of opportunity for Faris if she proved capable of handling it.
She’s proved to be much more than an adequate replacement for coach Terry Fowler and the Lions. A starter since the season opener, Faris has been a key component in what has been a highly successful season to this point for the Lions (14-6, 7-3 GSC), who are in contention for the regular-season title despite returning only one starter from last season.
Fowler said that while there was an open competition at point guard, Faris has all but secured the job with her offseason work.
“Lauren worked really hard in the spring and started to develop her game,” Fowler said. “She came in this year in unbelievable condition. She really earned the respect of her teammates with her work ethic.”
Faris said she realized what she needed to do after Horne’s graduation.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself last year because I wanted to make a good impression on the coaches,” Faris said. “I knew that Jasmine would be gone and I wanted the coaches to be confident that I could fill that spot.”
Faris is enjoying her enhanced role this season. She is averaging 6.5 points and 3.1 assists per game entering today’s game at Valdosta State.
Every minute on the court is a thrill for Faris, who thought her career would end after high school. A standout at Mercy Academy in Louisville, Faris helped her team win a state championship in 2010. She received some interest from NAIA and Division III schools. An outstanding student, Faris eventually decided to enroll at Xavier University in Cincinnati and not pursue her dream of playing college basketball.
A late recruiting letter from UNA graduate assistant coach Mallory Luckett changed her plans.
“Coach Luckett graduated from my high school and she saw me play at a tournament,” Faris said. “UNA sent me a letter and a few weeks later they invited me to come for a visit.
“It was late when I visited UNA and I just got my class schedule at Xavier. But when I got here I loved the campus and the small town atmosphere. Coming here was a great decision; I don’t know what I would be doing without basketball.”
Faris went through a tryout and signed in June, 2011. Even though she saw little playing time as a freshman, she said the season was not wasted.
“We run a very different system from what we ran in high school, so it took me a while to adapt,” she said. “Guarding Jasmine Horne every day in practice certainly made me a better player. I owe Jasmine a lot for pushing me the way she did.”
Faris has shown the ability to run the team and be a playmaker. She is also a capable shooter, although she admits she looks to pass first.
Fowler is pleased with the her progress and now wants Faris to develop her leadership qualities on the floor.
“I’m always challenging her,” Fowler said. “I want her to know what everybody is supposed to be doing so that she can take care of it and we don’t have to take a timeout.
“As a coach you want your point guard to be a coach on the floor. I’m looking forward to watching Lauren grow into that role, although she is pretty much playing that role now.”
Faris is determined to fill that role.
“I’ve always tried to lead by example,” she said. “I can be quiet, but I’m working on being more vocal. A point guard is a direct line from the coach to the team. That’s what I’m trying to be.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.