Even with two 6-foot senior All-Americans Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones, 5-foot-7 Maryland freshman guard and former Mountain View High School basketball star Destiny Slocum is arguably the biggest standout for one of the nation’s best women’s college basketball teams.
A behind-the-back crossover followed by a fadeaway jumper against UConn. A pull up 3-pointer from NBA range versus Minnesota. A spin move with a crossover, nearly breaking a Northwestern player’s ankles.
Not bad for a player, who at this time last year, was over 2,000 miles away playing basketball in a state few NCAA Division I coaches ever step foot in.
The national spotlight will once again be on the hometown girl from Meridian as No. 3 seeded Maryland (32-2) takes on No. 10 Oregon at 9:30 a.m. (MT) Saturday on ESPN in the Sweet 16 round of the 2017 NCAA Women’s Basketball National Tournament.
“I of course have so much Idaho pride being from there, and I’m so excited to go out and represent my state,” Slocum told the Idaho Press-Tribune. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m just so blessed to be even in the tournament because I know there are a lot of players that wish they had the opportunity that I have.”
The Big Ten Freshman of the Year got her start in the park, watching her father, Jon, and older brother, Marcus, play. It wasn’t long before Slocum was schooling them both.
She played Y ball with her father before joining the Hoop Dreams club team to further develop her craft. By the time Slocum got to middle school, long-time Mountain View girls basketball coach Connie Skogrand already knew her name.
A few short years later as a freshman, Slocum took a 10-win team the season before to 19 wins and a state consolation championship game appearance. But that was only just the beginning. The Mavericks finished third in her sophomore year before winning back-to-back state titles during Slocum’s final two seasons.
She ended her Mountain View career as a three-time 5A Southern Idaho Conference Player of the Year winner, a two-time All-Idaho and two-time Gatorade Idaho Player of the Year recipient.
“She is absolutely one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” Skogrand said. “I’ve never coached a player who had such a high knowledge of the game and how it should be played.
“Coming in, Destiny already understood tempo — when to slow the game down and when to speed it back up. It was like having a coach on the floor. You don’t get that with a 14-year-old often. She was already a phenomenal player as a freshman and only got better. Destiny was way beyond her years with her basketball IQ.”
On the national stage, she became the first player from Idaho to play in the McDonald’s All-American game. Slocum was also a Naismith Trophy semifinalist, a NWBCA All-American and a member of Team USA’s FIBA U-19 World Championship team. Slocum became one of the country’s most sought-after recruits.
She originally committed to the University of Washington but decommitted at the end of her junior year. The one-time five-star recruit and No. 7 ranked player in the nation, according to ESPNW, ultimately landed on the Terrapins’ doorstep.
“Washington is a great school and I think if I went there, it would’ve been a great choice,” Slocum said. “But I made my first decision when I was really young, and I didn’t look at all the possibilities of the places I could go. What kind of offers other schools had for me.
“It was a matter of evaluating and giving myself the chance to know whatever decision I made was a good one. Maryland having the ability to win a national championship was something that was really big for me and I’m really glad I made the choice to come here.”
In just her first year at Maryland, Slocum has already established herself as one of the premier players in the country. In a nationally televised game against the four-time reigning national champion and No. 1 ranked UConn, Slocum dropped a team-high 23 points in an 87-81 loss. Maryland is only the third team this season to stay within single digits of the Huskies, who own a national record 109-game winning streak.
Slocum went on to set school freshman records in 3-pointers (68) and assists (186) this season. In addition, she is averaging 11.5 points per game — the third best on the team— resulting in being named the Big 10 Freshman Player of the Year.
But she didn’t stop there. Slocum led the Terrapins to their second straight Big Ten Tournament title and was named to the Big Ten All-Tournament team with 15 points and 6.7 assists per game at the conference tourney.
“She plays with such energy and passion that I liken her to a 5-hour energy drink,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “She’ll run through a wall if it means winning. She pours her heart into every single possession and plays like it’s the last one. You can just feel her spirit, love and passion when she’s out there on the court.”
The road to Slocum’s first ever NCAA Tournament hasn’t been an easy one. Along with the countless days and nights spent in the gym, Slocum had to deal with the possibility of losing her mother, Christina, at a young age.
When she was 10, her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and Slocum had to put basketball on the back burner for the betterment of her family.
“It was a tough thing for me. Taking care of five kids was tough,” Slocum said. “Especially knowing the effects of cancer. Your body just can’t do the things it used to. Me and my older brother (Marcus) had to take on a parent role while she was going through it, which was not a burden or anything. We’re taking care of family, and it would’ve been selfish if we didn’t.”
That was something in Slocum’s life that she’ll always credit for where she am today.
“It really changed my perspective on how I look at life,” she said. “What I’m spending my time on and things like that. Life is short and you have to make the most of it.”
Christina went on to recover about a year later. With her mother and the rest of the family firmly in her corner, Slocum now enters the sport’s biggest stage.
Despite winning both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles and being routinely ranked in the top five for most of the season, Maryland was given a three seed by the selection committee. Even worse, the Terrapins are in perhaps the tournament’s toughest region with No. 1 overall seed, UConn. But to Slocum, her team’s seeding doesn’t matter.
“Honestly to me, it’s just a number in front of our name,” Slocum said. “It doesn’t change the dynamic of how we play or our team.
“If we really believe we’re going to be national champions, we’re going to have to go through teams like that anyways. No matter if we were on the other side of the bracket as UConn or not. We just get them earlier now.”
If the Terrapins are going to end the nation’s longest active winning streak and win their first championship since 2006, they’ll need the continued big-time play from the team’s smallest player.
“Destiny has yet to play in a game where the stage is too much,” Frese said. “The bigger the stage, the bigger the moment, and it doesn’t get any bigger than the NCAA Tournament. She’s fearless and unflappable. It’s the only way she knows how to play.”