JMU women’s basketball senior forward Devon Merritt has had a long journey to becoming an impactful player for the Dukes.
“I don’t believe success is a straight line,” Merritt said.
The forward from Reading, Pennsylvania, has been a threat on the court for the past four years, making sure her name makes JMU history.
During her freshman year, Merritt was out all season with injuries, coming back sophomore year to see her first full season of college basketball. She said she felt like a freshman since she was out the year before. Junior year is the time she said she felt she had the most impact on the team, replacing five-star recruit and former JMU forward Kelly Koshuta.
“[I’m] trying to find a way to leave the team better than I came,” Merritt said, “to make sure the group of girls that’ll be here when I’m not here will be better than we’ve ever been.”
Off the court, her teammates said Merritt is someone they can talk to and come to for advice. Over the past few years, Merritt said she’s helped JMU sophomore forward Casey Irvine. She said they’ve grown close, having gone through similar struggles in life and basketball. Both girls said they had a hard time transitioning from high school to college both physically and mentally.
“You don’t see crowds at women’s games and support like you do here,” Merritt said.
JMU senior guard Kamiah Smalls has been a teammate of Merrit’s for the past four years and her roomate for over two years. She said Merritt is the most positive person and always gives 110% to their team and dynamic.
“Devon is like a sister,” Smalls said.
Smalls said one of her most memorable moments with Merritt came during their sophomore year against Rutgers at home. A teammate passed the ball to Merritt in the middle of the court, and she crossed two of her opponents.
“I was like ‘OK, point god,’” Smalls said. “It was pretty cool.”
Redshirt senior center Kayla Cooper Williams said Merritt brings both energy and experience to the court each game. She also said Merritt has seen as much as any of the Dukes and that she uses that experience to help the rest of the team.
Not only are Cooper Williams and Merritt workout buddies, but Cooper Williams said that Merritt is someone to talk to. Cooper Williams mentioned Merritt sings, but that one can’t be sure what song she’s singing until she’s finished
“[Merritt is] really goofy [and] always singing,” Cooper Williams said. “She’s energy; she keeps people laughing and brings that positive energy to the team.”
Head Coach Sean O’Regan said Merritt is always positive, vocal and fun-loving. He said she helps off the court, too, when seasons are getting long, bringing a positive attitude when there’s negativity either on the bus, at the hotel or at a restaurant for dinner “for like the 27th time.”
“I think Devon [has had] as unique of a kind of a path as, like, anybody I’ve seen,” O’Regan said. “As soon as she gets to practice, you can feel the energy lift up.”
O’Regan said he still thinks about Merritt’s time as a freshman. Merritt was out with injuries her freshman season — one of the injuries being shin splints — and O’Regan said it wasn’t certain she’d be back for her sophomore year.
The pair sat in his office for two hours, he said. They talked. They cried. He told her to trust him, that it was going to be a fun career for her; she just needed to stick it out. She did, and now she’s only a month or so away from closing out her career as a senior for the Dukes.
“It’s a cool story to me because she experienced the whole kind of a college experience,” O’Regan said. “You’ve experienced sitting on the bench, you’ve experienced starting, making basically a game-winning play against Virginia Tech last year.”
Merritt has gone through many things during her time at JMU, but that hasn’t held her down. She said she’s no longer worried about a certain task as she used to, O’Regan said. Now, she’s ready to move on to what lies in front of her.
“I kind of want to stay around basketball and sports. That’s kind of what I’ve done my whole life,” Merritt said. “Not really the physical side ... I really want to do news or sports broadcasting.”
Contact Andrew Oliveros at email@example.com. For more basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.