For many athletes, sometimes the biggest blessing is the blessing that wasn’t. Michael Jordan was famously cut from varsity basketball his sophomore year of high school and went on to have a Hall of Fame NBA career.
JMU women’s basketball freshman guard Eleanore Marciszewski had a similar experience at age nine, long before she was invited to try out for Team Canada and won a silver medal at the Canadian National Championship. The future four-star recruit was cut from the youth basketball team she tried out for while the coach’s daughter made it. She responded by working with her dad — who she said had no prior background in basketball — in a local gym nearly every weekend with the goal of playing collegiately.
Marciszewski is no stranger to adversity. The Quebec native hasn’t played much for JMU — the top team in the CAA, with a 20-4 (12-1 CAA) record — but has made the most of her opportunities at JMU when she’s seen the floor. She’s made over half her shots and leads the team in 3-point percentage among those with at least 10 attempts.
“She’s come in as a highly touted freshman, the No. 2 player in Canada, and it [didn’t] go [her] way early,” head coach Sean O’Regan said. “She could’ve transferred [after] a semester. She’s plugging away in practice, on the scout team … She understands when she makes mistakes, she’s willing to learn.”
Marciszewski said she “went into a dip” in the beginning of the season when she wasn’t playing much. She was nearly 700 miles away from Dawson College, a vocational college she attended before JMU, and said she wasn’t shooting well in practice. She made it clear that reconnecting with her family over winter break was the turning point in her season.
“[When I came back] I was like, ‘You know what, I’m just going to give everything I have in practice. If the coaches saw how hard I’m playing, maybe they’ll put me on the court,’” Marciszewski said. “Before, I was really scared of making mistakes. It was like, ‘Oh my God, I cannot now make a mistake or I will not play.’ I was like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna make mistakes and learn from them.’”
O’Regan said he saw a different mentality in Marciszewski after Christmas as she loosened up and stopped trying to play a perfect game. In her six games before winter break, Marciszewski went 4-of-10 from the floor. In the nine games since, she’s 14-of-22 and 6-of-12 from behind the arc.
“If you’re playing tight, you’re going to be a much worse player,” O’Regan said. “I think she can carry that confidence [gained in practice] over into a game. How well you play in practice gets you in a game, and how well you can play in a game keeps you in the game.”
O’Regan described Marciszewski as an “extremely hard worker” who’s “constantly asking for extra workouts.” He said in late January that she watches full games of team film — not just her minutes — to get better. O’Regan said that he’s going to give her more opportunities and allow her to play through mistakes so she can get more comfortable on the floor.
“You’re pushing somebody in the deep end, and they’re gonna have to find a way to swim,” O’Regan said. “That’s what it’s going to come down to. You’re gonna play, and our team’s going to support you, and you’re going to play through whatever happens.”
An inch or two can be the difference between an ugly shot and a highlight, as Marciszewski learned in her best outing of the season in an 82-30 blowout win over Elon. Marciszewski waited patiently in the right corner by the JMU bench as junior guard Kamiah Smalls whipped a cross-court pass to her. A strong contest from Elon freshman guard Kayla Liles altered the 3-point shot, which managed to bank in off the glass.
The stroke of fortune led to a career-high eight points in 13 minutes for Marciszewski. She thrived in a low-pressure environment with the game out of reach and continued a strong three-game stretch from Jan. 20-27 in which she totaled 20 points. The Dukes played in front of a season-high 3,648 fans that afternoon in an atmosphere that Marciszewski says drew her to JMU over the roughly 15 schools that offered her a scholarship.
“You walk around campus and they know women’s basketball,” Marciszewski said. “When you come to games, the crowd’s crazy. You don’t see that often for women’s basketball.”
Marciszewski said JMU’s atmosphere and her relationships with her coaches — specifically her bond with assistant coach Ian Caskill — impacted her decision to choose JMU. The two connected speaking French, which Caskill learned while playing professionally in France after graduating from JMU in ’03.
According to Caskill, he first noticed Marciszewski at an AAU tournament in Washington, D.C., when he came down an escalator and heard a team conversing in French. He and O’Regan watched her play, began recruiting her and, two years later, Marciszewski was a Duke. Caskill’s wife, Melanie, is a French instructor at JMU who keeps her door open for Marciszewski as a place she can comfortably unwind and speak French like at home.
“I told Eleanore any time she gets homesick or something, come talk to my wife, come have dinner,” Ian said. “My first year in France, it was a complete culture shock. [There’s] a lot of differences, way of life, language barrier, style of play basketball-wise. I told her the other day I’m very proud of her … some people might’ve checked out, but she just stayed locked in and focused.”
After the girl taller than all her peers wasn’t chosen for the youth team in a curious case of nepotism, she learned she’d have to reach the top by outworking them. Marciszewski’s relentless work ethic and drive to improve can be traced to her training sessions with her father as a nine-year-old. While the setting has changed — the gym in Quebec didn’t have the Duke Dog logo sprawled across it — her mindset never has, which is why she’s starting to break through.
Contact James Faris at email@example.com. For more basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.