Secaucus’ Damaris Rodriguez (23) was fourth in the state in assists, but will be asked to be more of a scorer this season. (Reena Rose Sibayan | The Jersey Journal).
Marisol Rodriguez sat in the stands, watching her daughter Damaris dominate Secaucus Recreation PeeWee basketball games. At the conclusion, she had a question for the 7-year-old.
“She would come to all of my games and after the games she’d pull me over and ask me ‘why are you always passing the ball? Why don’t you score?’” said Damaris Rodriguez. “I would have a wide open layup and give it up to a teammate, who had zero points because I already had 10. I would tell her, ‘I already had 10 points, why not get an assist?’
“I was always passing the ball, always. Since I started (playing), that’s always been my thing. Everybody tells me go score more, I know you can score. But my first instinct has always been to pass.”
That pass-first mentality has made Rodriguez, now a senior at Secaucus High School one of the state’s top point guards.
It’s also why Rodriguez faces perhaps her greatest challenge this upcoming season.
With the graduation of Amanda Ulrich, the school’s all-time leading scorer, now more than ever, the Patriots need Rodriguez to be more of a scorer in order to remain contenders both in Hudson County and Group 2.
“I’ve had a few talks with her and I explained to her that this year, I want her looking for her shot a little more often than she has in the past,” said Secaucus coach John Sterling. “She’s still going to try to find people when they’re open and get them the ball like she always does, but I want her to be a little more selfish in getting some more shot attempts since I think we’re going to need it.”
Last season, Rodriguez’s 6.9 assists per game were the fourth highest average in the state as Secaucus went 24-4 and reached the North 2, Group 2 final. Over three years, she has amassed 643 assists for an average of 7.3 a game.
For a passer as prolific as Rodriguez has been, she admits the necessary shift from distributor to lead scorer is still a work in progress.
“I’m still getting used to it, I’m still over-passing the ball (in summer league). My coach tells me all the time, ‘stop passing, shoot. You gotta shoot more,’” Rodriguez said. “I know I can score, I know I can do it. It just has never been my first instinct.”
While scoring might not be her first instinct, that doesn’t mean Rodriguez isn’t capable.
Whether it’s attacking the paint or shooting from the outside, Rodriguez has shown more than just a few glimpses of her scoring potential.
When the graduation of sharp-shooter Lindsey Mack (now at Fairleigh Dickinson) left a void prior to Rodriguez’s junior year, she helped fill the void, by increasing her scoring from 13.2 points per game to 16.4 last season.
While Rodriguez has amassed 1,252 points on the court, perhaps the best example of her scoring prowess is on the soccer pitch.
A three-year starter up top, Rodriguez has 55 goals and 18 assists for the Patriotsand is poised to break the school’s career scoring mark of 63 goals held by Julia Peschetti.
“I think she sets the tone for the team. I think that everyone looks towards her and when Damaris is on the field, I think things happen. The team feeds off the energy she brings,” said Secaucus soccer head coach Kaefer Garcia. “I think with her presence, just being on the field, I think she affects the whole game.”
Garcia believes that Rodriguez has the pure talent and athletic ability to play soccer at a higher level.
Her future, however, is in basketball.
The 5-foot-5 Rodriguez, who played AAU basketball for Team Rio National this offseason, has received interest from multiple Division 1 programs, but is still waiting for her first offer.
“I would be shocked if she didn’t get a (Division 1) scholarship offer. I think she can definitely play at the Division 1 level,” Sterling said. “I know being a little bit smaller hurts her, the coaches look at her right away and say ‘I’d like a bigger guard.’ But when they see her play, they see she’s quick enough, her ball-handling is good enough.
“She’s such a great passer and her skills are excellent,” added Sterling. “She’s a really good defender on the ball too. I’d be stunned too if she doesn’t get that scholarship offer.”