BURNABY — When it comes to being a voracious student of the sport of basketball, you could say that Gemma Cutler wrote the book.
Or perhaps, in the case of Simon Fraser’s ultra-inquisitive rookie forward, it’s more accurate to say she digested it in its entirety.
That’s the idea you get when you ask SFU head coach Bruce Langford about the 6-foot-2 redshirt freshman from North Vancouver’s St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary, who in Tuesday’s 90-79 victory over the visiting Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks of Nampa, Idaho, had the game of her young career, coming off the bench to supply 12 points and 11 rebounds in just 17 minutes of play.
“We have a 320-page book about our offensive and defensive philosophies, the flow of all of our plays, our roles, all of our expectations of how to behave as an athlete…. and I think she the entire thing memorized because she knows it inside-and-out, backwards and forwards” Langford chuckled as SFU (10-11, 6-6 GNAC), with four more conference game remaining, including Thursday’s 7 p.m. tip against visiting Alaska Anchorage, reached the .500 mark with its second straight win, both against NNU (7-6).
With each passing game, it’s a further reminder to Langford that what he thought he could see as untapped potential in Cutler’s future days was indeed there, and most importantly, has begun to be realized within the rigours of the team’s re-start season.
“I said something in practice the other day about a part of our full-court offence, and I made the point that it was ‘in the book,’” said Langford. “(Cutler) says ‘Well, no, that’s not in the book.’ It’s one of the major things we do, so I went and I checked and it’s not there. We forgot to put it in.”
Yet don’t get the idea that Cutler’s basketball acumen extends no further than simply being book smart.
If you watched her play on Tuesday night, you saw so much more, all despite the fact that she is still going through that pivotal phase of gaining the overall strength needed to let her basketball gifts shine brightest in what is a most physically-demanding setting.
Five of her 11 rebounds came off the offensive boards, and collecting caroms on that end of the glass is already looking like one of her big strengths. She heads into play Thursday 10th in the conference at 2.1 offensive rebounds per game despite her still-limited but growing floor time. Overall, on the season, she is averaging 8.5 points and 4.8 rebounds over 20.4 minutes per game.
“I definitely need to work on getting stronger… to hit the weight room more, but the seniors here are people I really look up to and they give me a lot of confidence,” she says, referencing, from a front-court standpoint, senior Claudia Hart, a fellow North Van native and rugged 6-foot-1 post. “With Claudia, you learn that its physical, physical, physical. And that you have to compete, compete, compete.”
Living out that ethos on the court isn’t easy for a freshman, especially in a GNAC loops filled with Div. 1 drop-downs.
So how has Cutler been able to hold her own and more?
“I think agility and quickness is something that I bring more than the bigger posts who have the physicality,” she theorizes.
There’s also a clear chemistry she is building on the floor with her younger teammates, including junior point guard Georgia Swant.
“We have a really good connection,” Cutler admits. “I can move off her drives well, and she always has helpful tips. She just keeps pushing me to run the floor well.”
Langford explains in his own way that as good as Cutler has been in her first collegiate season on the floor, what is even better is the ceiling she has to improve.
“She reads her stuff, she knows her stuff, she knows her scouting report well and most of the time, she reads the floor well,” Langford begins.
“She is still a rookie in many ways, but she is great in the way she knows how to move on penetration, and she has good hands, too,” he added. “And then there’s that hoop she scored tonight…”
Over a late, game-defining stretch Tuesday which SFU used to run away with the game, Emma Kramer tipped an entry pass by Northwest Nazarene forward Erin Jenkins, enabling Jessica Jones to lead a fast break which she capped with a pass to the hard-charging Cutler.
With her real estate running out quickly as she caught the pass, literally at the Nazarene baseline, Cutler somehow reversed her field 180 degrees, coming down in bounds with her back to the basket, at which time she blindly hurled the ball off the backboard and in for an 85-77 lead with 2:28 remaining, part of her team’s game-closing 10-2 run
(To watch Gemma Cutler’s late reverse lay-up, part of SFU’s complete-game livestream production Tuesday evening against visiting Northwest Nazarene, advance the player to precisely 1 hour and 58 minutes)
“I thought that play was over,” exclaimed injured SFU guard Kendal Sands, who was working as the home team’s broadcast analyst. “I thought that she was out of bounds, but she found a way with those long arms to finish.”
Added Langford: “She was not in a position to score, but she finds the hoops and does a reverse lay-up with not a lot of room. Not a lot of rookies could make that move, but she did it beautifully.”
And it wasn’t even in the book.
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