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Canes Focus: Morgan Stroman

Canes Focus: Morgan Stroman

By David Villavicencio

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Absolutelyperfect.

Morgan Stroman could not imagine a better way to wrap up herHurricane career than by beating No. 4 Duke in her final game at the BankUnitedCenter.

“I was glad that the Duke game was on our Senior Night,”Stroman said. “I could not ask for a better way to finish here.”

Stroman had 11 points and six rebounds to help push Miamipast Duke, 69-65. It was the first time the Hurricanes beat the Blue Devils inprogram history.

“I just said to myself and to my teammates, ‘we aren’tlosing this game,'” Stroman said. “It didn’t matter who we were playing, wewere going to go out and we were going to play our hardest and our toughestgame. We were going to do whatever we had to do to win this game. I knew wewere going to be the best we could be, and that’s what we did. We went outthere and did it.”

A four-time state champion, Stroman was named a McDonald’sAll-American in her senior year at Lower Richland High School in Hopkins, S.C.The star forward earned accolades nationally for her basketball skills and shecould have played collegiately at nearly any school in the country. Instead ofjoining one of the traditional powerhouse programs, Stroman decided to join aMiami head coach Katie Meier and a team that had won 13 games the season beforeher freshman year.

“I just had that feel when I came here from the coaches,”Stroman said. It was that authentic feel, like I didn’t think they were feedingme stuff just to get me to come here. I felt like it was real, and that’s oneof the reason why I chose this school. I also wanted to help build a program. Lookingback at my time here, I feel like all of our seniors have done a really goodjob while we were here. That has made my career so much better to look backon.”

Stroman knew playing at Miami would present challenges thatshe was not accustomed to. The early years of her career were tough. But shehelped Miami win 96 games and counting, second-most for a senior class inschool history behind the 1992-93 senior class that won 99 games.

“I came from a winning program in high school,” Stromansaid. “When I came here, all I was thinking about was winning. It was kind oftough my freshman year, because we didn’t win as much. When you come into that,you have to learn to transition, you have to mature and you have to staycomposed. I think we did a really good job over my four years here. That’s whatit’s about, winning, having fun and going out there and playing your heartout.”

Incredible determination and a desire to be the best arejust two of the many reasons why Stroman has been a phenomenal player at Miami.The senior forward eclipsed 1,000 career points this season and could finishwith over 1,350 before her collegiate career ends.

Despite all of her personal accomplishments, Stroman isproudest of the team success she has been a part of and the relationships shehas made while at Miami.

“This is the best thing that I’ve ever been a part of as aplayer besides playing with my best friends in high school, “Stroman said.”It’s like my second family, these girls love me for me and I love them forthem. I would never judge them in any kind of way. I think that therelationship between all of us is just great.”

While Stroman is close with all of her teammates, shereflected on the years spent with fellow seniors Stefanie Yderstrom and PepperWilson and could not help but get nostalgic.

“The seniors, I love them to death,” Stroman said. “StefanieYderstrom came in with me freshman year. She had kind of a tough start becauseshe couldn’t play her first couple of games. But it didn’t matter because onceshe came in, she made a great impact.”

“Pepper, I love her,” Stroman said. “I never played with abig girl like that before and she can actually run up and down the court, getthe ball, put it in the basket. That’s all the stuff you really want in otherbasketball players and they’re both great people. You can have a heart to heartwith them anytime. They are going to tell you what you need to know and they’regoing to be there for you.”

Stroman has led the Canes to another 20-win season this year,her fourth in four years at Miami. With so many great memories, the senior starsingled out two that stood out most to her.

“Beating Duke, right now, that is my favorite memory,”Stroman said. “But other than that, I would have to say probably going home toClemson for the last time and having a great game at Clemson in front of my momand family. She brought the high school team out to see me play and my best friendwas there, too. I really enjoyed, not just the game, but having everyone comesupport me at that game because I don’t really get a chance to play home thatmuch.”

Unlike her high school career, Stroman has yet to win achampionship in college.  As a junior,many figured Miami would have a chance to come home as NCAA champions. A teamled by All-Americans Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams, with Stroman,Yderstrom and Wilson providing support, would be a tough out in the NCAATournament.

But Stroman missed the final 13 games of the season due to aseason-ending Achilles’ injury and Miami ultimately fell short of their goal,losing in the second round of the tournament.

“Sometimes I do think last year, that could have been ouryear,” Stroman said. “But at the same time, I felt like getting hurt was ablessing in disguise. I’m like a gym rat, so when I was hurt it was sofrustrating not to be in that gym. Suriya McGuire was there with me 100percent. She was always there asking me if I needed something. ”

“Once I was able to walk again and be able to be on my feet,I was in the gym with her, just working,” Stroman said. “If I couldn’t run, Iwas doing ball handling or form shooting. But I was determined to get back onthe court and be better than I was before and not just get back at that samelevel.”

Stroman’s hard work paid off as she has turned in anoutstanding senior campaign that saw her being selected first team All-ACC byboth the conference’s coaches and the Blue Ribbon Panel of media members whovote on weekly and postseason awards.

“Coming back and showing the ACC that I can still play wasbig for me,” Stroman said. “I’m going to play hard, no matter what and I thinkthat gave me a confidence boost that I am a great player.”

The versatile forward aspires to play professionally onceher career in Coral Gables ends. Whether it is in the WNBA or somewhere else,Stroman is determined to succeed as a professional.

“I see myself playing basketball somewhere,” Stroman said.”I’m going to play. It doesn’t matter where, I’m going to play. I’m going towork my butt off now so that I can play in the future.”

She also sees a bright future for the program she loves sodearly.

“I see them having a very good program going forward,”Stroman said. “Coach Meier is doing everything she has to do to build thisprogram and the seniors are doing what we have to so to make the program betterthan what we had it.”

Stroman calls Meier one of the biggest influences on herlife. The two are incredibly close and Stroman credits her relationship withMeier as one of the main reasons why she decided to attend the university. Butno one has had a bigger influence on Stroman than her mother and high schoolcoach, Debbie.

“She has been coaching since as long as I can remember,”Stroman said. “She keeps the story of when she was pregnant with me and she wasgoing to the championship game. I guess I was born to be a champion. I think Iwas just always in the gym, even outside. If I couldn’t get to the gym, I had ahoop outside. She would always correct my form or give me pep talks or tell mewhat to do to get better. Also, my dad, Donnie, would be in my ear giving methat confidence that I needed. I just grew up around basketball and I creditthem a lot for helping me get to where I am.”

All of her hard work has helped Stroman become one of thetop players in the ACC. But the humble star will not take sole credit for allof the success Miami has had with her on the roster.

“I think it’s just the group coming in and learning how toadapt to each other,” Stroman said. “We learned how to come together as teamand feed off of each other. We have a great coach, great assistants and greatteammates. You can’t do anything else but win when you’re practicing well andyou’re doing everything else well.”

The extra practice and work with her coaches and teammateswent a long way towards writing the perfect narrative that Stroman hopedfor.  When reflecting on howStroman got her wish, Miami’s head coach could not be prouder of how herseniors finished off their final home game as Hurricanes.

“You get some special moments in coaching and you go througha grind,” Meier said. “You have some disappointments and tough losses along theway and then something like this happens to people who truly deserve it. I meanthese three, it’s such a great script for them and I’m not sure it would havehappened if we hadn’t had some bitter losses along the way.”

“I’m not sure it would have been as rewarding and asfulfilling for them without those bitter losses,” Meier said. “But they knowthey deserved it, they know they earned it, they know they played as hard asthey could possibly play and it was just a matter of finishing that game whenit came time to finish. It is a career-rewarding moment to have three of thefavorite kids you have ever coached be a part of this.”