Why you should care

Because natural ability isn’t everything.

This OZY Series Examines The Point Guards To Know in March Madness. This OZY Series Examines The Point Guards To Know in March Madness.

Superstars become superstars because they never let nature go it alone. To their natural ability, they add layers and layers of nurture, which are less shimmering but still profitable to the ambitious baller, like University of Louisville guard Asia Durr.

Durr, 21, had the given athleticism of hands, feet, agility and size. It was seasoned with cement court backyard brawls with an older brother, and with her mom trying to rattle her as Durr toed the free-throw line on the home court.

“Miss it!” Audrey Durr would holler at her daughter in mid-shooting stroke. Asia was 9 years old. That’s nurture.

Durr has the star player’s chemistry — nature plus nurture — and she is on her way to being the ACC Player of the Year for the second straight season. She is going to keep Louisville in the discussion for the national championship through the end of this month. When Durr’s college career ends, the 5-foot-10 combination guard will likely be a top-five pick in the WNBA draft.

Opponents either defend Durr straight up, and risk her dropping 30 on them, or they let her pick them apart with passes to teammates for better shots.

“It wasn’t all of it, but it helped me a lot to have my brother and mother pushing me,” Durr says. “You can’t take anything for granted. I’ve always been like that, ever since I picked up a basketball.”

Durr watched hours of basketball highlight shows as a kid instead of cartoons, Audrey says. She devotes herself to meditation twice a week and counseling once a week. Nurture is having an older sister, Genesis, who studied psychology in college, encourage Asia to be as gifted mentally as she is physically. The mental includes downtime and giving back. She is an avid NBA 2K player, and she worked with the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament when it was held in Louisville in 2018.

The mental game is helping Durr handle the pressure of being a star on the court. The left-handed shooter will get the ball on the wing, square to the basket or look for an opening, and suddenly a second defender rushes at her. Durr, unhurried, pivots to the teammate left open by the double-team and whips a pass. Suddenly, the ball is moving quickly and Louisville is playing 4-on-3 basketball. An open shot follows.

 

“We talked last summer — ‘What’s the next step in the evolution of your game?’ and it is being able to make reads and see when people are throwing junk defenses at you, seeing where the next player is going to be. And she has done a fantastic job with that,” says Louisville coach Jeff Walz.

Every scouting report for a major college team identifies the opposing players who lose sight of the floor when a second defender comes at them, who wimp out and look down to try to protect the ball. That’s not Durr, at least not anymore. In her sophomore season, she had 64 assists and 64 turnovers. Through 31 games of her senior season, Durr had 99 assists and just 57 turnovers. Now Durr plays with aplomb as the double-team comes at her. There is no panic.

“Her ballhandling is as good as her shooting,” Walz says. “When somebody comes off and blitzes, your head has to be up. She can dribble it, head up. Now you are able to make that next play.”

Durr lacks flashy quickness. She’s not going to blow by defenders all the time. But her versatility — and her head — make up for it.

With some superstars, the pass to them is the last pass. The shot is going up. They are more confident in themselves than anyone else. Durr is not reluctant to dish to her teammates. “She trusts us: That’s what’s big about the success we’re having, that she trusts her teammates,” says guard Jazmine Jones. “She doesn’t force anything.”

That trust is a reason why, after a Final Four run last year, Louisville is a contender for the program’s first national championship. For instance, Clemson tried to run two players at Durr in a Feb. 2 game, and it was the 6-foot guard Jones who made the Tigers pay. She scored 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Opponents either defend Durr straight up and risk her dropping 30 on them — or 47, as she did against N.C. State. Or they let Durr pick them apart with passes to teammates for better shots.

There is a discipline to Durr’s game that will keep her in that patient groove. Her mother saw it during Amateur Athletic Union summer seasons. Durr would go into fierce training mode, which included healthy eating. No snacks. “Only after the last AAU game of the summer when we stopped for gas would she ask if she could have a Sprite and a candy bar,” Audrey Durr says.

To the discipline, Durr added competitiveness. She always played with older girls or bigger, stronger boys. “The boys would go harder on her, especially if they were losing,” Audrey says. “Her brothers played rough. She would come in the house with bloody elbows and knees. She got knocked down.” Her older brother, Christian, was 15 and Durr was 10 when they had their scrums at home in Douglasville, a suburb of Atlanta. “The only way he would beat me is by fouling,” Durr says with smile. “It went back and forth.” 

Now Durr is an elite player in the women’s game. It’s not hard to understand how she got there.

Read more: Can she lead Notre Dame to a hoops repeat after 20 months away?

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