Women's basketball: Honing her craft

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David Minton/DRC
North Texas senior guard Laura McCoy, right, attacks the basket against Old Dominion during a game Feb. 8 at the Super Pit.

North Texas has finished practice and most of the Mean Green’s players have headed to the locker room on a nondescript weekday afternoon.

The UNT men’s team is getting ready to take the floor, giving Laura McCoy just enough time to squeeze in a few extra shots. One of the greatest long-range shooters in program history is taking advantage, bouncing from spot to spot on the floor, her trademark blond ponytail bouncing as she goes.

McCoy hoists the ball again and again, first from close range, then from 15 feet and finally out to the 3-point arc and beyond as UNT strength coach Chris Seroka looks on.

“This is what makes Laura who she is,” Seroka said. “She works on her craft.”

For McCoy, that craft is finding a way to connect consistently, especially from beyond the 3-point arc — 20 feet, 9 inches from the basket.

Few have done it better than McCoy, who has pumped in 164 3-pointers, a total that ranks second in school history, during a career that is down to its final stages heading into this week’s Conference USA tournament in El Paso.

UNT (12-17) will face Louisiana Tech in a first-round game at 6 p.m. Tuesday and will need to win the tournament for the automatic NCAA tournament berth to extend its season.

The odds of that happening seem miniscule for the Mean Green, the No. 11 seed in the 16-team tournament. That doesn’t bother McCoy, who has faced long odds throughout her basketball journey.

McCoy, at 5-foot-7, was never the biggest, the quickest or the fastest and knew that she had one avenue to reach her goal of playing on the college level and being productive when she got there.

“It’s important, especially for a smaller guard, to be able to shoot,” McCoy said. “I knew that it was my strong point. Since I was in elementary school, I loved to shoot. It’s always what I focused on.”

Saying McCoy focused honing her shooting stroke, especially from long distance, might be a bit of an understatement, according to her coaches and teammates dating back to her formative years in Flower Mound.

McCoy has been tossed out of just about every gym she has ever played in on a regular basis because the person with the keys wanted to go home.

“Laura ranks among the three hardest working kids I have ever had,” said Flower Mound coach Sherika Nelson, who has spent 14 years in coaching, including seven as a head coach. “The time she put in is what made her the player she is. She came in and shot at night on the gun [a machine that fires balls to shooters automatically]. She would nag me to let her stay and shoot more. Her wrist would swell because she took so many shots.”

McCoy kept on shooting because she loved the game, competing and the sight of the ball settling into the net after making yet another 3-pointer.

What McCoy never anticipated was how her love of the game would transform her from a kid with drive and dreams into a player who has carved out a niche in UNT history.

McCoy not only ranks second in career 3-pointers made at UNT, but is also second in career free-throw percentage at 86.1 percent. The way McCoy has produced over the years is just one of the reasons she has earned the respect of her teammates and developed into a leader.

“Laura is so funny,” UNT senior guard Desiree Nelson said. “She is always there to pick my spirits up. She is someone that anyone on the team can talk to.”

Humble beginnings

Nothing about McCoy’s start in basketball indicated that she would end up starting 79 games at UNT while piling up 735 points and 203 assists — and counting — heading into this week’s conference tournament.

McCoy stumbled into the game after her older sister, Julianne McCoy, started playing.

“She tagged along with her sister to practices and games at the YMCA and followed her into it,” said Kevin McCoy, Laura’s father. “We found out early on that she was pretty good.”

Laura McCoy ended up being the family’s hoops prodigy.

Kevin McCoy grew up in Illinois and loved the game, but only played in recreational leagues. Julianne McCoy, who is four years older than Laura, didn’t stick with the game long after playing in youth leagues.

“She didn’t end up being interested in basketball, but it stuck with me,” Laura McCoy said. “I liked practicing, working out and competing.”

The level of McCoy’s dedication surprised even her father, who ended up coaching his daughter’s youth league teams and serving as her designated rebounder for hours upon hours of shooting drills.

Kevin McCoy would come home from work on summer nights when the temperature was still hovering around 95 degrees and ask his daughter if she wanted to go shoot, even though he knew the answer. The two would stay outside as McCoy hoisted shot after shot until it was dark.

Often times they would end the night by reading Runnin’ the Show: Basketball Leadership for Coaches and Players by Dick DeVenzio, an undersized guard who played at Duke and professionally overseas.

“We went through the chapters and called them lessons,” Kevin McCoy said. “Not a lot of kids would sit and do that, but she was interested in it. She wanted to know how to play the game the right way and be a leader.”

McCoy’s drive caught the attention of Melissa Renfo, a former player at UCLA who tutored top basketball prospects and coached summer league teams in the Flower Mound area.

McCoy was about to begin her seventh-grade year when Renfo noticed the young point guard while working out at an area gym.

“She worked harder than anyone else there and had a plan,” Renfro said. “You don’t find many kids like that.”

Before long, McCoy’s parents arranged for Renfro to work with their daughter.

“I never met a kid who worked harder,” Renfo said. “With her, it’s just repetition, repetition, repetition. We would work late in the night. I would have to tell her that she needed to go home and get some rest.”

McCoy finished her career as Flower Mound’s all-time leader in scoring and assists and was District 6-5A’s Offensive Player of the Year as a junior.

Missouri-Kansas City and Stephen F. Austin both offered McCoy a scholarship and a few other schools showed interest in McCoy her senior year. None of those opportunities were as appealing as the chance to play close to home at UNT, which was trying to turn the corner under third-year head coach Shanice Stephens.

What McCoy never foresaw was the number of twists and turns her career would take after she signed her scholarship offer from UNT.

A wild ride at UNT

Stephens was fired after McCoy’s freshman season with the Mean Green, setting off a tumultuous time in program history that saw UNT go through three coaches in three years.

Former UNT assistant Karen Aston took over for Stephens, but stayed just a year before landing her dream job at Texas. Mike Petersen left Wake Forest to take over for Aston and has worked with McCoy the last two years.

Maybe the best indication of just how steady and productive a player McCoy is is that she has started for at least part of the season in all four of her campaigns with the Mean Green under three different coaches — all with different philosophies and styles of play.

Petersen attributes McCoy’s ability to adapt largely to the drive that helped her become a college player in the first place.

“Her work ethic is what I will remember,” Petersen said. “She isn’t afraid to get into the gym and get extra shots up to help herself become a better player. Being a shooter is all about reps. There has never been a natural-born shooter.”

No one knows that better than McCoy, who has continued to work at her craft throughout her time at UNT, often with Kelby Jones.

UNT’s manager has stood under the basket at various venues around campus before practice, after practice and in the middle of the night, rebounding for McCoy and estimates he has put in more than 50 hours over the last two years.

That time has helped McCoy refine her shot, capitalize on all the talent she possesses and become one of the best shooters in school history.

“If I got a penny for every rebound, I would be on the Forbes millionaire list,” Jones said. “It’s not that hard a job, because most of the time, I’m grabbing the ball out of the net. There is not a lot of running involved. Laura’s that good and that consistent.”

CAREER STANDING

The following is where North Texas senior guard Laura McCoy ranks in school history in two key statistical categories:

CAREER 3-POINTERS

1. Ashley Norris

1995-2000

197

2. Laura McCoy

2010-present

164

3. Nicole Thomas

1998-2002

159

CAREER FREE-THROW PERCENTAGE

1. Jill Medlock

2003-04

90.9

2. Laura McCoy

2010-present

86.1

3. Yari Escalera

2007-09

84.1


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