BELTON — Kendall Rollins didn’t grow up dreaming of playing college basketball. In fact, as a young child, she didn’t have any kind of dreams about basketball.
As her skill level developed, though, so did her love of the game.
“I started playing basketball in the seventh grade and, obviously, I wasn’t very good because it takes a lot of skill to play,” she said. “After a couple of years, I wanted to get better so I got referred to a personal coach by a teammate when I was in the ninth grade. I started seeing improvement, so I started working with him more often and we’ve kept it going.”
These days, it’s tough to envision the Mary Hardin-Baylor sophomore guard playing anything else. Last year’s American Southwest Conference West Division newcomer of the year has continued to expand her skill set, averaging 15.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game heading into Saturday afternoon’s matchup between her Lady Crusaders (14-3, 7-2) and Concordia Texas (7-9, 3-5) at Mayborn Campus Center.
The 6-foot Rollins rose from an unskilled seventh-grader to a major contributor for a college program and credits much of her transformation to the work with her personal trainer — a growing trend that can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on the trainer.
“It has gotten more and more common in the last five years or so. Some of those (trainers) are just people who are trying to make money off the situation, and then some of them are legitimate,” UMHB head coach Mark Morefield said. “What we try to do is communicate with these trainers as far as what our expectations are and what we want out of the player. If a player doesn’t have a personal trainer, we try to steer them toward one that we know and have a relationship with.”
Rollins began getting extra help with her game during her freshman year of high school, but it wasn’t until her sophomore season at Katy Tompkins that she started seeing the fruits of her labor. From then on, it was full steam ahead.
“A new high school opened up for my sophomore year and I was zoned to the new school,” she said. “My freshman year, I had just kind of coasted along. My sophomore year was the first time I was with a brand new team and brand new people, so I had to be good in order for us to win. That’s when I started developing more skill.”
As Rollins’ game continued to evolve and she helped Tompkins become a successful program even in its infancy, she still wasn’t sold on the idea of playing after high school. The time and work she put in to become a good player had started to take a toll, and she didn’t warm to the thought of competing in college until her final year of high school.
“I had some rough patches in the first few years in high school, and I didn’t know if I wanted to keep doing this. It was the summer before my senior year when I decided I wanted to try to play in college,” she said. “UMHB was scouting the point guard on my AAU team, and they ended up calling me to come for a visit. I came for the visit, and that’s when I knew I wanted to come here. Coach Morefield told me that he thought I could start right away.”
Morefield was true to his word. Rollins started 20 games last season, when she averaged nine points and four rebounds.
Following another summer working with her trainer, she returned with an expanded repertoire. She has made a team-leading 22 3-pointers this season — after making 11 all of last year — and already has grabbed 34 steals, 13 more than she totaled as a freshman.
“It can be hard for a player to go from not being a known commodity as a freshman to being known. It’s a big adjustment. She has a target on her back,” Morefield said. “She’s still young, but we need her and we count on her more now, and I think she’s getting comfortable with that.”
Rollins also has developed in her role as a leader. As a captain, her current job is making sure the Lady Crusaders don’t have a hangover following last Saturday’s loss at McMurry that snapped their 10-game win streak.
She doesn’t believe her team will have any problem getting back on track.
“Coach had been telling us that our defense was lacking. It’s kind of like we needed that game to prove that to us,” she said. “Our defense will definitely be better moving forward.”
Getting better and moving forward is something Rollins knows all about.