Playing to Another Strength

Shay Doron, here after a loss to Duke in January, has helped Maryland (26-3) to its best regular season in team history by becoming a more vocal leader
Shay Doron, here after a loss to Duke in January, has helped Maryland (26-3) to its best regular season in team history by becoming a more vocal leader (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Kathy Orton
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 3, 2006

Ask anyone at Maryland when Shay Doron's leadership was most evident this season, and they all point to the team's victory at No. 1 North Carolina. The Terrapins trailed the Tar Heels by 14 points in the second half, and the outcome looked grim to everyone but Doron.

During timeouts, the junior guard implored her teammates not to hang their heads. She told them it didn't matter that they were losing because they were going to come back. And they did. Maryland rallied to send the game into overtime and won when Doron blocked Ivory Latta's three-point attempt as time expired.

"She really sparked our team to come back in that game," sophomore forward Crystal Langhorne said. "Her eyes were like, 'We can come back.' "

Since arriving on campus in 2003, Doron has played a significant role in the resurgence of No. 4 Maryland (26-3, 12-2 ACC). Doron has stuffed the stat sheets with gaudy numbers and imprinted her name several times in the team's record book. But for all her contributions, Doron wasn't comfortable asserting herself vocally. Instead, she deferred to older players and led more by example.

"She was the biggest voice in that Carolina game," said Maryland Coach Brenda Frese, whose team opens ACC tournament play tonight against Georgia Tech . "She's now seeing that, 'Hey, this team needs me to step up not only as a player, but as a vocal leader.' I'm so proud to see the strides she's made in that area."

Doron has always been able to score a lot of points -- she averaged 16.2 points per game her first two seasons and 14.8 this year. By speaking out more this season, she also has become a leader.

It wasn't until her experience with the Israeli under-20 national team last summer that Doron came to embrace that role. Doron, who was born in Ramat Aviv and has dual citizenship, sensed from the moment she joined the Israeli team that she might have a problem. Because she was a big-time Division I player from the United States, her teammates already had formed an opinion of her.

"I knew what every girl was thinking: 'Oh my god, Shay is going to shoot every shot. She's not going to pass. She's going to be egotistical. It's going to be miserable for all of us,'" Doron said.

The team was together for only a short time, and Doron realized for the team to be successful, she would have to get them to work together.

"I had 2 1/2 weeks to win them over basically," Doron said. "I wasn't doing anything special. I was being myself, but I had to be more assertive obviously. I had to be a leader for that team, and I had to do it quickly."

Doron started by looking to pass rather than take the shot. She got her teammates to clap and cheer for one another during practices. By the end of the three weeks, they were joking and laughing together. Doron earned most valuable player honors while leading her team to a 6-0 record in the Division B European Championship, the first international tournament title for an Israeli women's team.

After it was over, a teammate sought her out.

"One of the girls was like, 'Before you came, we were so hesitant. We really didn't know what to expect. We were scared of you. We thought you were going to be [egotistical]. I'm so glad to find out you're not,' " Doron said. "I thought that was the biggest compliment I could have gotten. It's not even a basketball compliment. It was personal. I really took that to heart."

Emboldened by what she accomplished in less than a month with her Israeli team, Doron came back to Maryland determined to fulfill the role of team leader. Whether encouraging a struggling teammate or getting the team organized on the court, Doron has found ways other than scoring to help the Terrapins, and her teammates seem to be responding.

"The key with our team is knowing how to talk to people," Doron said. "I always tell them, 'I will never judge you. Can I give you advice? Can I tell you what I went through? Of course. But will I ever judge you? No.' As a leader, you want people to know that you're not full of yourself. I'm all about the team. I think everybody who knows me knows that."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company