Selena Nwude has been asked the question more times than she cares to remember. After all, when you stand 6 feet 4 -- about a head taller than most her classmates -- and make basketball your sport of choice, it's only natural to be curious how far her athleticism reaches.
Can she dunk?
Eleanor Roosevelt's senior center has never even tried. She spends time after practice lifting weights, trying to strengthen her lower legs and hips in preparation for perhaps trying to dunk at some point this season, but for now, Nwude said, it is not a big deal.
"I know for a lot of males, it's in their nature to try to dunk from age 9 or 10," said Nwude, who has accepted a basketball scholarship from the University of Pittsburgh. "But for me, that's just not an instinct. They ask, 'Can you dunk? Can you dunk?' I don't really care. It's not a big thing for me."
Nwude said her basketball focus is more team-oriented. She wants to have fun on the court, enjoys being part of a winning team. She is quick to credit her coaches -- from Raiders Coach Rod Hairston down to those who worked with her at the Glenarden Boys and Girls Club. She is quick to acknowledge her teammates' contributions. And indeed, until this season, while she was regarded as one of the Washington area's top players, Nwude was never really the focal point of her team's offense.
That is about to change, and the expansion of Nwude's role on the defending Maryland 4A champion Raiders has been a key topic of conversation between the player and Hairston. Nwude averaged 5.7 points as a freshman, 10.6 as a sophomore and 11.7 last season as she earned third-team All-Met honors. Although not necessarily showing up in the scoring statistics, Nwude's impact is clear; last season, after Nwude returned from an ankle injury, Roosevelt lost its next game before winning 11 straight.
This season, however, Nwude is being counted upon to do more. Hairston said he thinks Nwude's biggest adjustment will be to become more aggressive on the court and dominate opponents.
"She's never had to have that role," Hairston said. "She's never had to be a scorer. She's always drawn a lot of the attention, but we had other people on the team who could score. This year, she needs to step up and score 15 points per night. She basically needs to average a double-double. She needs to help the freshmen like people helped her. I think she's accepting that role."
Part of the transition, Hairston said, is for Nwude to make the most out of the height advantage she has over just about every opponent.
"She really embraces being tall; it is good to see somebody who embraces her size," added Hairston, who is 6-4. "Even though on the court she's always had a problem playing against people that were smaller. She felt like she was taking advantage of them. When she plays [in top offseason tournaments] at the highest levels she could play at, she got the chance to play against people her size and realized she's not the biggest and had to jump and play hard and be physical to be successful."
Nwude agreed that playing taller -- and better -- competition over the spring and summer was challenging and enjoyable, though now it is back to the high school season and playing against shorter opponents.
"I like that so much more," Nwude said. "I hate playing against little people. It gets to be really irritating. It's like a little fly that just keeps running around. Against somebody your height, you're allowed to be a lot more physical. It's just a lot more fun and a lot more competition.
"When you play against somebody smaller than you, you automatically know you're going to be called for more fouls because you're taller. That's what you expect. So you have to adapt to the calls the referees are going to make. When you get to the college level, you don't have to deal with that, because everybody is more or less the same height."
For the time being, though, the only person close to Nwude's height is Hairston, though the coach will not let the player get the satisfaction out of saying she is taller. Anytime Nwude raises the subject, Hairston threatens to make the team do extra running in practice.
"I think it's a male ego thing -- they don't like to have women taller than them," Nwude said. "I think being in the basketball arena has really helped me deal with my height differential from everybody else. Being that the rest of my family is tall, I don't really see it is a difference for me. It's just, 'I'm tall. You're not.' It's as simple as that. It's not, 'Oh my gosh, look at me, I'm a freak show.' It's a blessing. I don't see it as a curse."