When Debbie Lytle was perfecting her hot-dog style of basketball in the schoolyards of Philadelphia, Maryland Coach Chris Weller was stressing fundamentals in College Park.
Their approach to the game hardly seemed compatible that day four years ago when Weller traveled to Philadelphia for a high school all-star game.
She arrived in time for the pregame workout and, as she entered the gym, Lytle, who played at Simon Gratz High School, made a nice baseline move. "I decided then she was someone I wanted," said Weller.
Not everyone felt the same. Although more than 100 colleges recruited Lytle, there was some talk, as she now admits, that, "I had a reputation as being uncoachable. People said my hot-dog style wouldn't fit in a college program," said Lytle.
Today, Lytle is a junior and a forward-point guard for the Terrapins' seventh-ranked women's team, which plays Missouri Friday night in the semifinals of the NCAA West Regional at Stanford. Weller says of Lytle: "She has matured as an individual on and off the court to where she no longer has that problem. She is much more poised."
"Sometimes I'm a showboat," the 5-foot-10 Lytle said. "It's hard to block out. If I make it, it's okay. If I miss it, Ms. Weller will always say, 'You could do it simpler.' "
Weller basically accepted Lytle's style, but toned it down, and even taught her how to shoot a jump shot. "I don't feel anyone is uncoachable," Weller said.
On the court, Lytle seems fearless, diving for the ball, hustling everywhere. Occasionally, she finds herself sprawled across a bench. "I don't see the boundary lines," she said. "If I hit a bunch of chairs or run over some people, I can usually catch myself. I like taking risks. You never know until you try."
A few of Lytle's teammates had difficulty adjusting to her style of play. Freshman Dorothy Smith said, "It was a challenge for me to play with Debbie. I couldn't catch her passes. Now I'm hanging onto them. Debbie smiles and it reinforces me."
Lytle says she finds particular pleasure in passing. "I love to assist. I love when they key on me. I'll pass it all day. I know my points will come."
Weller knows they will, too. "I think she's one of the most complete players in the college game; definitely one of the most versatile," said Weller. "She plays a total game, but her most exceptional skill is her defense.
"Her only weakness is that she plays a little street game," said Clemson Coach Annie Tribble. "She is very talented. She sees the open man. She has quickness, speed, and can pull up and shoot. She plays a lot like a boy."
Lytle leads her team in steals (86), assists (170) and minutes played (32.2 average), is second in rebounds (175) and field-goal percentage (.555) .and is the fourth-leading scorer (11.6 average). She is the only Terrapin to have started every game in this 23-6 season.
Lytle, a radio and television major at Maryland who says she'd like to be a sportscaster, also leads her team in talk.
"Sometimes I can get them up again," she said. "It motivates some of them if I run and gun."