Jen Derevjanik: Leaders of the Pats


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In football, part of every coach’s phrase book is the saying, ‘You can’t teach size.’ The same goes for speed. Their basketball counterparts might modify that slightly — you can’t teach height.

Height is one of basketball’s great equalizers: In the frontcourt, it can give a team rebounding and defensive advantages; offensively, it takes less effort to get to the rim. In the backcourt, where height is often at a premium, it’s even more potent.

That’s what makes George Mason guard Jen Derevjanik potent: height. She’s 5-10, and she has speed too.

“She has lots of qualities,” said Patriots coach Debbie Taneyhill. “She’s a big guard at 5-10, she’s fast, she’s athletic, she can play the one or the two, she plays excellent defense and she passes well.

“If you have all of those qualities and you’re 5-6, that’s a disadvantage.”

With all of that, it’s not a big shock that Derevjanik was a first-team pick on the all-Colonial Athletic Association preseason team. Last year, during the Patriots’ 17-14 campaign, Derevjanik started every game at point guard, led the team in points (13.7 per game), three-pointers and assists.

The offense begins with Derevjanik. And Taneyhill would like more to see the offense end Derevjanik too.

“She has some very good seniors here when she won the [CAA] Rookie of the Year [as a freshman], so she was used to being the third option,” Taneyhill explained.

But Derevjanik eventually discovered she could be the first option — although Taneyhill added that the coaching staff is still trying to make sure that Derevjanik remembers that.

This year will be Derevjanik’s third on the Patriots’ team. During her career at St. Peter’s High School on Staten Island, N.Y., all signs pointed to future success. She received first-team all-city honors by New York’s three major daily newspapers, won the Jaques Awards as Staten Island’s best player three straight years and was an honorable mention selection on USA Today’s All-American squad.

When Taneyhill and the Patriots invited Derevjanik for a recruiting visit, the trip had an immediate impact.

“They got me to come for a visit, and I fell in love with it,” Derevjanik said.

In her freshman year of 2000, the Patriots went 21-9 — 11 more games than they had won the year before — and made a trip to the WNIT. Last year, while finishing three games over .500, they took perennial conference power Old Dominion to overtime in the CAA tournament. But they lost that game 68-63.

This year, Old Dominion is the preseason favorite to win the conference, with the Patriots slotted for second.

“It’ll be difficult. The CAA is strong this year and there are many starters back, a lot of experience,” Taneyhill said. “But I’m proud to have that ranking. It’s better than being picked 10th. Now it’s up to us to meet those expectations.”

Taneyhill said she would like to see Derevjanik, normally reserved, take on more of a leadership role with the team. But Taneyhill is excited by the return of junior Vernessa Neamo, a 5-10 guard forward from Forestville, Md. Neamo had 11 double-doubles last year and led Mason in rebounds.

Derevjanik, meanwhile, is excited about the Patriots’ two incoming freshmen: guard Jen Daniels and 6-4 center Kim Pyne.

“We’re pretty confident. We’ve all got an extra year [under our belts] and we have two pretty good freshmen coming in,” Derevjanik said.

Daniels and Pyne add to what is already a relatively young team: Mason suits up just three seniors, while the majority of the roster — seven players — is juniors.

When that class is ready to graduate, Taneyhill is confident that Derevjanik — provided she continues to improve — has a shot at a career in professional basketball.

But for now, Derevjanik will be at the forefront of the Patriots’ basketball team, hoping she’ll be first-team all-conference when the season ends. But more important, she said, is the team’s success.

“Certainly, I don’t think we’d succeed without her,” said Taneyhill. “Others will have to step up along with her, so to speak. But she’s definitely the driving force.”

Being the catalyst of a team’s success, that’s something that can’t be taught.

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