Even though they were walking to the same room, senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald and senior center Safiya Martin split in different directions.
Fitzgerald wanted to prove that her route to their room was faster than her teammate’s. As both athletes speed-walked to their room, Martin started to film Fitzgerald’s antics.
“She was recording me, like, ‘Look at this competitive person, look how competitive she is, she’s really racing me to get to the room,’” Fitzgerald said. “But yeah, I won.”
Ever since Fitzgerald started playing basketball at 5 years old, she has been competitive on the court and carries that personality trait with her off the court.
So far, Fitzgerald has averaged 17 points per game, 3.4 points more than last season. The statistics alone don’t show Fitzgerald’s value when Temple is losing in the fourth quarter or needs a boost to gain momentum.
“The one thing about her is she’s a fighter, she’s a competitor and she really wants to win, so she’s going to try to do everything in her power,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “When she’s on the court, she wants the ball in her hands, and that’s something that some people shy away from.”
When the Owls played Quinnipiac University on Nov. 27, Temple barely pulled off a three-point victory, largely thanks to Fitzgerald and junior guard Alliya Butts’ performance as the clock winded down.
In the final two minutes, Fitzgerald hit a jumper to give the Owls a one-point lead. One minute, 12 seconds later she assisted Butts’ 3-pointer to give Temple a three-point lead. Fitzgerald then drew a foul with 19 seconds left and made both free throws to secure a Temple win.
“She has a huge role,” Cardoza said. “She’s one of our leaders, she’s someone that we depend on for a lot, to be the hardest worker, to be the best defender, to be that extension of the coaches, and she has to score too.”
Fitzgerald started all 30 games and was the Owls’ top scorer as a freshman in the 2013-14 season. She has been a significant contributor ever since.
Because of her talent and her experience, Fitzgerald is closing in on several Temple records. She ranks third in career assists. If she matches her 186 assists from last season, she’ll own the record with an 82-assist cushion. Fitzgerald currently has 444 career assists and needs to surpass 507 to hold the top spot.
She also ranks sixth in total points with 1,373. If she continues to average 17 points per game in the remaining 23 games, she’ll pass Candice Dupree for second place all-time. As Fitzgerald continues playing this year, the records aren’t the first thing in her mind, but she does hope to etch her name into the history books.
“I want people to remember my name here,” Fitzgerald said. “I want something to represent me, like, ‘Feyonda did this, or Feyonda was known for this.’ I want my name to remain alive here.”
Fitzgerald’s shooting has been the most noticeable improvement in her career. She is shooting 47.6 percent from 3-point range through six games this season after shooting 26.8 percent last year. Her free throw percentage has improved to 84.2 percent and she is shooting 37.5 percent from the field after shooting 34.2 percent in 2015-16.
“She’s definitely grown in a sense, I mean, she’s always worked hard from day one,” Cardoza said. “From her freshman year, she shot the ball a lot. She probably felt like she had to win it, and I think now, she’s confident that she can make the pass to Alliya [Butts], she can dump the ball down here to this guy, that she doesn’t have to be the guy to win the game.”
When Fitzgerald came to Temple, the Owls had just come off a 14-18 season, and she was relied upon heavily. She led the team in field goal attempts, with 149 more shots than the next player. A lot of the time, she felt it was in her hands to take the final shot and either win or lose the game by herself. Now, that’s not so much the case.
“There will be times where I could do something to open up a teammate and dish it to them because I’m confident that they will knock down the shot,” Fitzgerald said. “But before, when I first got here, I would rather take the shot myself. I mean, I would still rather take it now, but if I have to, I will pass it because I trust them to knock down the shot.”
Fitzgerald hopes she can help the Owls qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011, when a streak of eight straight appearances ended. This goal stems not only from wanting the experience for herself and the team, but also because it could give her the exposure she needs from WNBA scouts.
After college play finishes, Fitzgerald hopes to move on to play in the WNBA. She knows she will have the support of her family as she tries to go pro.
“My dad’s been there, along with my grandmother, throughout all my years, from toddler to recreational basketball, to [Amateur Athletic Union], to high school and middle school, to college,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s the one who motivates me to be better, he wants me to be great.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca.