USA Today

Megan Podkowa: Solving for X

CHICAGO - To look at the NCAA website to try and determine what position 6-foot-2 senior Megan Podkowa played her freshman year at DePaul is a fruitless task: there is no position listed, just a dash. And that lack of categorization for her goes back to the second grade. 

Her coach at DePaul, Doug Bruno, on her recruitment: “I could not define her role; she was that kind of player. She is a player that can play all positions.”

Her coach at Trinity High School, where she graduated as the school’s all-time leading scorer (2,065), rebounder (1,182) and shot-blocker (272), Eddie Stritzel:  “I was lucky enough to coach her from the fifth grade on the River Forest Raiders [through her senior year at Trinity]. In the fifth grade she was the tallest kid out there but she was the best ball handler. And usually, the big kid you stick inside, but she was our best passer and our best shooter.”

Podkowa:  “When I was younger and practicing with my sister Kelly’s basketball team, I definitely worked on my [ball handling skills] every day. I started out with the River Forest Raiders in the second grade, and they always worked on those skills. I was the only one who was serious when playing on the travel team, so I had to play point guard in grammar school.” 

“She is not going to give you a lot of ‘rah-rah,’ that is just not her,” Stritzel said in a recent telephone interview. “But in the biggest games and in the toughest environments, you would not want anybody else with the ball.” 

In Podkowa’s sophomore year, No. 7 seed DePaul played No. 2 seed Duke to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16. DePaul won 74-65 in one of its biggest games, in one of the toughest environments at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and against Podkowa’s in-game counterpart, three-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Elizabeth Williams.   

“I remember getting ready for the Duke game,” Podkowa said. “Coach Bruno was saying how physical I would have to be against [Williams] to guard her.” 

And there it was, on the game’s first possession, with Duke’s Tricia Liston missing a three-pointer from the right wing and Podkowa being fouled by Williams on the box out for the rebound. 

“Coach Bruno’s face lit up and he was so proud of me for keeping Williams off the basket for one possession,” Podkowa said. 

 And it became more than one possession, and in more than one way that Podkowa affected the game’s outcome.

 Midway through the first half, Podkowa blocking Williams’ shot on the latter’s spin move in the paint; at 8:32 of the first half, Duke’s Haley Peters and Williams on a two-on-one fast break, with Podkowa breaking up the play, filling a passing lane on the break, setting up on the left wing, and burying a three-pointer for a 20-8 DePaul lead; Duke gaining its first lead of the game at 28-27 and Podkowa nailing a three-pointer from the top of the key to give DePaul the lead for good; early in the second half, Podkowa scoring on a driving layup off teammate Chanise Jenkins’ steal; blocking Williams’ shot off a fast break late in the game.  

“I enjoy playing multiple positions because it causes such mismatches for other teams,” Podkowa said. “If they have to put someone smaller on me then I can go into the post and if they have someone bigger on me then I can try to take some three-point shots.”  

Podkowa’s line for the Duke game was 18 points, five boards, and three blocks. She shot 7-9 from the field, including 3-3 from behind the three-point line.

“I think I definitely started coming out of my shell in that game, just being more comfortable shooting.” 

And her success in big games and tough environments did not end there.

She had 22 points, 10 boards, and three assists in DePaul’s 58-55 win over Villanova in last year’s Big East tournament semifinals, and 19 points and six boards in the title win against Seton Hall. She was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Podkowa had 25 points and five boards in last year’s NCAA tournament round one win versus Minnesota and 19 points and 11 boards in DePaul’s round two loss to No. 1 seed Notre Dame.

This year she was named to the Preseason WNIT All-Tournament Team, scoring 19 points and grabbing seven boards in the title game loss to No. 4 Baylor. She had a then-career high 27 points and 14 rebounds versus No. 12 Northwestern. 

“She is doing what she has always done, which is being a subtle good player, one that does not jump at you,” Bruno said. “But I think what she is doing now that is making people notice her more is the gaudy rebounding numbers she put up at Texas A&M (career-high 18 boards) and at Northwestern.”

Podkowa was named the espnW National Player of the Week and the USBWA Anne Meyers Drysdale Player of the Week after wins against No. 15 Texas A&M and Northwestern. She is the Big East’s active leader in rebounds and blocks. 

She shot 58.4 percent from the field in the last four games her junior year. She was No. 26 in the country in Division I in field goal percentage last year at 52.6 percent (184-350). And this year she is currently No. 28 in that category at 55.3 percent (120-217), with only eight players above her in this category who have made more field goals than Podkowa has.

Her philosophy for high percentage shooting is simple and community-based.

“Knowing what is a good shot and what is not a good shot, and my teammates getting me wide open.” 

Podkowa’s sister Kelly attended the Doug Bruno Basketball Camp as a youngster and Podkowa, the youngest of five, followed in the third or fourth grade. Her experience at the camp epitomizes her own play, the play of her teammates, and the spirit of Bruno.

“When people weren’t working hard enough, he would make us sprint to the basket and back, and then we would have to run around the court until everyone started working to their potential,” Podkowa said. “The biggest thing I took away from the camp was that you always have to work hard.”

Podkowa carries a 3.84 GPA and is majoring in Mathematical Sciences with a concentration in Actuarial Science. And perhaps true to her analytical side, she won’t give much more than a hand clap as a show of emotion while on the court.

But it always comes back to numbers with her.

Podkowa is No. 19 all-time in scoring at DePaul with 1,322 points; No. 5 in career field goal percentage at 39%; No. 6 in blocks with 127; and No. 9 in rebounds with 729.

The collegiate basketball player who does many things well can solve many problems for their respective coaches, and this is something that does not go unnoticed by Bruno. 

“She has guard skills, she can pass the ball, and she can post up,” he said. “You have to watch her a lot close up to understand how special she is.”

And the position the NCAA has her listed at for her other three years at DePaul? Forward. Some things are never solved.  

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