At the age of 16, you were identified as someone who could eventually play for one of the top national teams in the world. As a college freshman, you were the second-highest scorer on your team. You were named the 2018 Freshman of the Year in a conference that includes powers like Baylor and Texas. Then, you transfer, and things don’t go as you expected your first year back on the court.
That was the path of Arizona point guard Shaina Pellington. Was it a blow to her confidence?
“Oh, a hundred percent,” Pellington said. “A hundred percent.”
Heading into the 2020-21 season, she had high expectations for herself. She quickly found out that everything was different than she thought it would be.
“Coming from Oklahoma, being Freshman of the Year, being the leader of my team to now having a different role,” Pellington said. “Yeah, it was definitely a confidence shocker.”
That lack of confidence and difficulty with the adjustment showed on the floor. She started the first three games in the backcourt alongside star guard Aari McDonald, but her production fluctuated after that.
While Pellington ended the year in the 51st percentile of college basketball by shooting 39.5 percent from the floor, she often looked uncomfortable when she wasn’t able to get to the rack. She went 1 for 19 from the 3-point line and hit just 45 percent of her free throws.
“It was difficult for me to adjust to certain roles,” Pellington said. “It was difficult for me to just like fit in sometimes a little bit with the environment. It’s just everything was different for me, and I think this year was just about getting a feel for things again. You know, getting a feel for playing college basketball again, being with a different team, the environment.”
Her coach understood. Adia Barnes felt that Pellington finally started to put it all together during the Pac-12 Tournament, but she was especially pleased with the way her point guard ended the season.
Pellington had her best game of the year in the national title game against Stanford. She scored 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and stole the ball three times in 30 minutes of play.
“She came in today, gave us a spark, and played her heart out defensively, offensively,” Barnes said after the national championship game. “It was phenomenal. Without Shaina playing the way she did, we wouldn’t have even came down to the last possession. So, you know, Aari passing the baton to Shaina... very proud of Shaina and the way she played.”
There are a lot of reasons to believe that Arizona fans will see the Pellington who raised her game at the most important time of the year when next season rolls around. Those reasons start with last year’s postseason, but they don’t end there.
“To cap it all off in the national championship game,” Pellington said. “I mean, the most important game of the year, like come on. To perform that well... it was bittersweet. And I expect to be able to carry that on (next season). And I have carried that on already just in the AmeriCup tournament that I just participated in. I’m getting more confident in myself as a player, as a point guard, and that’s really important for me.”
Not only did Pellington arrive at Arizona with an impressive college resume, but she has been a key contributor to the No. 4 national team in the world. In addition to her recent performance at the AmeriCup, where she scored 12.5 points per game and shot over 50 percent from the field, she is headed to the Olympics with Team Canada. The chance to play with and against professionals and players who have been to multiple Olympics is something she believes will help her next season.
“If there’s one thing I can say I always gain from international experience, it’s just my IQ just goes through the roof,” Pellington said. “I learned so much about the game, and the game it almost gets slower and more simple for me.
The winding road of the season had its lows, but it ended on a high note both on and off the court. Not only did Pellington find her groove in a big way in the national title game, but she learned some important lessons along the way.
“Overall, I think I capped off the season pretty, pretty well,” Pellington said. “So, I don’t have any complaints. I think I needed that kind of just humbleness anyways. I think it was good for me, especially as a person—not even just basketball, but as a person. I think I definitely developed a lot as well as an individual. I think I was able to learn a lot of different things about myself as a person that I didn’t necessarily know before, and I think those are things that are really important, and that can help me translate my game on the basketball court as well. (I am) more confident with myself as a person, so it’s just like that will really, really help me be successful next season.”
She also believes the team has nothing but good things lying ahead. She’s not ready to say that last year was the peak for the Wildcats.
“Same expectations,” she said. “We were extremely successful this year, and I think we’ll be extremely successful next year as well. I know we lost a couple of players, but I feel like we also gain quite a bit of experience as well from the recruits and the people Adia was able to bring in. And I think as a team now that we can see what we’re capable of. I think that will really help us confidence-wise to be able to go into these games and play with confidence as a team. We know we have a very solid team defensively. Offensively, we’re also building.”
What about her expectations for herself?
“For me personally, I’m ready,” Pellington said. “I’m really excited. Different role, big shoes to fill. And I believe in myself, and I know I can fill them. I’ve been playing this game for a long time. You know, I’ve seen myself. I’ve gone through highs and lows. But, like I said, it can only go up from here.”