Nicole Munger: Student of the Game
“I hate starting.”
That’s not something you would expect to hear from one of the starting guards on the Michigan women’s basketball team.
But Nicole Munger prefers to analyze.
The junior misses the days of her sophomore year, when she would sit on the bench and watch. She would carefully observe her opponent and then go in and provide a break for the starters and, more importantly, a spark of energy.
But this year Munger has embraced her role as a starter — and playmaker — for the Wolverines.
“I think for this team to be successful, (Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico) wanted me to be in that role but it’s just different, just trying to come in and be ready very quickly, it took time,” Munger said. “The first couple times I was very nervous because it’s a different feel to the game. You don’t get to sit there and watch it and get your feet wet. I liked coming in when everyone else got a little tired and then I could turn up the energy.”
It took some adjusting but now Munger seems to be more comfortable. She has assisted Michigan in a five game winning streak, which included a victory each over rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.
She scored a career-high 20 points at Ohio State on Jan. 7 and had another career high of five steals against Illinois on Jan. 20.
“She’s playing with an extreme amount of confidence,” Barnes Arico said. “She was an outstanding player last year as well but she didn’t have that same confidence and now it’s nice to see her growth. She’s doing a little bit of everything for us.”
Along with her role as a starter, Munger has also become Barnes Arico’s voice on the court.
“I’ve kind of turned to her a little bit as the voice of the team because she has great recognition and she sees things,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s a student of the game, she really knows the situations and the game a lot so I’ve been relying on her a lot to be a voice out there for our team, and I think she’s really embraced that role.”
Whenever Munger is subbed out, she sits directly next to Barnes Arico on the bench. Side-by-side, the coach and her player break down the plays and their opponent.
“She listens to me the whole time as to what I’m saying,” Barnes Arico said. “We’re kind of on the same page. She thinks the same way that I do, she doesn’t say it that much so now I want her to say it when she’s out on the court. She knows what I’m thinking and she’s thinking the game the entire time. I’ve challenged her with becoming more vocal and she’s embraced that.”
While other teammates, like senior forward Jillian Dunston, have a fire in their belly and provide the energy to the court, Munger is clearly more analytical, providing a different dimension for the Wolverines to balance Dunston’s attack.
It’s a formula that seems to to be working, as indicated by the Wolverines’ success this season. Surely, part of that can be indicated to Munger, even if she’d prefer a different role.