In Deja Church, the Michigan women’s basketball team may have found its guard of the future.
In the young season, the freshman standout has already made an impact as the first player off the bench. Her high level of play was on display in the 24th-ranked Wolverines’ 82-76 win over Marquette on Thursday night. Church went 5-for-8 from the floor to tie her career-high of 12 points.
“Deja was incredible,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I think she’s getting better and better every time she steps out on the floor. She was outstanding on both ends of the floor, and she had a block that should make the SportsCenter highlight loop.”
Her most significant basket came with 3:54 left in the game when she hit a layup as the shot clock expired – giving the Wolverines a 71-67 lead.
In her 26 minutes on the floor, Church undertook much of the ball-handling responsibilities. For the most part, she seemed unfazed by the Golden Eagles’ full court press. She found success driving the lane and was able to knock down shots through contact.
But a lot of what Church brings to the court goes unnoticed in the box score. She is a high-energy player that aggressively attacks the basket. She plays stingy defense and always fights for loose balls.
With these intangibles and a high level of passion, Church takes after senior forward Jillian Dunston. Barnes Arico thinks Church’s fiery personality will be important in years to come. Dunston seems to agree.
“I love the comparison,” said Dunston. “And she has a lot of heart. I’m excited to see how she develops.”
Church, a Michigan native, prepped just down the road at Southfield A&T High School. As a senior, Church averaged 24 points per game, 10 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.1 steals while leading the Blue Jays to the semifinals of the state tournament. She earned a bevy of accolades, including a Class A Co-Player of the Year Award, OAA Player of the Year nod, a Michigan Miss Basketball finalist and a nomination for the McDonald’s All-American game.
Ranked as the 67th overall recruit by Prospects Nation, Church’s talents were sought after by many schools. Despite originally committing to Minnesota, Church ultimately decided to stay home.
“All my family is here,” said Church. “My family never missed a game in high school or AAU, and that really sunk in. So I changed my commitment to come here.”
It seems that Church made the right decision. Thus far, she has averaged 7.78 points per game while shooting an impressive 66 percent from the field. Granted, at times, she has still looked like a freshman. Her four turnovers and pair of fouls in the fourth quarter undoubtedly contributed to Marquette’s near-comeback.
Even Church is certainly not a finished product. Barnes Arico feels she just needs more experience.
“I think the biggest thing for any freshman is to be consistent night in and night out and even throughout the course of the game,” Barnes Arico said. “I think mentally when we got up 16, Deja kind of relaxed for a second and then there were a couple of mistakes.”
For Church, the biggest adjustment has been the quick pace of play at the college level. She seems to be getting more comfortable, though, scoring 12 points in each of her last three games. As the season progresses, she will likely be a bigger focal point of the offense.
Coming into the season, questions remained over who would be the starting point guard after former guard Siera Thompson graduated. This year, Church isn’t the answer. Barnes Arico shifted senior guard Katelynn Flaherty to the point position.
But while Church has big shoes to fill by replacing the Wolverines all-time assists leader in Thompson and all-time scoring leader in Flaherty, her success seems imminent.