Rutgers Hoops G Arella Guirantes: 'We have a lot of unfinished business'
Arella Guirantes could have gone off to the WNBA after the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, but she didn’t.
The redshirt senior opted to return to Rutgers women’s basketball despite already being the Big Ten Conference’s scoring leader with 20.6 points per game during a campaign that saw her being named to the All-Big Ten First Team and All-America Honorable Mention status by the Associated Press, the WBCA, and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
Guirantes was named the Preseason Big Ten Co-Player of the Year by the league’s coaches last week and was also named to the Watch List for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award which is given to the nation’s top shooting guard.
With room to grow and goals both personal and team wise to still achieve, Guirantes’ strive for greatness brought her back to Piscataway.
“She's come back with a vengeance,” Rutgers legendary and Hall of Fame head coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “Her mindset is she wants to be the best that there possibly can be. She's one of only six Rutgers players that have had average double digit scoring and rebounding. I mean it's amazing, and she's come back as what she would say unfinished business. She's gotten in shape and she’s worked hard.
“She is just driven, driven, driven, driven to flat out get it done. She's such a great competitor.”
Since joining the conference in 2014-15, Rutgers hasn’t had any team win a Big Ten title. Guirantes wants that more than anything.
“Winning a Big Ten championship is one of my main goals,” Guirantes said. “It's my top priority as a team right now. That's all I'm looking for. Of course you have your personal goals and everything. We have the pieces to do it. We have the skill to do it. I want to make history, like not only leave a personal mark, but just, a championship is a different feeling. Every time I watch the Lakers win or March Madness I crave to feel that type of feeling. It just comes from being a winner, and I'm glad to just have winners on my team.”
Stringer has seen 21 Scarlet Knights get drafted into the WNBA since she became the head coach. Guirantes isn’t far behind as she’s expected to hear her name get called next April. But that’s on hold right now, even if it eats at her.
“I think the main thing behind that decision was knowing that my journey here at Rutgers wasn't finished. It would have been great testing the waters and living my dream,” Guirantes said. “I've been talking about playing in the WNBA since I was in fifth grade watching Candace Parker and Pat Summitt. The thing is it was harder for me to stay and I swallow that pill every day. In practice it's difficult sometimes because you're so close yet so far at the same time. But, I feel like I made the right decision.”
Rutgers went 22-9 a year ago and 11-7 in the league. It reached the quarterfinals of the tough Big Ten Conference Tournament and would have made the NCAA Tournament if it happened. Guirantes is one of just three seniors with six true freshmen on the roster. She has all the skills in the world, but she wanted to come back and be a leader as well.
“I also wanted to experience this team, and actually be a leader that's passing down a bunch of information. If we would have had a bunch of returners come it would have been different,” Guirantes said. “We would have had a faster pace and we would have got into it faster, but we're moving slow. So, it's a different journey. It definitely is teaching me a lot of things from a leadership standpoint this year.
“I feel like we have a lot of unfinished business, but the thing is we have a lot of freshmen too. So they also don't understand the kind of critical position we are in. So they're taking a day by day and me and my teammates who are returning our all go every single day. I think just getting them on board, that's when it's going to take us to the next level. I think everybody who's returning is hungry to get back there and finish the job and get further than we've ever been.”
A year ago, Guirantes, who was ninth in the country in scoring, set a new Rutgers record with 171 made free throws, passing Sue Wick’s former record of 155 during her National Player of the Year season in 1987-88. She was the first Scarlet Knight to average over 20 points, over six rebounds, and over three assists in a season and reached 1,000 points in just two years.
Her scorer mentality will be there, especially even more so from behind the arc this season, but you can also expect to see the Bellport, N.Y. native to up her defense while playing point guard, shooting guard, as well as forward.
“She wants to be more consistent in the long ball. She's always been an outstanding rebounder. She pushes tempo, and definitely has been a key on our 55 defense. She is going to shoot the 3-pointer a little bit more than what she has done already,” Stringer said. “And of course she's looking at the many players that we've had in the league. I mean we've had so many players that have been playing in the league and I appreciate the fact that she knows that she is going to present and give, to everybody what it means to be a Scarlet Knight. I think that Arella joining that group is just going to add to the resumes of the many of the players that we've already had.The first thing that we need from her is we need her leadership, we need her scoring, we need her defense, and we need her be the outstanding player that she has always been. But she can't do it by herself.”
In a year that has the pandemic at the forefront of everything, it’s been challenging for Guirantes and her teammates, who still don’t know who they are going to play in less than two weeks.
“It's been tough,” she said. “I think everyone probably across the country is feeling the same way.It's been pretty difficult dealing with all the new rules, the extra testing, it's just a lot going on. The season’s coming up in 12 days and it doesn't even feel like we're playing a game in 12 days. But I think the beauty of it is just finding positivity throughout this whole pandemic. It's going to be a creative year and there hasn't been a season like this ever. It's kind of like making history.
“I'm kind of just focused on what we can control. And that's all you can do really as a team. I'm in here just trying to get the best I can. Control the controllables.”
This offseason, Guirantes put in extra work to get ready and it wasn’t easy. It it involved long days and thinking outside the box.
“I just found ways to be creative. That's it,” she said. “At one point I didn't even have a gym so I would just go to the parks. I would have my dad or grandfather passing me the ball, and just still continued to work on my game. I was traveling to New York at 4 a.m. every single day to work out. My whole offseason was about just being as creative as I can. I just found ways to at least get 1 percent better every day.”
And where did she improve?
“Just watching the film I've learned to get to my spots quicker. I have a lot more lateral movements instead of forward movements. I just tried to make my game as simple as possible this year and make quicker reads,” Guirantes said. “I think everything this year is about quicker, stronger, and easier with me . And just improving and taking my teammates with me so they can set up for the next year. I'm just trying to pass down as much information as I can to the newcomers.”
Rutgers has had seven players go in the first round of the WNBA Draft. Cappie Pondexter in 2006 to the Phoenix Mercury was the highest to be selected at No. 2 overall.
Will Guirantes go No. 1 in 2021?
“Yeah, she has a chance. It's interesting,”Stringer said. “She couldn't be the first name but I hesitate to put that on her because I don't want her to feel bad if it [didn’t go like that]. We've had Olympians with the Cappie Pondexter or Essence Carson or Matee Ajavon, those players, you know, and Arella is every bit as good as all of them. Arella has a higher scoring average than then than all of them, but, but with that said she need to do she needs to be consistent because I'm sure that they're going to, especially if she's being drafted to a team that has already been successful, then they're going to look for her to yes increase her 3-point shooting, play some great defense and they know that they're going to get a great defensive player on that and she's bright, she's extremely bright on that side of it…”
Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisWasky.