Rose Nkumu worked hard for her role on the Marquette women's basketball team. Now she's a key player as the Golden Eagles eye NCAA Tournament.

Marquette guard Rose Nkumu is averaging 26.8 minutes per game after not seeing the court much in her first two seasons.
Marquette guard Rose Nkumu is averaging 26.8 minutes per game after not seeing the court much in her first two seasons.

Marquette women's player Rose Nkumu is following a trajectory that is old school these days in college basketball.

The 5-foot-7 junior guard has steadily improved during her time with the Golden Eagles and is enjoying a breakout season as a glue player who is averaging 26.8 minutes per game.

"Kids that sat for two years or play limited minutes, they go in the (transfer) portal now or are complaining about something," MU head coach Megan Duffy said. "Never hear anything negative from her or her parents. She just keeps working."

Nkumu puts up 5.3 points and 2.3 assists per game, but her impact goes beyond the box score. She typically guards the opposing player's best perimeter player and also eases the ball-handling duties of fellow starting guard Jordan King.

MU will need every contribution it can get with six games remaining in the regular season. The Golden Eagles (15-8, 8-6 Big East) are fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament and play four of those matchups at home, including Wednesday's clash with No. 4 Connecticut (21-3, 13-0).

Nkumu was standout at Iowa City High School

Nkumu first picked up a basketball in first grade and started playing seriously on travel teams a few years later. Her growth really accelerated when she played for a team coached by former University of Iowa men's star Acie Earl, who had a brief stint with the Milwaukee Bucks during his four seasons in the NBA.

From 2019:Rose Nkumu commits to Marquette's 2020 class

“He actually would stick me on his daughter’s team, who was three years older than me," Nkumu said. "He’d just kind of throw me out there and I’d kind of go through playing against older girls and girls bigger than me. He was the first one who kind of instilled confidence in me to be able to pursue this collegiately."

Nkumu scored over 1,000 points at Iowa City High School and got the attention of Duffy when she was coach at Miami (Ohio).

"Just a hard-nosed prototypical point guard," Duffy said. "Pass first. Great defensively for that level. Won a lot of games in high school."

Nkumu thought Miami (Ohio) was too far of a drive from Iowa City. But when Duffy was hired at MU, the four-hour trip to Milwaukee was more manageable and Nkumu committed.

Nkumu makes steady progress on the court

Nkumu's first season with the Golden Eagles was hard on multiple levels. That was the COVID-impacted 2020-21 season with no crowds and social distancing among teammates and fellow students.

"It was kind of surreal," Nkumu said. "Kind of my first experience on campus was to be six feet away from people and masked up."

It was an adjustment on the court as well.

"The first thing is pace," Nkumu said. "When you first step on a college court, you don’t really realize until you’re in it that the pace is completely different."

She played in only 56 minutes over 15 games as a freshman. Then she showed flashes in her 12.2 minutes per game as a sophomore, including handing out nine assists at Georgetown.

Duffy could see everything click for Nkumu heading into this season.

"I think she wanted a starting role," Duffy said. "She played some reserve minutes and we were talking about some good freshmen coming in and she was, like, and I’m putting words in her mouth, but I want to deserve these minutes I’m about to get."

Nkumu found her role.

“Jordan and Chloe (Marotta) attract a lot of attention, so does Liza (Karlen), so being that X-factor of getting a few layups," Nkumu said. "My steals and defense. I know that’s something that I can always bring to the team.

"I take very deep pride in being able to guard the other team’s best players. And just making an impact. Whether that’s on the ball, off the ball. Getting deflections. Steals. Things like that."

The next step in her evolution is as a scorer. She had a college-high 16 points in MU's upset of then-No. 3 Texas in November.

"I’ve tried a little more this year to be available to my teammates," Nkumu said. "When they have double teams, to be able to knock down an open shot. Or even find my lanes to attack and get to the basket.

"Continued to develop that I think throughout the season and then next summer will be a big part of that as well."

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Marquette women's basketball Rose Nkumu is key role player