In freshman season, Fondren provides Syracuse with steady leadership as point guard
Cornelia Fondren saw Kayla Alexander jockeying for position inside the paint.
She dribbled left and delivered the ball to Alexander, who laid it up and in with four seconds to go in the half, putting Syracuse up 12.
That was one of Fondren’s career-high six assists in the Orange’s blowout win against Loyola on Dec. 8. Fondren followed up that performance a week later with a four-assist game in a victory against Binghamton.
The point guard has started 10 of 11 games for SU, averaging 2.8 assists per game while providing calmness and leadership as a freshman. Though her stats aren’t eye-popping and her style of play isn’t flashy, Fondren plays steady basketball and doesn’t make many glaring mistakes. She’ll look to continue her consistent play Friday night, as Syracuse (10-1) squares off against Washington State (3-6) at the Carrier Dome at 7 p.m.
“She’s been really great for us so far, especially coming in as a freshman and playing that starting role,” Fondren’s backcourt mate Elashier Hall said. “Just being the leader of our team on the court. She’s been doing great.”
Prior to the season, Fondren didn’t know she’d start and play such substantial minutes. So far, Fondren has played 18 minutes per game and paced an explosive Syracuse offense that averages 77 points per game.
Head coach Quentin Hillsman said the fact that Fondren is a freshman doesn’t deter him from playing her in crunch time and giving her such meaningful playing time.
“She’s a very smart player, very strong, very high basketball IQ,” Hillsman said. “I think that’s what’s allowing her to get a lot of minutes as a freshman.”
Fondren has made the most of those minutes so far, showing considerable growth throughout the early stages of the season.
Against Georgia Tech on Nov. 23, Fondren turned the ball over five times and fouled out of the game. Since then, though, the point guard hasn’t turned the ball over more than twice in a game.
Alexander has been impressed by Fondren’s assist-to-turnover ratio, but she said the most impressive element of Fondren’s game is her innate ability to be a leader on the court.
“She’s a naturally born leader out there,” Alexander said. “On the court she’ll bring our team together and say what she’s noticing and she’ll speak up on the floor. She has no issues speaking her mind.”
Senior Carmen Tyson-Thomas said being a point guard helps Fondren lead more and spark the offense in her natural element, as a facilitator.
“It helps her be more positive and more focused when she has everything clicking and the whole team’s following her lead,” Tyson-Thomas said.
Coming out of high school, ESPN.com ranked Fondren the No. 74 recruit – with a 93 overall grade – of the Class of 2012. Her position was listed as a shooting guard, just like teammates Brianna Butler and Brittney Sykes.
Fondren isn’t a shooting guard, though. She’s a natural point guard. She slows the game down and lets the action come to her.
Despite Fondren’s calming presence, the guard acknowledges there are two specific areas where she can improve to mold herself into a well-rounded, multi-dimensional player: dribbling and shooting.
Not many of Fondren’s turnovers come from ill-advised, poorly delivered passes; rather, they come from her inconsistent dribbling.
She’s only attempted seven 3-pointers in the season. Though she’s knocked down four, she hesitates from the arc at times and admitted she’s not completely comfortable taking shots with a hand in her face.
Shooting 32 percent from the floor in the season, Fondren recognizes her jumper is an area where she can improve.
She said Hillsman places extra emphasis on her dribbling and shooting and that she’s working hard to become more steady and confident in both areas.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten better with the dribbling yet, but I have more confidence in my shot than ever before,” Fondren said.
Hall believes Fondren’s jump shot will improve over time as she becomes more accustomed to taking and making open looks.
“You’re gonna make some, you’re gonna miss some, but I think she’s a really good point guard,” Hall said. “She makes up for it by being that leader and being such a strong player and competitor and working so hard. It’ll come.”
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