Nahja Carter has always been fixated on offense, just not in the capacity of a scorer.
The Neptune guard was more captivated by the art of denying points than depositing them. Sure, on occasion, she could get out in transition to convert a steal but the idea of actively seeking her shot never seemed to be a high priority.
Over her first three seasons, that part of her game wasn’t really needed within a backcourt that featured current Rutgers freshmen Shakena Richardson and Syessence Davis. Carter would gladly defer shots to her more accomplished teammates, but that unselfishness masked a deeper obstacle.
“I was too nervous to shoot because I was worried how my teammates would react,” Carter confessed. “I was like the baby out there starting with all of them. So, I didn’t even look to score.”
When Richardson and Davis graduated in 2011, they left an offensive void that couldn’t be ignored or shunned by Carter, even if she was hesitant to address it. She was going to inherit the point for her senior year and the idea of passing up shots would not be tolerated.
Although he valued Carter’s infectious passion for defense, coach John Brown made it abundantly clear she would be contributing offensively at a much greater rate and she’d better get comfortable with the idea that if she wasn’t willing to shoot, there would be a seat waiting for her on the Neptune bench.
“We needed her to score,” Brown said. “Everyday, we emphasize that. When you come off a ball screen, look to attack. Make a play.”
The constant imploring finally struck a chord with Carter. A year after scoring 153 points over 29 games for a 5.2 average, Carter is now seek her shots more assertively and getting positive results.
On Saturday, Carter connected on 6 of 13 from the field en route to her second straight 18-point performance to spark fourth-seeded Neptune, No. 10 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, to a 47-40 victory over fifth-seeded Red Bank Catholic in the quarterfinal round of the Shore Conference Tournament at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft.
Carter knows her limits and her strengths. The output was a product of her aggressively attacking the basket with a combination of speed and agility. While she converted four layups and went 6 for 10 from the foul line, Carter also hit a pair of pull-up jumper.
“Now, I love it,” Carter said of seeking ways to find her shot. “During the fall, it finally clicked. I had to step out of my comfort zone. You can’t be a point guard and not shoot.”
Carter has gotten support from more than just Brown.
“Syessence and Shakena were ahead of me and, growing up, they could get on me,” Carter said. “But, watching those two together was like a blessing. They’ve encouraged me a lot more now to shoot and just be a leader.”
Against South Shore of New York on Jan. 28, Carter enjoyed her finest hour. Her brash penetration and newfound confidence in her scoring prowess paved the way to a career-high 25 points in a 57-51 overtime triumph.
While Carter has shed her inhibited shooting approach, the greatest development for the uncommitted playmaker just may be how she’s stuck a balance within her overall package.
She will still look to keep everyone involved in the shooting mix and her defense hasn’t suffered in the least. In fact, it’s been elevated perhaps with the incentive to generate more turnovers to get herself back and the rest of the Scarlet Fliers back into their offensive groove.
“I just want to help them a lot more than helping myself,” Carter said of incorporating everyone in the scoring rotation. “I want to make them look good. But, I’m looking to score more than I use to.”
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @GreggLerner