Feb. 7, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – After you’ve had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the presence of the President of the United States, a governor, two mayors and a crowd of 1,300, what’s making a 3-pointer in a college basketball game?
Well, to Justine Boerger, both are really big deals.
Boerger has played sparingly in her redshirt freshman season for Marshall, but it turns out she’s a very integral part of what first-year Coach Matt Daniel is trying to build in the MU women’s program … although she only just hit her first collegiate hoop Sunday in a Henderson Center victory over Memphis.
The 5-foot-10 Boerger has played 27 minutes in 12 games, but she made a 3-pointer with 11:43 left in the first half of Daniel’s first Conference USA win.
“It was an awesome feeling,” Boerger said before the Herd (7-13, 1-6) headed to UCF (7-14, 1-6) for tonight’s FSN telecast game. “As soon as I got the ball, saw that I was open and I shot it. One of the best parts was seeing my teammates and how excited they were, too. It made me really excited they were really happy for me.”
Then, Boerger got a surprise after the game, when Daniel’s postgame session with the media included the revelation that on a recent bus ride for game travel, the Herd took a survey on themselves.
“We did an exercise, evaluating the program as we go … did an evaluation on the bus and we did everything,” Daniel said of the survey. “Who’s the best person, who’s the laziest, and they had to rank everybody and they couldn’t bail out.
“And we had a point system and talked about value. And Justine, an unsung hero, brings as much value as most of our team. She was in the top three in points earned. There’s value in everything, in that she’s dependable, she’s trustworthy, she’s bought in, she says the right stuff, everybody likes to be around her.
“Everything’s contagious. And when her shot goes down, it’s contagious; laziness is contagious, winning is contagious, effort is contagious, attitude is contagious; everything is contagious.”
Team bonding is, too, and the Herd had a special time Wednesday night in Orlando, Fla., when Daniel – through his longtime friendship with former Colorado teammate and Clippers guard Chauncey Billups – took his team to the Clippers-Magic NBA game.
Boerger has been to NBA games before, in Milwaukee. She’s also been on the big stage herself – on June 30, 2010, when President Obama came to her hometown of Racine, Wis., for a town hall meeting on the economy.
On that summer day before her senior year as president of the student body at Horlick High School, she lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance before the President took over.
“One day after my junior year I got a call from my principal, saying someone from the White House wants to know if they can have your phone number. ‘Is it OK if we give it to them?’” Boerger said. “I said, ‘Sure, I guess it’s OK. I have a couple of questions … this is really weird … what’s going on? They said the President was coming to town and since I was president of student body, the principal recommended my name.
“I said the Pledge and President Obama came on stage and he started shaking hands with everyone in the front row. He shook my hand. My mom got a photo of it. It was a really neat experience … probably one of the most nerve-wracking things of my life.
“I never thought I’d have to practice the Pledge of Allegiance but I did, lots, walking around the house, saying it over and over again, but it was pretty awesome.”
That “awesome” would also describe her feelings about that team survey in which she did almost as well as she does in the classroom while majoring in medical physics.
“There were really a wide range of things on the survey, from who we think represents the program the best, who’s the best teammate, best attitude, who you like to hang out with, that kind of stuff, to who’s the laziest, who’s the most selfish,” Boerger said. “It ranged from basketball to personality-wise things.
“To me it was really flattering and it made me really happy that I was toward the top because it just shows there’s more to a team than just point and rebounds. We’re like a family and people really appreciate work ethic, or a high-five. Things like that can go a long way. My teammates, they see that in me and I see that in them, and it was great, very special it came from my teammates.
“I had no idea (on the poll results until Daniel brought it up postgame). It made me feel great, because sometimes you’re there sitting on the bench, not getting to play much, and you ask yourself, ‘What value am I bringing to the team?’
“It was a great to know that, my teammates and coaches see me as extremely valuable to the team, and that has nothing to do with me scoring baskets, just being a good teammate and working hard.”
An all-conference and all-county player in high school, Boerger ended up at Marshall because she “wanted to go far away from home, experience new things.” She visited Western Michigan and Michigan Tech, but then Marshall was suggested by her AAU Team Wisconsin coach, Dr. Marcellous Hall – a former Harlem Globetrotters vice president and the father of former Herd star Sikeetha Shepard-Hall (MU’s No. 3 career scorer).
Former Herd Coach Royce Chadwick signed Boerger – “It just felt right,” she said -- and she sat out 2011-12 as a redshirt. Then, she got a new coach this past May when Daniel was hired after Chadwick moved to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
“It’s been difficult for me,” Boerger said of the time away from game action and then the coaching move. “Not only did I have to just make the transition from high school to college. I really don’t feel like I made that transition until this year, and then it was under a new coach.
“Coach Daniel has had my back every step of the way, and he’s been patient with me and really had faith in me all the way, because it took a lot of adjustment for me at first. He’s just been there and let me break out of my shell and get used to everything. Although it was difficult, Coach Daniel did a great job with it, with our whole team.
“Our style of play is completely different, first of all. Coach Daniel is run-and-gun, fast-paced, very, very structured in his offense, but at the same time he lets us play. I’ve never really played this style of basketball before. From the way we do practice, to the way we do pregame, everything is completely different. He’s completely flipped everything upside down, so it’s been an adjustment in all categories.
Boerger, 19, had a 3.46 grade point average last semester – one of seven women’s basketball players with a 3.0 or better. And although she’s a redshirt freshman in athletics, she’s into her junior year academically with 74 credit hours completed in a tough major. Thanks to AP classes in high school, she came to MU with 12 college credits.
“I’ll probably work on my masters the final two years (of basketball),” she said. “I don’t know what I want to do yet, possibly med school, possibly go into medical sciences. I’m still trying to figure out, but it will be in medical field.”
Right now, she’s just hoping to find more playing time, to have more of an impact on the floor as well as what the survey said she has off the court..
“It’s been difficult to sit on the bench, but there are things that you can’t control,” Boerger said. “Coach Daniel talks about this all the time. You can control your effort and you can control your attitude, so it all depends on your perspective about things.
“I’ve just been trying to keep a positive perspective and I’ve enjoyed the season thoroughly and I don’t play that much. So, it really is all about how you view your own situation, not about the situation in general.
“I see myself improving in practice, and I have three years left. Three years is a long time, so I have an opportunity. I just have to keep working hard every day to see where that takes me. All I can do is keep do what I’m doing in practice and hopefully it will result in more playing time.”