Driscoll works and plays hard
The Archbishop Williams girls’ basketball squad was going through its usual warmup routine before practice. The Bishops were prepping for Coyle & Cassidy, their next opponent in the Division 3 South bracket. The game was just one day away.
One player stood out among her teammates. At 6-foot-4, Val Driscoll usually does. As a freshman and sophomore, she was a key cog on a veteran-heavy team that rolled to consecutive state championships. She’s a three-time Catholic Central League all-star, and is a shoo-in for a fourth.
In 2008, the Stoughton resident was on ESPNRISE.com’s Greater Boston “Top 10 Basketball Players to Watch,’’ and when her season ends, she’ll begin preparing for Big Ten basketball - she’s signed a national letter of intent to play at the University of Michigan.
As the team readied for Coyle & Cassidy last week, she moved about the court, laughing with teammates in between layups. More than once, she picked out a player or coach and serenaded them with a lip-synced version of whatever pop song was playing through the gym’s speakers. After a teammate managed to sink an awkward, spinning layup, Driscoll playfully razzed her and re-enacted the play in slow motion.
For the best player on one of the area’s best teams, the pressure is supposed to sit heaviest on Driscoll’s shoulders.
“If there is [more pressure on her], she doesn’t show it,’’ said Archies’ coach Jim Bancroft, who began coaching her on the Bay State Magic Elite AAU squad when she was in seventh grade.
She delivered 23 points, 19 rebounds, and four blocked shots against Coyle & Cassidy on Wednesday night, propelling the Bishops to a 49-42 win and into yesterday’s Division 3 South final vs. Ashland at UMass-Boston.
“She’s just really goofy,’’ said Colleen Downing, Driscoll’s co-captain and a close friend. “When everyone’s being serious, she’ll just lighten the mood.’’
Bancroft knows all too well her tendency to be “goofy.’’ Driscoll still plays for the Bay State Magic Elite, where Bancroft is still a coach, meaning they are together virtually year round. “It’s going to seem weird when she’s gone,’’ he said. “She’s like a daughter to me.’’
Driscoll loves a good practical joke, and Bancroft might appreciate her skills as a prankster more than anyone. During an AAU trip to North Carolina last summer, Bancroft and his wife returned to their hotel room after dinner to find that Driscoll had overrun their room with fake shrubs and palm trees from the hotel’s hallways.
“It was like a jungle in there,’’ he said.
Driscoll’s upbeat persona pairs well with her work ethic, which Bancroft says is what has her looking at major Division-I basketball next year.
“The coaches at Michigan had the same impression of her,’’ Bancroft said. “One of the assistants, after Val made an official visit, said, ‘I can’t wait to get Val out here, not only to get her on the court, but just because we’re going to have a whole lot of fun with her.’ ’’
Of course, the Wolverines are probably still more excited to get Driscoll the basketball player than Driscoll the joker.
There’s something odd about the way Driscoll moves around the gym. Driscoll has lower-body strength more appropriate for high school football than girls’ basketball, and yet, she can put one foot in front of the other with the same relative ease expected of a girl half her size.
When she lifts off the ground for layups, it’s stunning how quickly her lower body extends from the hardwood.
“Most of it’s work ethic,’’ Bancroft said. “A lot of kids have natural talent, but if they don’t work at it, if they don’t work at their body - getting physically stronger is a lot of work.’’
In the offseason, Driscoll is a gym rat to the highest degree. She mixes explosive muscle-training with weight-lifting and cardio work, and since she began hitting the gym after her freshman year, her body has been transformed.
“She developed herself from a scrawny 6-footer in seventh grade to a physically strong and powerful player that’s going to play Big Ten basketball,’’ Bancroft said. “To me, that’s amazing.
“You meet with kids every year and say, ‘This is what you have to work on.’ How many really do it? How many really get better from the time they’re a freshman to the time they’re a senior every single year? Not many.’’
Jake Seiner can be reached at email@example.com.