Big Blue Rising: Q & A with Katelynn Flaherty, Michigan’s standout sophomore guard
Ability to attack off the bounce, and finish at the rim or stop on a dime in mid-range. Katelynn Flaherty is the definition of a livewire on the perimeter.
Michigan has started 2015–16 with a 4–0 record, punctuated by a 119–61 rout of USC Upstate on Monday night, in which Flaherty scored a career-high 34 points.
It was a performance perfectly in tune with her career in Ann Arbor, to date. This season, the 5–7 sophomore is averaging 20.5 points (and hitting 49% of her shots), while chipping in more than three assists per game.
On Wednesday afternoon, she took time to talk with Alley Whoops.
Alley Whoops: I got a kick out of seeing you had a pre-game ritual of putting your right-designated sock on your left foot, and the left-designated sock on your right foot. How did that begin?
Katelynn Flaherty: I think it was more in high school. It started one game, where I had a really good game, and I noticed that I’d put my socks on the wrong feet. I didn’t change them, and I ended up scoring 30-some points. Then, I didn’t pay attention in another game, and I saw I had my socks on the right feet. So, I just kept doing that.
AW: At the half against Xavier, on Nov. 19, Michigan was up 49-20. It seems like a theme for this season so far: offense has been clicking, defense stout as well.
KF: I think it’s mainly because we’re in the gym all the time. In addition to practice, we all want to be in there, working, and that contributes to why we’re scoring at such a high rate. It really helps us on both ends.
Practice-wise, Coach (Kim Barnes Arico) is great. She prepares us really well. We’ve got a hard-working mentality this year, and we’re just striving for the goals we think we can achieve. Like, a Big 10 championship.
For me personally, last year, I was mostly a shooter. And this year, the coaching staff wanted me to be more of a playmaker. I did a good job in this offseason of working on my game. They wanted me to get better defensively, to work harder and really be ready. I think I’ve done a better job so far, as well as being more of a voice on the court.
AW: Ann Arbor in summer, or Ann Arbor in winter?
KF: Oh, definitely the summer. The winter before I came to Ann Arbor was one of the worst in city history. It wasn’t as bad last year, but for me, it was bad. (Laughs). New Jersey (Flaherty is from Point Pleasant) never gets as bad. Here, it seems like winter won’t end. But this year we got kind of lucky. There were a lot of warm days in November.
AW: Adding to that, you’ve got an off day. What are some of your favorite things to do in this town?
KF: On off days, I enjoy hanging out. In summer, we go to movies, sometimes head to a river and canoe. In winters, you try to stay indoors more. The gym is a good place to be.
AW: Both of your parents played college basketball. How soon did you get into the game?
KF: My dad always coached high school teams, so I was pretty much born into it. I was always in the gym, and it’s something I fell in love with. I also played softball until 8th grade.
But I loved basketball. My dad was my coach, and as soon as I could walk, I was playing every day. He really helped me develop my skills, too. Especially this past summer, when I went home. I’d take 1,000 shots a day—makes, not attempts—and he wouldn’t really count the shots, so I always ended up making more than a thousand. (Laughs). In him and coach (Barnes Arico), I’ve had great coaches.
AW: Last season, you became the sixth freshman in program history to lead the team in scoring. You’re on pace to become the second Wolverine to reach 1,000 points as a sophomore. Scoring’s often the first thing brought up about your game: how do you approach it?
KF: Last year, I was primarily a shooter, so this offseason, I worked on ballhandling, and getting to the basket more. Now, I’m driving and scoring in a variety of ways. coming off screens and attacking.
I’m also trying to become a better passer. We have really good options in this team, so there’s always someone who can make a play.
AW: After that SC Upstate performance, coach Barnes Arico spoke of “filling the bucket”. What does that mean, for you?
KF: Pretty much for me, it’s getting up shots to make shots in a game. When you don’t get in the gym, so much gets taken out of the ‘bucket’.
So, the other day I wasn’t happy how I shot in practice, so I came back at 9 at night, and shot threes. Against SC Upstate, I started 0–4, but I knew I’d put in the work. (Flaherty finished 13-of-20 from the floor.) Coach has had a huge influence on my game.
AW: In the summer of 2014, you were invited to Team USA U-18 tryouts, but missed them because of injury. This past summer, you got the chance to try out for the USA U-19 team. What was that experience like?
KF: It was definitely a great experience. I’m so happy I got the chance to go through them. It’s eye-opening, to play against the best in the country, and it gave me so much confidence.
When I watch players on TV now, I try to take things from players like South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell, or UConn’s Moriah Jefferson.
AW: When you signed with Michigan, Barnes Arico said she’d been watching you since you were in the seventh grade. What was it like, meeting her so early and developing that relationship?
KF: It was a great process to get to know her. One thing that always stood out was her enthusiasm. She talked about coming to Michigan, and how she wanted to bring it to prominence.
She was so caring, too. When I had to transfer high schools, she sent a message to make me feel better. When she moved to Michigan, her kids had had to change schools, too. It showed how much she cared, and along with her enthusiasm and will to win, that made me come to Michigan.
AW: You referenced the prospect of playing for a program on the rise, when asked about your decision to come to Michigan. Where do you see this very young team, currently. What is helping it rise?
KF: I think it comes down to the players she’s recruited, and her staff has contributed to the success, too. We believe in ourselves, and through on vision in the program, we believe we can do a lot of great things. If we want to get that Big 10 championship, it’s going to come down to chemistry.
AW: A note on the rules changes this year: what’s your thoughts on the 10-minute quarters?
KF: For me, personally, it seems like a longer game. But from my personal standpoint, my difficulty last year came from letting a play go. So, a quarter is like a fresh start, for me. And that’s a nice change.