Ashunae Durant, Hofstra’s sophomore forward, owes her name and her game to her mom, Darscelle. It is, however, far easier to explain the latter than the former.
Darscelle, a single mom who lives in Newark, N.J., said she struggled as to what she might call her daughter when she was born.
“My younger brother thought about the name, and I just put some letters together,” she said.
Darscelle did admit that there is a nod in there to one of Ashunae’s aunts, Cynthia. But really, the name — pronounced “Az-ZHU-nay” — is one of a kind.
“Something different,” Darscelle said. “It fits her. … It goes with her. No particular reason.”
Her friends and teammates call her Nae, and one of her AAU coaches took to calling her “50-50” since she always seemed to come away with every 50-50 ball.
Still seems that way, in fact, as her average of 9.1 rebounds a game through the Pride’s first 22 games (17 of them victories) attest. The 5-10 Durant is also scoring at 11.5 points per game, second on the team to junior guard Kelly Loftus (13.9).
“Rebounding is just something I try to do well,” Durant said. “If my other teammates aren’t doing it, I know that I can. I just like that part of the game.”
Which makes her approach almost as unique as her name (though not as unique as that of one of her hoops idols, Kevin Durant, who is not related).
Few players truly love rebounding. It involves banging bodies, trading elbows, immersing oneself in all of the game’s less glamorous aspects. Yet she excels at it.
Again, she can thank Darscelle, who stands all of 5-5 but claims to have enjoyed working the glass while playing high school ball in Newark, as well as at Wilberforce University in southwest Ohio.
“That’s the only way I was going to get the ball, because I was short,” said Darscelle, who also ran track in college and now sells insurance for New York Life. “But I was strong, too, and I could jump. … I worked on it. I started lifting weights when I was 13, and that was a rarity back in the ’70s, for a girl to do that.”
Darscelle continued playing pickup ball after college, and later got into coaching and officiating as well. (She still refs, in fact.) She can remember bringing Ashunae along to various courts and gyms from the time she was an infant, and her daughter began playing at 7 — against boys.
“I never wanted her to play with the girls when she was young,” Darscelle said, “because I felt that boys played a little bit rougher. It taught her how to be a little tough.”
Not to mention persistent.
“Of course, people back then (thought) girls can’t play ball,” Ashunae said. “I just had to prove them wrong.”
By her recollection, it wasn’t too long before everybody wanted her on their team. And as she grew older, her game grew more formidable. At Bloomfield Tech, just north of Newark, she scored a whopping 2,051 points.
“And,” Darscelle added, “she had over 1,000 rebounds.”
Her first year at Hofstra, Ashunae averaged 11 points and seven rebounds, and was named CAA Rookie of the Year, while also making second-team all-conference. This season she has six double-doubles for a team that has won five straight and eight of nine.
“I love to watch her play,” Darscelle said. “It isn’t because she’s my kid. It’s because of how she plays. I’m a basketball/track fan anyway, but if you play hard, if you think the game, I like the way you play.”
And Darscelle doesn’t hesitate to let everyone in the arena know it.
“Her teammates think I’m kind of crazy, because I’m dancing and cheering at the game,” she said. “I just love watching the game of basketball.”
Especially after all she has given her daughter.