COLUMBIA - Missouri women's basketball player Michelle Hudyn didn't let the end of her high school girls season keep her from preparing for her college career. Instead, she decided to play with the boys.
As a junior at Eastwood Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, Ontario, Hudyn took advantage of the fact that the boys and girls basketball teams had different seasons, and tried out for the boys team in 2010.
Playing boys basketball helped her get ready for college hoops - and the super-competitive Southeastern Conference.
"So it kind of almost reflected how the SEC was when you first come into the transition to faster, stronger basketball," Hudyn said. "In my mind I kind of knew that I played at that pace before, and I just had to follow the process to get there again."
Hudyn took a lot of opposing male players by surprise when she stepped onto the court. Initially, they didn't take her seriously.
"I remember a few games like they would just kind of have the ball, and I'd take it and go score a layup on a fast break 'cause they wouldn't think I would do that," she said. "They just thought I would be kind of passive."
For Hudyn, it was nerve-wracking but fun to prove people wrong.
"Students (who) were watching, they would cheer for you even though it wasn't their team, just 'cause it's fun to see a girl on a guys' team," she said.
As a small/power forward, Hudyn averaged only five minutes a game and didn't score a lot. When she was on the floor, though, Hudyn initiated ball pressure and established good positioning to grab rebounds. She also passed the ball well and ran plays.
Hudyn offered knowledge and experience to her teammates during practice. For example, the team had an athletic new player from the Sudan who was playing basketball for the first time and didn't have a good grasp of the sport. Hudyn often pulled him to the side and taught him how to set a proper screen or how to execute specific plays.
"She had the time to say quick things to him in a one-on-one setting and not embarrass him," Eastwood boys basketball coach Stephen Martin said.
The boys assistant coach, Michael Reinhart, said Hudyn made the team better. Her hard work ethic brought up the energy and overall focus level in practice. Some of her male teammates who didn't take her seriously at first respected her once they found out she was willing to work with everybody and not just her friends.
Hudyn's position as a role player for the boys team didn't bother her even though she was the star on the girls team. Her focus on gaining experience, improving her conditioning and elevating her own game surpassed her need to see more minutes.
"(That mindset) allowed it to be easier to accept and know my role as a role player," she said.
This season at Missouri, Hudyn, a senior, started the first four games and has played in all of the No. 22 Tigers' contests so far. In the season opener against Missouri State, she had a career-high 13 rebounds. Since then, she's taken on more of a niche role for Missouri (16-4, 3-4 SEC), which plays against LSU at 7 p.m. Thursday at home.
The 6-foot-2 forward is averaging 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds in 7.7 minutes per game this season.