DURHAM, N.C. -- We've all heard the aphorism that good things come to those who wait.
National records, on the other hand, tend to favor a certain degree of proactive impatience.
As a senior facing the same Kentucky high school opponent against whom her older sister, Rachel, had previously set an Owensboro Catholic High School single-game record for 3-pointers, Rebecca Greenwell joked to her coach that she wanted to break her sister's record. She recalled that, perhaps equally in jest, he told her she had the green light to try if she hit her first five attempts from behind the arc. Her first five shots, all from 3-point territory, dropped through the net.
So did 12 of the next 23 shots she attempted, all of those also from long range. The 17 3-pointers she hit in that game were not just more than anyone from her school or her family had ever hit. They were more than any girl in the nation ever hit in a game. Even amid the elite basketball company she now keeps as a redshirt freshman at Duke, the sheer volume of that accomplishment is enough to make her peers shake their heads in amazement.
"I've probably taken 17 3s since I've been here," Blue Devils senior Ka'lia Johnson joked.
Well, mostly joked. She has yet to attempt as many as 17 3-pointers in any single season, let alone hit that many in a game.
"But one thing about that, [Greenwell] never forces her shot," Johnson continued. "She'll go through stretches, three or four times down the court, where she doesn't score, but she's not going to get the ball and jack it up because she hasn't scored. If it's there, it's there."
Given that size is one of Duke's unassailable assets in what shapes up as a season of change in Durham, Johnson noted that she sometimes has to prod Becca, as most call Greenwell, to be less patient from the perimeter and let shots fly. Even her misses serve up offensive rebounding opportunities for Elizabeth Williams, Azurá Stevens, Oderah Chidom and others.
"But I mean 17 3s?" Johnson marveled as she circled back to the original subject. "Hopefully it happens again."
The potential for such things is what everyone at Duke, no one more than Greenwell herself, has been waiting for.
That potential has never been in doubt. Before coach Joanne P. McCallie arrived, the previous coaching staff offered Greenwell a scholarship when she attended Duke's summer camp as an eighth grader. She was a distinct enough talent, the shooting stroke complemented by a frame that now stretches to 6 feet, 1 inch and an all-court game, to merit opportunities to play in events like the FIBA Under-18 3x3 World Championships and the McDonald's All-American Game. But those same opportunities played their part in testing her resolve.
It was during the three-on-three tournament in Italy in 2011, before her junior year of high school, that Greenwell suffered her first ACL tear. Rachel, who played basketball at Bellarmine University in Kentucky, suffered the same injury before her senior year in high school. Their mom tore her ACL playing softball. So did an aunt while dancing and another on the basketball court. So whether there was any genetic predisposition, Greenwell knew all too well what the popping sound and subsequent instability meant before the tests even came back.
She was back on the court by her 2012-13 senior season at Owensboro Catholic but hurt the knee again after just a handful of games, ultimately playing the rest of the season through what she said was diagnosed as a sprained MCL. Then after a quick start in the opening minutes of the McDonald's game, she tore the ACL a second time. When a third surgery was deemed necessary that summer to further repair meniscus, Duke opted to redshirt its star recruit, the player ESPN HoopGurlz ranked as the sixth-best player in the Class of 2013.
Such early success and approbation could easily go to a person's head. Such physical travails could likewise lodge and nag in a person's head. Greenwell's particular head thus far appears impervious to either pitfall. Haley Peters described her former teammate as "incredibly grounded," someone with a big heart whose confidence borders on the, well, serene might be a polite way of putting it.
"She sort of moves at her own pace and doesn't worry much," Peters wrote by email from Spain, where she now plays professionally. "There are times when you really wonder what, if anything, is going on in her brain. But I think it's almost that she has such a deeply rooted sense of her self that she is able to drift into her own world sometimes."
"Her movement creates openings for herself but puts so much pressure on the defense to collapse or extend out to her that it opens up the floor in lots of different places for other people." Haley Peters on former teammate Becca Greenwell
In a basketball sense, she was in a world of her own at times last season, as is any player with an injury that separates her from the day-to-day rhythms of teammates going through practice, conditioning and the like. That proves more challenging still for a freshman trying to find comfortable footing to begin with. The easy-going demeanor was obvious right away. The determination behind it showed itself with time.
"She's like a younger sister that is easy to pick on because she does some airhead things," Peters wrote. "But over time, over the course of the season and through the end of the year, I learned how important family is to her, how important faith is, how she's gotten to be who she is through some challenging stuff. When you see the consistency of her demeanor on a day-to-day basis, you realize how rooted she is.
"All that other stuff seems to be a product of that base she has."
Even returning to full health and mobility provided its own challenge for Greenwell. By the time injuries to Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones imperiled Duke's 2013-14 season, Greenwell was back on the court and going 100 percent in practice, which meant the scout team had just the player the Blue Devils desperately needed as they engaged in backcourt triage that ultimately couldn't prevent a second-round NCAA tournament exit at home against DePaul.
"The pain of losing Cheslea and then Lex and the difficulty of that whole situation and the timing of it," McCallie said. "And then seeing Becca so capable -- she's such a capable [shooting guard, small forward] and point. She can do a lot. I don't know, I think I drove my husband crazy because I was always trying to figure out what the message was. 'What is this?' I've never lost two All-American point guards. Heck, I'd never had two All-American point guards until last year. The reality is it's a humbling experience to go through."
It wasn't much fun for Greenwell, either.
"That made it definitely harder to just sit back," Greenwell said. "There were some times I thought Coach P was going to call my name, and even if she did, I was like, 'Would I go in? Would I not go in?' But definitely, having a limited team, that made it even harder to just sit back and not play, knowing I could definitely contribute to what was going on on the floor. But it was a good decision that I sat out the whole year."
The thing about that game with the 17 3-pointers her senior season at Owensboro Catholic is that it is both the backbone of her legend, a feat of marksmanship of which she is justifiably proud, and also a red herring. Greenwell spent much of that season standing behind the 3-point line, the brace on her knee that she still wears acting like a ball and chain. Unsure of the knee and limited by the injury early that season that she stubbornly played through, she wasn't herself.
She isn't just a shooter. She is a double-double or even triple-double waiting to happen.
Greenwell's long-distance shooting was why she became one of the few recruits whose performance in pick-up games made a lasting impression on Peters.
"That was our expectation of her coming in, but toward the end of last season, it was more that she was a tremendous all-around offensive player," Peters wrote. "She could create for herself with cuts and fakes, but because of her level of activity, she creates for other people even if it doesn't show up as assists. Her movement creates openings for herself but puts so much pressure on the defense to collapse or extend out to her that it opens up the floor in lots of different places for other people. That off-ball movement I started to notice when she came back to practice."
While Greenwell wasn't nervous the night before she took the court in uniform for the first time at Cameron Indoor Stadium, an exhibition game against Limestone College, she could barely sleep the night before the regular-season opener on the road against Alabama. In addition to the knowledge that a great many friends and family who made the drive from Kentucky would be watching, the restlessness came from the end of a long wait to play in a game that mattered.
She put up 17 points, 10 rebounds, seven steals and three assists in 32 minutes.
The results since have been as mixed as might be expected of a player two years removed from her last competitive games and playing a lot of minutes for a team that knew it had to replace Gray, Peters and Tricia Liston but then also lost Jones via a transfer to Baylor. Greenwell's shooting percentages, both from inside and outside the arc, are not what they need to be, but she leads the team in scoring and steals and ranks second in assists and third in rebounding.
The Blue Devils have lost three games in a row for the first time since the 2007-08, but losses by a combined 11 points at Texas A&M and Nebraska, those two without Williams, and at home against South Carolina offer more reason for encouragement than any string of blowout wins against overmatched directional schools.
Duke hasn't looked overmatched, and one of its best players hasn't looked limited. Only a little inexperienced.
"I think last year that's kind of where I was regaining my confidence to come back as the player I was," Greenwell said.
The player she will be looks like someone worth the wait.