Herbert joins Griner in exclusive club
"Hi, this is Megan," says a voice simultaneously halting and warm on the other end of the phone.
Drawing conclusions from the sound of someone's voice is about as useful as phrenology, but, well, it happens.
And this does not sound like the voice that should belong to the leading active rebounder in Division I, someone tough enough and persistent enough to average 11.7 rebounds per game over three and a half seasons of college basketball. In fact, this sounds like someone who would apologize for the hassle if you cut in front of her in line at the store.
This is Megan Herbert, one of the most prolific pound-for-pound, inch-for-inch rebounders the college game has ever seen.
"I would definitely say that everyone that has coached me has told me I am two different people on the court and off the court," admitted Herbert.
As mentioned earlier this week, the Central Arkansas senior recently reached a remarkable statistical milestone in becoming just the second active player in Division I to reach 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career. Hofstra’s Shante Evans will likely make it a trio in the coming weeks, but for now that particular club has just two members: Herbert and Brittney Griner.
Say what you want about the level of competition Herbert faces in the Southland Conference -- she also totaled 25 points and 11 rebounds against Georgia Tech last season and averaged 17.3 points and 12.0 rebounds in nine career games against teams from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA and SEC -- but there are tens of thousands of players who played against that same level of competition over the years in the various far-flung reaches of Division I and didn't put up numbers like those from the senior from Rogers, Ark.
At her current pace, Herbert will finish with more than 1,400 rebounds and likely find a home in the top 10 in career rebounds for Division I. Among those players who played some portion of their careers after 2000, only all-time leader Courtney Paris of Oklahoma, LSU's Sylvia Fowles and Xavier's Ta'Shia Phillips currently rank in the top 10.
Not bad company for someone who stands just 5 feet, 11 inches. Wait, check that.
"I’m probably 5-10," Herbert said. "With basketball shoes on, probably 5-11."
Rebounding is grunt work, the offensive line play of basketball. It doesn't lead to a lot of highlights. But if you watch those who do it best -- players like Dennis Rodman, Kevin Love, Paris, current Maryland standout Tianna Hawkins -- it is as much physics as physical. It is a craft that requires relentless energy but also chess-like mental work to anticipate rather than react, especially on the offensive end, where Herbert averages five offensive rebounds per game.
"It’s not what everyone thinks it is," Herbert said. "It’s not about how athletic you are, how high you can jump, how quick you are because, I mean, obviously that's not who I am. It's all about competing. You have to know your teammates, you have to know where the ball's coming off. If they shoot it from this side of the court, it's going to go to the other side. I think it's really all about positioning, and kind of, in a way, boxing out on offense."
Miss Basketball in the state of Arkansas in 2009 after she led her school to a state championship (including 39 points and 21 rebounds in a semifinal), Herbert was nonetheless offered scholarships by only Central Arkansas and Arkansas Tech, a Division II school. Bigger programs poked around but ultimately saw an undersized post. Of course, if that size is a liability, it's also her greatest asset -- to compete, she had to push herself to master technique.
Still new to Division I, Central Arkansas went 6-23 the season before Herbert arrived. With the freshman averaging 21.8 points and 13.8 rebounds, the record improved to 21-8 the next season. As of Wednesday, Central Arkansas was 77-31 during her time at the school, including a WNIT appearance last season. None of this will be easy to discern when future fans see her name in the record book. All they will see is a name far less recognizable than one of the best who ever played and one with whom she happened to share a career arc. But that doesn't make the story any less real.
"It is an individual award, but to be up there with Brittney Griner and stuff like that is great for the university," Herbert said of the 2,000-1,000 club, "We're smaller and hopefully it brings some attention back here and to the Southland.
"It's something you can't really explain. It's kind of shocking almost to be in that kind of company."
It's fair to say Griner is in good company, too.