With ESPN already having described her as “a proven shooter” who is “active and smooth,” freshman Shilpa Tummala is no stranger to basketball at a high level. But after joining the Harvard women’s hoops squad this year, Tummala now has a role different than any she has had before: that of a collegiate athlete.
While where and who she plays may have dramatically changed this offseason, Tummala says she will bring the same mindset to the court no matter what jersey she is wearing.
“In high school, I was really fortunate to be successful,” Tummala says. “At the college level, I just want to bring that same winning mentality to practice every day. I feel that our team is already very competitive, and I want to keep with that, always bringing the drive to win while learning the ropes of college basketball.”
Though she has been on campus for less than three months, Tummala has spent long hours practicing with her team. This, she states, has been vital in her shift to both Harvard and this higher stage of basketball.
“It’s a pretty big jump from high school to college play,” Tummala says. “But it’s good to have people around you like that that are supportive step by step. [My teammates] are not just friends, as I know we’re going to grow to be like a family. And on the basketball side, this is definitely reflected on the court.”
Tummala was ranked the No. 69 recruit in the nation by ESPN during her senior year of high school. Shortly after, her St. Mary’s Knights team won its second straight Arizona state championship—by 25 points. And after the season ended, Tummala was named a McDonald’s All-America nominee and placed on her all-state team.
“Shilpa was an incredible high school player,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith says. “But there is a transition. I don’t care how good your skill set is, there is a transition to college basketball…. She has the size, the strength, and the court IQ, so it’s probably now more of a matter of just knowing the system and understanding college basketball, what she can get away with and what she can’t. She already has the skill set.”
Describing her transition to the collegiate hoops world, Tummala emphasized conditioning as her biggest hurdle thus far in a Crimson uniform. She said that the change in “pace of play” has been probably the most dramatic difference between high school and college basketball.
Given her track record and publicity, Tummala had her choice of Division I basketball schools. USC, UC Berkeley, and Georgetown—three highly competitive programs—were at the top of her list. Ultimately, Tummala says that picking Harvard was the right choice.
“It’s the perfect fit for me,” Tummala says. “I love it here and couldn’t have made a better decision in my entire life. I’m just thankful that I had this opportunity.”
Now that she’s here, both coach and player agree that her role on the team is yet to be solidified.
“[She contributes] everything,” Delaney-Smith explains. “She is a big-time guard. She is a great shooter…and is a great passer. In order to be a great passer at Harvard, she has to know our system. That’s the learning curve…. But she’s doing great. I’m more than pleased with he. What role she has, though, is still being defined.”
Tummala echoed her coach’s statement, then stressed her willingness to play any part that her teammates and coaches may ask of her.
“I don’t know what my role is [except] just to be positive,” Tummala says. “Regardless of anything, my role will always be to push my teammates to be better and have my teammates pushing me to be better in practice. I want to be aware of what the team needs, and whatever that may be, whatever they want me to do, that’s what I’ll do.”
—Staff writer Juliet Spies-Gans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.