Junior guard Jerell Matthews (No.11, above) in an exhibition game against Adelphi on Nov. 6. After playing off the bench in her first two seasons, she has started for the Seawolves in their first two exhibition games, scoring 37 points between both. ARACELY JIMENEZ/THE STATESMAN

Junior guard Jerell Matthews played off the bench in her first two seasons on the Stony Brook women’s basketball team. This year, however, after four members of last season’s starting lineup graduated, Matthews is working to prove she deserves a larger role on the team.

“You know she is somebody who has been committed to the process,” head coach Caroline McCombs said. “She has not been given anything since she has gotten here; she works hard everyday in practice and gives us her all. We are excited about her getting an opportunity this year on the basketball court to show what it has been like the past two years to work and now finally have an opportunity to perform on the court.”

Coming off her sophomore year, Matthews played in 20 games, averaging 2.4 points in just nine minutes per game. Matthews has used the offseason to work on several facets of her game to be ready to take on more minutes. Her improvements have been evident to McCombs, allowing Matthews to play the most minutes and take the most shots in each of the team’s two preseason exhibition games. She shot 70 percent from beyond the three-point arc in those games, a clear improvement from her 30 percent mark from deep last season.

“She is a tremendous three point threat. I think she can get her feet set and her shot off as quick as anyone I have ever coached,” McCombs said. “With that said, I think that she will be a scorer for us this year.”

Matthews emphasized improving her game defensively during her offseason workouts. By disrupting the opposing player’s shots, Matthews believes she will have more opportunities to contribute on defense.  

“I am trying to protect the basket more,” Matthews said. “Attack the pass leading to scores and being more of a three point shooter.”

While Matthews is focused on her defense ability, McCombs anticipates that her diverse skill set will translate into offensive success. 

“I think she is a versatile player,” McCombs said. “In game situations, I think she is somebody you want to set up for success and be able to shoot and drive, and do the things she is capable of doing.”

As a junior, Matthews is a veteran to a young team that includes five freshmen and two redshirt freshmen. Matthews has had success in a leadership role before, as seen during her high school career.

As a three-year captain on the Marian Catholic Spartans in Chicago Heights, Illinois, Jerell averaged 17 points per game in her sophomore year and made over half of her three-pointers attempted in her junior year. The Spartans finished the 2013-14 season with a 31-1 record and went on to win an Illinois state championship. The following summer, Matthews was a part of the 28-2 Mac Irvin Chicago Lady Fire, a women’s basketball program competing in tournaments throughout the summer. The team concluded their season by winning the Charlotte Summer Basketball Championship in 2014.

Through her determination and passionate energy, Matthews is ready to inspire this year’s freshman class and prepare them for the next stage of their careers.

“Really connecting as team on and off the court is really big part of being successful, so I think that will really help,” Matthews said. “This year, I’m an upperclassman and we have had a lot of newcomers. I’ve been helping them, leading them and showing them how we do things as a team.”

Matthews is excited to play, learn and grow on the court this season. Her main focus is helping her team improve from their 12-18 overall record from last year. The rising star understands the challenges ahead, but she has prepared all offseason to improve her game and become a key player for the Seawolves.