How Lauren Scherf evolved into a do-it-all star
By Daniel Herborn | The Pick and Roll
At a recent postgame dinner in Sydney, a Perth Lynx official mentioned to Lauren Scherf she had a landmark game coming up. But it was news to the 26-year-old, who had previously played with Dandenong, Canberra and Sydney teams, that she was approaching 200 games. “I was shocked that I’d reached that milestone,” she tells The Pick and Roll. “I was like: ‘huh – are you serious!?’ Not going to lie, it made feel a bit old,” she laughs. “But it’s been quite a journey and I wouldn’t change it.”
If bringing up the double century made Scherf feel like an old dog in the league, she’s still learning new tricks. She’s almost tripled her assists per game (5.3) from last season (1.9) and is a remarkable fourth in the league in that category, ahead of a wealth of specialist playmakers.
The Lynx started the season slowly; at one point, they had a 3-5 record with only victories over the struggling Flames and Capitals sides to their credit. But on a resurgent seven-game winning streak which shot them back into finals contention, Scherf’s more expansive game was pivotal. The team increasingly ran their half-court offence through their big, and she hurt opponents with her passing game in a variety of ways: perfectly weighted lobs from the perimeter, kickouts to open shooters from the post, and beautifully timed passes to cutting players. No wonder coach Ryan Petrik has likened her to Denver Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic, already widely regarded as the best big man passer of all time.
“Once we got the hang of [Petrik’s system], we played some really pretty basketball,” Scherf says. “Our style is to be unpredictable, which helped us emerge and go on that win streak. What we were doing kind of solidified when we knew it was working. It’s a lot of fun to play in this system.”
Scherf has shown an astonishing skillset for a 196cm centre – the equal tallest player in the league –but says she’s always had the ability to do more than post up. “I feel like that [playmaking] has always been there. I knew in myself what I could do,” she explains. “Even since I was in juniors, I knew I had some passing ability, but it hadn’t really been showcased in a team where it could really flourish. Ryan saw a little bit of it, and he was like: ‘I want to elevate and showcase that side of your game’, and it’s been working out.”
It’s not just her passing game that has caught the eye – she’s also recorded the most steals (15) and three-pointers made (25) of any season in her career, with three rounds of competition still to come. It’s instructive of her changed role that she’s taken more three-pointers this year than in her previous two seasons combined, all while connecting at a healthy 32.1% from long-range.
Her transition from a post-based player to a more expansive style has stemmed from her improved confidence but is also a product of opportunity. “Last season, with the calibre of talent we had, my role was different.” she explains. But then players like Marina Mabrey, Jackie Young and Darcee Garbin pursued opportunities overseas, and the Lynx needed more offensive firepower. Head coach Petrik was confident that Scherf had been underutilised and could help fill the void those star players left.
“He knew what I could bring and that he could elevate what I was producing,” Scherf says of her coach. “It’s why I re-signed with Perth, knowing how we worked together. His confidence and faith in me and my abilities have shone through throughout the season.
“He always says: ‘I’ll give you as much freedom as you want, and then if I’m not sure about it, I’ll reign you back in. He’s been allowing me to play flexibly – I’ve found that really good. It gives me a lot of confidence.”
Scherf also believes her new role reflects an evolving game. “It’s not just back-to-the-basket bigs getting stuck in the post anymore and just going to work getting rebounds and setting screens – it’s evolving in a way where each player can have such an impact on the game. Personally, I love the way the game is heading. I think it’s more exciting to play and to watch.”
Not only has Scherf excelled in new facets of the game this season but she’s also still contributing in areas that have traditionally been her strengths. Only Anneli Maley and Cayla George have bettered her 9.9 rebounds per game, and she’s still a high-level rim protector, leading the league with 1.6 blocks per contest.
She’s always had the size and physical strength to muscle her way to the rim, but her improved finishing has made her an even better scorer. She’s averaging 14.8 points (another career best) and had 27 points as her team went down to the Townsville Fire and put up 33, including a remarkable 22-point second-quarter blitz, against the University of Sydney Flames.
In January, Scherf was, unsurprisingly, named in the extended Opals squad. With Opals bigs Marianna Tolo and Cayla George both in the veteran class at 33, and Lauren Jackson retired from international basketball, there could be an opportunity for Scherf to become a long-term fixture in the national team as it undergoes generational change.
Her multifaceted game and outstanding size will also likely attract WNBA interest, but for now, she’s focused on the WNBL season and says Perth, now placed fifth, still have a “fighting chance” of playing postseason basketball.
Above all, she will keep enjoying her basketball and having fun doing a little bit of everything for the Lynx: “It will all work out the way it’s meant to be. I’ll just concentrate on the team, have confidence in what I do, and everything else will fall into place.”