January 31, 2018, published on BleacherReport.com (BRMag)
Asia Durr isn’t blinking. Her No. 9 Louisville Cardinals are facing No. 5 Ohio State. Durr’s brown eyes are frozen, teeth clenched. She doesn’t see anyone. Doesn’t hear anything. In this moment, on this hardwood at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, someone is going to suffer. Scratch that. With the ball in her possession and 30 seconds to strike, an entire team will.
Durr jabs hard to the left, then crosses to the right—too quick, too slick—and her defender inevitably bites. Durr pops a step-back three, leaning like she knows it’s good. Of course it is. It’s only the first quarter, but she’s got that look in her eye.
Terry Durr, Asia’s father, who is seated directly across from the Louisville bench, recognizes that look immediately.
“She’s ready to destroy someone,” Terry says of his daughter.
In this moment, she’s someone else. The woman obsessed with SpongeBob SquarePants who taught her poodle, Precious, to howl when the theme song comes on, who loves haunted houses and horror movies but gets so scared she has to sleep with the lights on for the next few days—that girl takes on a different personality.
“I call her the Baby-Faced Killa,” says DeQuan Jones, a friend who plays for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA G League. “She looks so innocent, but when she steps on the court, she literally will attack you.”
No one’s safe.
When she was the nation’s No. 1 recruit at Atlanta’s St. Pius X Catholic High, Durr dropped 44 against Jonesboro (Jonesboro, GA) and 49 against Redan (Stone Mountain, GA). With 45 seconds remaining against Redan, she spun past one defender in the backcourt and two more at midcourt before going behind the back of another at the elbow, sinking the and-1 layup despite getting smacked inside. During her second meeting with Redan, she dropped 53.
“Just cold-blooded,” says Kyle Snipes, St. Pius’ head coach. “No regard for human life.”
When she suited up for Louisville during her second year, she gave Syracuse 36 points, full of scorn after scoring just two in the first half. Baylor felt it, too, when she rained five threes on the Lady Bears in the Sweet 16 last March.
And this season? Durr snatched the soul out of No. 2 Notre Dame, dropping 36 in a 100-67 rout on Jan. 11, including a dazzling three to end the third quarter.
Coaches struggle to pick their poison with Durr. She can finish with contact at the rim. She’s a magician off screens. She’s got a rainbow arc of a shot. She’s effective off the bounce and off the catch. Think of the quick-trigger swagger of Diana Taurasi. Think of the fundamental-first finesse of Maya Moore.
Durr is next in line.
“She can be one of the greatest players to have ever played, period,” says Dorian Lee, her long-time trainer, who has worked with WNBA greats like Moore, Chamique Holdsclaw, Cheryl Ford and Swin Cash.
Durr, a guard in her junior year, is making a case against Ohio State. As Terry looks on, she’s jab-stepping, swaying back and forth with in-and-out moves, pulling up two feet beyond the three-point line, casually hopping into the deep treys like they’re layups.
She leaves Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff astonished. “Unbelievable,” he says. “They were all tough shots.” And she finishes with a school-record 47 points, including 13 in overtime, to lead the Cards to a 95-90 upset.
Durr doesn’t smile or gloat after any of her nine three-pointers. She does, however, have a go-to phrase she says silently to herself after each one.
“When you take a shot, and you feel like it’s going in—and it does go in—you say ‘nite nite,’” says Durr. The phrase is also her favorite hashtag on Instagram. “Or when you put someone to sleep, or when you shoot the lights out, you say ‘nite nite.’”
Shooting isn’t her only super power, though.
“I don’t back down. That’s not in my DNA,” Durr says. “It doesn’t have to always be scoring, but I just try to make sure I make a statement and to make my presence known.”
You wouldn’t know from watching her clock 20.1 points per game, but Asia Durr isn’t exactly left-handed. She writes and eats with her right hand. But since a young age, she has shot with her left. From ages three to seven, she used to shoot two-handed, her form awkward and ugly (not quite as bad as heaving the ball underhand, “Granny style,” but still). With some guidance from a few youth coaches, Asia learned to shoot with her right, but it felt wrong. So she began firing with the left.
Years later, during an AAU game, she blazed downcourt, scoring on the left side of the floor a couple of possessions in a row. The opposing coach yelled to his squad: “She can’t go right! Force her right!” So the next time down the floor, Durr decided to make him an example: When a lane opened to her left, she instead drove right, muscling her way through traffic for the bucket. She smirked at the coach as she ran back down the floor. He nodded back as if to say “touché.”
Today, no matter the coverage, Durr finds a way to get her shot off. Double-teams, triple-teams, Box-and-ones, zones, full-court presses. Durr shoots over them, around them, through them, even.
“The thing that Asia has that has been lacking in the women’s game, to me, is the mid-range game,” says Snipes, who used to call Durr a “flamethrower” when she’d get on a roll. “She’s able to pull up on a dime, elevate over bigger people and knock down the shot.”
In December, Durr dropped 32 points on Kentucky. A month prior, against No. 10 Oregon, she scored 14 of her 26 points in the first quarter. The Ducks closed out, often sending two players at Durr, their fingers practically up her nose, but she still found a way.
“If she really wanted to, she could average 35 or 40, but she’s a pretty unselfish player,” says Kelly Graves, Oregon’s coach. “She shows that she can go off at any time.”
Durr wants to be known as more than an offensive player and is working to become a quicker defender. According to a defensive chart compiled by Louisville’s coaches, Durr only gave up six points over a three-game stretch in which she played 71 minutes (against Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee, Tennessee State). “That’s as good as I’ve seen her defensively,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz says. “Instead of just sitting there reacting, she’s anticipating what’s coming next. She takes pride in it.”
But some games, like the Kentucky game, she’s disappointed in her defense. She spends so many hours laboring on it that sometimes Louisville’s coaches have to kick her out of the gym.
“The scariest part about Asia is that she’s operating on about 65 percent of what she can really do,” trainer Dorian Lee says. “There’s that much more that she has in her.”
Three-year-old Durr had never touched a basketball, but her older brother, Christian, had a game one Saturday. She picked up the nearest ball and ran over to the court.
“Not now, Asia,” Terry said, looking on. “After the game.”
But she couldn’t wait. The girl who was born about three to four weeks premature, at four pounds, the girl who walked at just 10-and-a-half months (the only one of the four Durr siblings to do so before turning one), gripped the orange leather more tightly.
She quickly crossed the ball over, swooshed it behind her back and then whirled it between her legs.
Terry stopped cold, looking at his daughter like she had sprouted a third eye. “Hold up, hold up,” he said. “Asia, do that again.”
Crossover. Behind the back. Between the legs. She couldn’t stop. Terry brought his wife, Audrey, over for confirmation. Yup. The baby who watched Allen Iverson highlights all day had definitely soaked up some things.
Durr spent several years as the only girl on an all-boys team. The first game, after the opening tip sailed her direction, she yanked the ball out of the air and took off for the layup. She would go on to become the game’s leading scorer. Another time, she drove hard left, but when a boy rose up to block it, she shifted her body sideways and scored a reverse on the other side of the basket, shocking everyone. “They all wanted to beat her,” Terry says, “but no one could.”
By high school, Durr began to train with Lee and the Division I and pro guys he worked with. She’d take them on, one-on-one, until an opponent was so sore, so tired, he could not go on. Durr wouldn’t leave until she was the victor.
They’d push her around, and she’d shove them back. When she was six, she fell down a slide at the playground trying to keep up with her brother and split her tongue. Durr got stitches and was in the emergency room all night, but she was back rolling around soon thereafter.
But training with Lee? That was something else. “It’s like gladiator school,” Jones recalled. “We spar.”
Durr quickly proved she belonged. “I think she felt like, ‘If I can go against these guys, I can kill my competition,’” says Adam Smith, a former Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech player now playing in Turkey, who also trained with Lee.
Indeed, that’s what Durr did. At St. Pius, Durr made scoring a “quiet 40” the norm. And she didn’t need to step out of the structure of the offense to fill the stat sheet. In her senior season, Durr shot 46 percent from three (191 attempts). On top of that, she became the highest ranked high school player to sign with Louisville.
But that didn’t mean much to her.
“There were plenty of times in the locker room where we’d be like, ‘Great game, Asia,’” says Sabrina Thomas, former St. Pius teammate. “But she’d just be like, ‘Nah.’ I’d be like, ‘What are you talking about?’ She’d be like, ‘I have so much to work on.’”
When Durr says “no days off,” she means no days off. She practiced five hours a day as a prep, afraid, obsessed with, even paranoid about the idea of someone taking her spot.
Her dad once told her to take two weeks off. That sounded like punishment.
Durr didn’t know what to do.
“Can I just shoot free throws, standing in place?”
“No, Asia. Don’t touch a ball. Don’t even go near a ball.”
She still feels the same pull, taking minimal breaks to watch SpongeBob and eat her favorite seafood: shrimp and crab claws. “When I’m not training or working out, somebody else is,” Durr says. “I want to be one of the best players in the world. I’m constantly night in and night out grinding to try and chase that dream.”
Upon arrival at Louisville, fans hoped Durr could usher in an era of national-championship bliss in a flash. Instead, the Cards only reached the NCAA Second Round in 2015-16 and the Sweet 16 last season.
Her freshman year, thanks to what she calls “doing too much” in terms of her strenuous workout regimen, she suffered a groin injury. She was almost forced to redshirt the season but rehabbed enough to play.
The Cards were facing Michigan State that year. Durr says Walz challenged her: You’re playing soft. You’re playing scared. You’re worried about what people think.
That was all the motivation she needed. She went off for 20 points in 23 minutes. But she realized the crowd, the fans didn’t really know her struggles.
“People just think I have it so easy—they think it was just handed to me,” Durr says. “Nobody sees things I’ve gone through.”
One Tuesday night her sophomore year of high school, things seemed normal. She scored 20 against Decatur. But the entire Durr clan wasn’t there—and they are all always there. “Where’s Mom and T.J.?” she asked her dad, referring to her brother.
“He’s in the hospital.”
That morning, doctors had discovered T.J. had a brain tumor. If doctors had removed the whole tumor, it could have killed him. Instead, they removed a small piece on the right side of the brain, unsure yet at that point if it was cancerous.
A few days later, St. Pius had a game against Woodward Academy. Durr spent the morning with her brother before he went into surgery. Her hands were shaky, her eyes wet. Her baby brother T.J. was her best friend, the two born just 14 months apart. They shared joint strollers as kids.
“This game is for you,” she told him. He couldn’t say much back, as he was in too much pain, but she delivered her promise, netting 29.
The tumor turned out not to be cancerous, but T.J. was in the hospital for the next two weeks, out of school for about a month and a half. He’d take medicine to shrink the tumor over the next five years.
Durr had to hide her worries while she was morphing into a WBCA honorable mention All-American and a Naismith Trophy Top 30 selection. She just wanted her brother to be OK.
In July 2017, T.J., who is now the manager of Louisville’s women’s team, finally got off his medicine. Asia thinks of him with each shot she takes; she holds her follow-through in the air even after the ball swirls into the net.
Louisville, which had the longest win streak in school history until a recent loss against Florida State, found itself down by nine against Georgia Tech on Dec. 28. Durr put her team on her back, scoring 20 of her 38 points in the second quarter alone.
She called for the ball late, as her team was up, 69-67, with 1:35 left in regulation. She did a hesitation move, then an in-and-out crossover, before stopping at the free-throw line.
With a quick pump fake, she elevated over her defender and released the shot. Durr leaned back and began to take a few steps downcourt. She knew that ball was going in.