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KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Beavers' point guard says she's more comfortable with leadership role

PMG FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon State's Destiny Slocum says the Beavers have the best backcourt rotation in the country going into this season.CORVALLIS — First, Destiny Slocum: How was the Oregon State women's basketball trip to Italy?

"Awesome," said OSU's junior point guard of the Beavers' 10-day junket through Naples, Rome, Florence, Venice, Lake Como and the Amalfi Coast in August. "The trip was well-structured. We were two days somewhere and then on to the next place. There wasn't time to get bored with anything. There was always something new, and there was so much to do and see. It was like, how are you supposed to fit all this in? It felt jam-packed, but it was super nice."

The highlight?

"I'd gone with Maryland to Italy before my freshman year," said Slocum, who played one year there before transferring to OSU. "But I'd never had been to the Amalfi Coast. When we rolled up, I was like, 'This is insane.' It was the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.

"All the postcards they've made of it, and I'm standing there right in front of it. I was like in awe of the people there. 'You guys get to live here, every single day?' We did a boat ride that was super long, but you didn't want it to end."

The Beavers went 4-0 in exhibition games, but such trips — limited to men's and women's Division I programs once every four years by NCAA regulations — are intended primarily for team bonding purposes. Slocum felt that worked primarily in favor of freshmen Kennedy Brown, Taylor Jones, Jelena Mitrovic and Noelle Mannen.

"(The returning players) were already super bonded, but it was nice to acclimate the freshmen in a place where no one can watch except the Italian people," Slocum said. "It's like that framed moment, different than stepping in Gill Coliseum. It was a chance or them to get those nerves out of the way, to step out of their shells for us to see how they fit in their roles and how we fit in our roles."

Slocum is much more comfortable in her role as point guard and a team leader after her first season in an Oregon State uniform in 2018-19. The Women's Basketball Coaches Association Freshman of the Year at Maryland in 2016-17, the 5-7 Slocum redshirted the 2017-18 campaign in Corvallis after her transfer. The Meridian, Idaho, native then stepped right in last season to average a team-high 15.4 points per game and earn first-team all-Pac-12 honors while helping the Beavers to a 26-8 record and the Sweet 16.

But between the periods of brilliance were moments of inconsistency. She scored three points on 0-for-5 shooting in 19 minutes of a loss at Arizona State on March 1, had five or more turnovers on four occasions and scored an average of only 9.3 points while shooting .324 from the field over the final seven games.

"Last year was a learning experience for Destiny," Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. "There were stretches of game where she wasn't on the floor, but she was learning as a first-year player in our system. I thought it was a great year for her. She handled things extremely well."

Slocum's familiarity with her surroundings are at a much higher level than when she arrived on the OSU campus two years ago.

"I came from a different system with a different set of beliefs," she said. "From everything I learned growing up, then trying to convert that to what I learned at Maryland, then coming here and learning completely different stuff, it took a little bit to get into my groove and see where my game fits in — when to press 'stop' and when to press 'go.'

"There's a different feeling of comfort now. Being the point guard comes with a leadership role, and I've always been that person who is willing to speak up. But when you're hesitant with your own game, it makes it harder to put those words into action. Now I feel a lot more comfortable in speaking up and being a role model for my teammates."

Rueck feels she is ready to join in lockstep with fellow all-Pac-12 performer Mikayla Pivec in providing OSU's on-court leadership.

"Destiny is an incredible teammate," he said. "During the offseason, she embraced the mental components and the work ethic that the Pac-12 demands. Everything seems to be coming together. She knows what she wants, and is progressing toward reaching all of her goals."

Slocum's goals are primarily team-oriented, and she is not setting them low.

"The Final Four would be awesome," she said. "But a national championship is not far-fetched. It would take a ton of work and focus and buying into what we all want, but we're all on the same page in terms of that. My goal for us is to win a national championship."

Oregon State's 61-44 loss to Louisville in the Sweet 16 left a bad taste in the mouths of Slocum and her teammates.

"We were unsatisfied with our end result," she said. "We could have done more. We've taken that this spring and summer and used it to propel us to where we want to be. I want to have our team reach its full potential this year and not look back with 'could haves.'"

Other than the time in Italy, Slocum spent most of the summer in Corvallis working on her game with many of her teammates.

"I went home twice — once for a week and once for a couple of days," she said, adding with a smile, "I'm 22 now. I enjoy seeing my family and friends, but I'm not like jumping to go home every chance I get. I wanted to do all I could to prepare to be the best player I can be for my team."

Slocum and Pivec will start, but they have plenty of company at the perimeter positions with the likes of senior Kat Tudor, junior Aleah Goodman and promising sophomore Jasmine Simmons.

"I think we have the best rotation of guards in the country," Slocum said. "We're so versatile. There are so many different things we can do.

"One thing we've grown in is defense. Last year, it bit us sometimes at the worst times. We couldn't stay in front of the ball. Our group of guards have taken a step up in that area, and it will show this season."

The 6-6 Brown and the 6-3 Jones are both pressing for rotation minutes, if not a starting job.

"They've come in right away and made their presence felt," Slocum said. "There hasn't been a day where we're like, 'Ah, they're struggling.'

"Freshman year is always hard. I remember coming in my redshirt year and thinking, 'Man, Kat Tudor misses one 3 and she's freaking out?' It's a different kind of standard you have to hold yourself to when you come into this gym. We have such high expectations as a team. It's not easy to feel 100 percent confident, but we never doubted the confidence of those two for even one day."

Slocum can't wait for the Nov. 4 exhibition game against the U.S. national team at Gill.

"We'll be standing next to the most powerful voices in women's basketball, and we're going to be playing against them," she said. "It's going to be an 'ahh' moment, but we have to play. It's also a chance to learn from them and hopefully talk to them afterward.

"It makes such a big statement for the culture that's been built here and the Oregon State program, that we're of the elite status where USA (Basketball) would want to come calling. That we're appropriate competitors for the best women's basketball players in the world means a lot. To break down the (video) from that game is going to be amazing. If you can play anybody, why not start with (Team) USA?"

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