A 9-year-old Maggie Lucas walked onto the basketball court, joining the nine other players.
She was smaller than the others.
She was two years younger than the others.
Not to mention, the other players were boys — but that didn’t matter.
Playing alongside her older brother, Ben, on a team coached by their father, Maggie proved to be one of the best players in the league for 10- and 11-year-old boys.
“She’s out here doing her thing against the boys,” said Albert Lucas, father of the current Lady Lion. “That’s when you knew this kid really had something special as an athlete.”
Two players from each team in the league were picked to be all-stars. Maggie and Ben received that honor for their team.
For the two siblings, working together was somewhat rare. Maggie was the youngest of three children, along with Ben and oldest brother Peter. As children, the three shared a common passion: basketball.
The only problem was, they had trouble actually sharing that love. There was never enough court for all three to play on. The competitiveness of Maggie and her brothers led to altercations, which provoked their mother, Betsy, to create a schedule for each to use the court in the family’s driveway.
“It’s funny to look at it now because we got in some pretty serious fights,” said Ben, currently a junior at Arizona State. “A few times, someone would go over their time limit and we’d be punting each other’s basketballs away.”
Albert said it was the early days of coaching his sons that led Maggie to develop a hunger for basketball. He said at a very early age, his daughter shot the ball pretty well, and that early success is what he believes sparked her interest in the sport.
Now, after countless games — whether organized or with the family — Maggie is showing off her talents as a freshman for No. 23 Penn State. With three weeks left in the regular season, the Big Ten has already taken notice — touting her as the Freshman of the Week seven times, a conference record.
While the college basketball world is just beginning to see Lucas’ talent, it didn’t take long for those close to her to see she was special.
Even with two sharp-shooting brothers who each won Pennsylvania state championships at Lower Merion High School, Albert said it was obvious early on that Maggie was the one with the “it” factor.
A Unique Talent
Each person has their own story of when they realized Maggie was a special player.
Sherri Retif, head coach of Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, received a phone call from Maggie’s father while she was in middle school. He told Retif that his daughter was interested in coming to Germantown Academy, a private high school. The coach told him the best way to get a sense of the program was to attend a summer camp.
“With the college level, everyone knows who’s talented at the high school level,” Retif said. “When you’re a high school coach, you don’t know who the best sixth and seventh graders are.”
It wouldn’t take long for Retif to see the promise the young Maggie had.
The final day of camp featured a game between camp all-stars and the counselors. With the game winding down, Maggie had the ball around half court with a 6-foot-3 counselor in front of her. The young middle-schooler rose up and sent a 50-foot shot toward the basket.
The long-distance basket helped the camp all-stars defeat the counselors, something Retif said rarely happens.
“From the very beginning, I knew Maggie was special with that shot she had and the determination to just perfect it and be the best shooter she could become,” Retif said. “Her shot puts her in a league of her own.”
Ben knew his sister had potential from an early age, but he remembers the time when he realized just how good she could be.
When Maggie was around 12 years old, she beat him in a rare game of one-on-one while playing in a gym at Saint Joseph’s University. It wasn’t just the fact she beat him, but how it happened, that he remembers.
“It was an unbelievable fade-away 3,” Ben said of the winning shot. “At that point, I knew she was going to play Division I. I knew she was going to be really good at basketball.”
Heart on the Court
Maggie hates to lose.
Her father said after every loss she’ll think of what she could’ve done to help her team win.
Never did Maggie do more to avoid a loss than against Archbishop Wood in her senior year of high school.
Germantown Academy trailed by 10 points with five minutes left, and Albert remembers thinking the game, “was going to be in the loss column.”
Then Maggie stole the ball and scored a bucket.
Betsy Lucas turned to her husband.
“Uh-oh, Maggie’s got that look,” Albert recalls his wife saying at the time. “This game’s not over.”
Maggie came up with play after play to pull her team back in the game. She even faked coming off a screen for a 3 and cut toward the basket, freeing herself off a teammate’s back screen. She received a lob pass and converted the basket on an out-of-bounds play the team had just installed that week.
In the end, Maggie scored 20 points in a little more than three minutes to turn the double-digit deficit into a 72-61 win. The game became more special, as it marked milestones for Lucas and her coach.
The win was the 500th of Retif’s coaching career, and Maggie registered her 2,000th point for Germantown Academy. The two feats only added to the comeback victory.
“They really love each other,” Albert said of Maggie and Retif. “To get those significant milestones in the same game, it just doesn’t seem like it was an accident. It seems like it was meant to be.”
Maggie’s determination to be successful started long before her days at Germantown Academy.
The court on the family driveway and the gym at St. Joe’s is where she battled her brothers to gain victory.
Two-on-two battles — with Maggie and Albert teaming up against Ben and Peter — were commonplace for the family. Though they had to be limited enough because of the physicality involved.
Neither the team of Maggie and her father nor the team of her brothers wanted to lose. But as the three youngsters improved, Albert said he was heading in the opposite direction. Playing with a fierce competitor such as Maggie, he didn’t get a pass.
“Dad, you’ve got to guard Peter closer. He’s killing us,” Albert said his daughter used to tell him.
It’s those times playing against her brothers that Maggie believes helped push her to improve. She said part of her game is having her jersey held by defenders, and the time playing her brothers helped compose her for that physical play.
“The work ethic is something they really pushed me toward,” she said. “I was like, ‘I need to work even harder because they’re bigger and stronger than me. If I’m going to beat my brothers than I’m going to have to work harder than they do.’ I think that’s what has helped me a lot in basketball.”
It’s that work ethic that had her in the gym the day after her high school graduation — preparing to begin practice at Penn State.
For Retif, that’s what makes Lucas stand out from the rest.
“I’ve coached for 25 years at the high school level and I’ve never had a player with a work ethic like Maggie Lucas,” she said.
Heart off the Court
The same focus seen from Maggie during games can be seen off the court with the relationships she has with those close to her.
Caroline Doty, a junior on the Connecticut women’s basketball team, played alongside Maggie at Germantown Academy. During that time, she considered Lucas one of her closest friends.
It was Doty who called the Lucas household to congratulate Maggie on being accepted to the school. (A call she never heard personally because her father accidentally erased the message.)
While the two had a blast as a standout duo on the court, Doty said Lucas is just as fun off the court. The two players transferred their competitiveness from the court to what Doty called “prank wars.”
They would constantly go back-and-forth playing tricks on each other, as Doty recalls changing the lock on Maggie’s locker and hiding her books, or plastic-wrapping her backpack to a bench.
Doty, who’s recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury in her left knee, plans to see Maggie over the summer — as she has in past years. Maggie isn’t just another talented player to compete with, she’s a little more.
“She’s going to be a great friend for the rest of my life,” Doty said.
The strong relationship Maggie has with Doty is reflective of the Penn State freshman’s personality.
In high school, even though she was focused on winning, Maggie would write speeches to recite to her teammates at team dinners. Retif said they were intended to put things in perspective and always had the team in stitches laughing.
Outside of basketball, Lucas says her friends always understood her priorities at a young age.
“They were like, ‘That’s Maggie. She’s probably not going to hang out with us at recess because she’s going to play with the boys,’ ” Lucas said. “I have some great friends from back in high school who are still following up on me.”
They’re only returning the favor for Maggie supporting them. Though she was always focused on basketball, Albert said his daughter attended friends’ plays and dances whenever possible.
That’s part of her personality. Albert said Maggie is just as good of a person as she is a player.
“She cares a lot about her friends, family and teammates,” Albert said. “She expresses that in a lot of ways.”
Best of the Best
Doty knows a little bit about great players. She has played with and against the best talent in the nation while winning two national championships and contributing to the longest win streak in women’s basketball history, UConn’s recently snapped 90-game win streak.
Lucas, who considered Doty a mentor while in high school, is again looking up to her former teammate and what she has accomplished in college. She hopes to play against Doty and the Huskies in the future.
“When you’re trying to make yourself one of the best players, you want to play against the best of the best,” Lucas said. “We want to be one of the best teams, too. We’re on our way up. We have a long way to go.”
Personally, any improvements the freshman makes will only add to the great talent she has acquired by working hard to build off her natural ability.
Doty remembers recognizing Lucas’ potential the first time she saw her play. Even with Doty’s experiences since that point, she still sees Lucas at a different level.
“Her 3-point shot is the best I’ve seen from anybody at any level,” Doty said. “When she gets the ball, it’s over. It’s just so smooth and fluent.”
And even though Lucas spent her younger years looking up to Doty, the UConn junior sees some admirable characteristics in Maggie.
“I’m honored to have her call me her mentor,” Doty said. “In a way, I look up to her too. How hard she works, how fluent her shot is and how much fun she can be off the court. I think she’s a great kid.”