Taya Hanson

Kelowna’s Taya Hanson shoots for her Arizona State University Sun Devils during a game earlier this season. Hanson is playing her junior season in Tempe, Ariz.

Taya Hanson’s skill-building has gone beyond ball-handling, defence and adding dimension to her offensive game.

“I’ve been preparing for a leadership role for the past two years,” Hanson said. “We are such a young team this year and it’s been a great opportunity for me. I am still learning how to bring out the best in my teammates.”

Not to mention herself.

The Kelowna native — and KSS graduate — felt like she was finding her rhythm and “letting the game come to me” in December, right before the Sun Devils were forced to shut down for two weeks because of COVID-19 protocols.

And now she is letting it come to her again, with a full roster of teammates by her side and this weekend’s challenging set of games against the Stanford Cardinal and Cal Golden Bears.

Hanson is a tone-setter on the floor and off, a sunny optimism that she comes to sincerely, and frequently.

“She’s just such a good kid,” said Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne about the junior guard who is leading her team in scoring at 12.5 points per game and a team-leading 39 three-point shots — 29 more than her nearest teammate.

Hanson has scored in double figures in 11 of her last 12 games. On Jan. 1, she scored 21 points against Cal that included a remarkable 7-for-10 shooting from beyond the arc, tying an ASU record.

“Someone like Taya, who is so passionate about the game and being the best that she can be, it’s really fun to watch,” said Turner Thorne. “It’s going to be fun down the stretch, having our whole roster together. We haven’t had our whole roster all season. But this has been a perfect opportunity for Taya to grow in her leadership responsibilities. She is really hungry to grow in that area.”

When Hanson arrived in Arizona as a freshman, Turner Thorne asked her to join leadership meetings with the upperclassmen. She was grooming her from an early stage.

“She wants to be an influencer,” Turner Thorne said. “It was part of the reason she came here, because we told her family that we want to turn out leaders. And what a perfect team for her to lead. They are so young and eager and enthusiastic and she is a great role model. This is a hard year, it’s a hard time.

“There are days when you have to ask yourself ‘Is this fun?’ I don’t know. But Taya has really helped us with that. Every day she comes to the gym like ‘Hey, we get to play today.’ And I really appreciate her for that.”

Turner Thorne also appreciates that Hanson is “one of the top 3 fittest players I’ve ever coached,” and her work ethic and drive to improve.

“She plays 30 minutes a game, defends the other team’s top player and she is now one of our go-to offensive players,” Turner Thorne said.

Hanson’s role is different because the circumstances are different. No longer is ASU a veteran team, with a base of experienced players. As a junior on a team with just one senior, Hanson is the experience. Not to mention an example.

“I’ve had to step into that role,” Hanson said. “To get on the court more, to feel the game more, it’s such a different experience. We are such a young team. I came up with such strong leaders, solid senior classes, girls that I learned so much from and now it’s kind of flipped.

"I still feel young and I haven’t reached where I’m trying to be, but it’s been really fun to be a team that is coming together.”

Michelle Smith’s article appears courtesy Pac-12.com.