Commentary

Quiet Orrange has loud presence

Originally Published: February 21, 2014
By Michelle Smith | espnW.com

Amber OrrangeAP Photo/George NikitinAmber Orrange's parents are West Point grads; her mom was a triple-jumper in the 1996 Games.

Stanford had just beaten Arizona State by 26 points, but as Amber Orrange walked into the press room, she looked like she was headed to the dentist's chair.

She sat on the dais and listened intently as teammate Chiney Ogwumike was her usual gregarious self. Orrange, meanwhile, answered the questions quietly and directly. No smile, no extra words.

Talking about the game, her game, herself, has never been Orrange's comfort zone. Playing the game is another matter.

The Cardinal's left-handed point guard has become what Tara VanDerveer calls her team's "drummer."

"She keeps the beat for us," VanDerveer said earlier this season.

Ogwumike says Orrange is a "silent killer."

"She's so important to our success," Ogwumike said.

[+] EnlargeAmber Orrange, Mikaela Ruef, Chiney Ogwumike, Alex Green
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonChiney Ogwumike, right, says junior Amber Orrange is "so important" to Stanford's success.

When Orrange arrived at Stanford as a freshman and was immediately inserted into the starting lineup, her teammates barely heard her speak. Most of her conversations with assistant coach Kate Paye revolved around, well, conversations. Orrange has worked on being vocal, finding her voice to lead her team. And it has been a concerted, conscious effort, no doubt about it.

"She works very hard at it," Paye said. "And she's improved tremendously. But I think you judge a point guard on whether their team wins games. We've won a lot of games with Amber on the floor."

Indeed, heading into this weekend's penultimate Pac-12 games against USC and UCLA in Los Angeles, the Cardinal are 92-7 since Orrange's arrival on The Farm three years ago.

Orrange thinks she has improved a lot when it comes to being a more vocal presence on the floor.

"It's still a work in progress," Orrange said. "I think I could still get better at it."

If you are expecting Orrange to bust out of her shell, suddenly becoming an extrovert, that's not going to happen. She remains soft-spoken, concise and uncomfortable to be the subject of attention.

But that doesn't mean Orrange isn't sometimes good for a sly, very funny joke.

"It's like a treat when she does that," Ogwumike said.

Orrange's success has stayed on the quiet side as well. She might be one of the most underrated point guards in the country.

"I would agree with that," Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. "The minutes she plays, and the consistency that she's shown. She is really, really good."

Orrange is Stanford's second-leading scorer at 9.7 points per game. She ranks second in the Pac-12 in assists (4.6 per game) and is first in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.2).

[+] EnlargeAmber Orrange, Shalie Dheensaw
AP Photo/Dean HareAmber Orrange is Stanford's second-leading scorer (9.7 PPG), ranks second in the Pac-12 in assists per game (4.6) and first in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.2).

She opened the season with a near triple-double against Boston College in November (19 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds), then followed with a career-high 22 points against No. 1 Connecticut. But the most noteworthy effort of her career thus far came in last year's Pac-12 tournament, when Orrange brought Stanford back from a seven-point deficit, scoring 10 of the Cardinal's final 14 points to win the tournament championship.

Orrange has added the 3-point shot to her game, continues to work on her right hand and is benefiting from more help at the guard spot with freshman Lili Thompson also in the backcourt.

"A lot of my focus this season has been on the mental aspect of my game," Orrange said. "How positive I am, the body language, not showing frustration and moving on to the next play.

"I think I need to be more aggressive and look for my shot. I need to attack off the dribble and create opportunities for people; I feel like that would help us a lot."

Words to describe Orrange, like consistent, efficient and dependable, are not generally considered superlatives. But her Hall of Fame coach disagrees.

"I think being consistent is a superlative," VanDerveer said. "What coach doesn't want consistent, dependable players, who work hard on defense, who are unselfish? The thing she's not is flashy. But flashy can be high risk, high reward. I like what Amber does for our team."

The discipline in her game could easily be seen as a function of a childhood spent in a military household.

Orrange is the daughter of two West Point graduates, James and Elexa Orrange. Both competed in track during their time at the U.S. Military Academy, her mother a triple-jumper in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta when Amber was just a toddler.

Her parents instilled a work ethic that she has carried to Stanford.

"Basketball is really, really important to her," Paye said. "More than any other player on our team, she's in the gym on her own time. All hours, off days. She's probably in there right now.

"She might not be the most vocal or outspoken player, but she's the classic case of letting her actions speak for her. Talk is cheap. She's not about calling attention to herself, but I think she's the best point guard in our conference and she wants to be a great player."

Michelle Smith

Contributor, espnW.com

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