Last season, sophomore guard Jonae Ervin led the Big West Conference with an assist-turnover ratio of 1.8. This season, she is one of the safest ball handlers in the nation, and a crucial component to Cal Poly’s success entering the final month of conference play.
Ervin has played in all 20 games so far this season and averaged more than 3.09 assists per turnover, placing her second in the nation among all NCAA Division I players.
“It’s a lot of trust — mainly trusting yourself,” she said, acknowledging the impressive ranking. “My coaches rely on me to have the ball in my hand a lot, so I have to be confident and trust in myself.”
Her sophomore season began with a breakout performance against the University of Oregon, which set the tone for her breakout year. Shooting 5-5 from beyond the 3-point line, Ervin scored 33 points, grabbed six rebounds and added three assists playing in the brand new, $227 million Knight Arena.
On a typical night, Ervin is less concerned with scoring and more about controlling the basketball so she can give it to her teammates.
“My main job is to put the other four players on the court in a good position when I give them the ball,” she said. “If other teams know I’m a distributor, they’re going to play off me, so I need to work on finding my own shot.”
In Cal Poly’s most recent game against UC Davis, Ervin dished a career-high 10 assists and turned over the ball twice en route to an 87-65 victory.
Head coach Faith Mimnaugh said the team depends on Ervin to play at such a high level at the point guard position, in this season and seasons to come.
“Her ability to penetrate and set up her teammates is critical to whether we win or lose games,” she said. “She continues to grow every single game, and we’re excited about her development.”
Growing is exactly what Ervin has been doing. She is now the starting point guard and a team leader since arriving at Cal Poly in 2009. After sustaining a season-ending knee injury eight games into her freshman year, she was allowed to redshirt.
In her first official year of eligibility, Ervin started 15 games and averaged eight points per game as Cal Poly won its first-ever Big West regular-season championship which was shared with UCSB.
Junior forward Brittany Woodard said it is helpful to play with a solid point guard such as Ervin who can be trusted with tough decisions at the end of a close game.
“She’s the quickest person, I swear, in this league,” Woodard said. “She can take it whenever and turn it on and off whenever.”
Still 2012 marks only the eighth year that Ervin has ever played organized basketball. She picked up the sport in eighth grade and developed her skills playing 11 out of 12 months each of her four years at Brea Olinda High School in Orange County, Calif.
Ervin said finally playing with “money player” and senior forward Kristina Santiago has helped develop her confidence.
“She can pretty much score whenever she touches the ball,” Ervin said.
Santiago redshirted last season with a knee injury of her own, allowing players such as Ervin to step up and lead the Mustangs all the way to the final game of the Big West Conference Championship, which they lost to UC Davis.
Accolades aside, Ervin said she and the team still need to work on performing with consistency. Cal Poly (8-12; 5-3) has struggled to find its rhythm this season, losing the final seven games of 2011, winning the first three games of conference play, then losing the next three.
The streaky Mustangs look to win a third straight game on the road against rival UC Santa Barbara this Saturday at 2 p.m. The game will be streamed online on ESPN 3.