- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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At just 5 feet, 2 inches, Jazzmin Walters is used to being the shortest around.
And even when the guy beside her is still taller than her when he's on his knees, or when the top of her head barely comes up to the guy's elbow when he's on his feet, Walters' humor helps her keep her lack of height in perspective.
"Maybe it was just his [poofy] hair that made him taller than me," the sophomore said.
Humor aside, one of the smallest Division I players in the nation is having a big impact at Old Dominion. Walters, who broke into the starting lineup earlier this season, is a stifling defender and energizing guard who consistently proves that size doesn't matter.
"Jazz is no bigger than a minute," said Lady Monarchs coach Wendy Larry, who won her 500th game earlier this season. "Her heart is bigger than her body. She has a great deal of passion for the game."
No matter what player Walters faces or where she is on the court -- she switches between the point and 2-guard positions depending on the matchup -- Walters is fearless.
"I've never seen her go up against a big and it be a problem for her," Larry said. "Jazz has a lot of flashy moves. Her size has never been a detriment."
Still, Walters and her 6.3 points and almost three assists per game hardly make her ODU's star. That title more likely falls on T.J. Jordan, the only Lady Monarch in double figures (15.0 ppg), or Sherida Triggs (8.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg).
But Walters -- the shortest player in ODU history -- has come a long way from last season, when she averaged just 3.1 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists, starting only three of 31 games. Walters has started eight of this season's 11 games, averaging 22 minutes, and helped Old Dominion to a 4-7 start despite a challenging schedule that has included losses to Duke, Tennessee, Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Penn State and Virginia.
Life in the spotlight is a familiar place for Walters, a local product from Norfolk, Va., who was the 2005 Tidewater Player of the Year. As a high school senior, she averaged 23.8 points, 5.7 assists and four steals, then chose to stay close to home with high hopes of becoming one of the next great guards at Old Dominion.
Walters spent most of her freshman season coming off the bench, but in helping fill in for point guard Jen Nuzzo, who sustained a stress fracture just six games into last season, Walters ended up averaging 13.7 minutes per game.
This season already is looking up. Walters worked harder this past offseason than at any other time during her career, and got a boost when Nikita Lowry Dawkins returned to Larry's staff. Lowry Dawkins recruited Walters to Old Dominion -- actually, Lowry Dawkins was out recruiting Jordan when she discovered Walters' game -- but spent last season assisting Marsha Sharp at Texas Tech.
Like all underclassmen, Walters continues to be a work in progress. For instance, Larry emphasizes the need for her to be a "pass first, score second" guard -- although both agree Walters has more of a shooter's mentality. And like all short players, Walters is continually asked how tall she is.
"I'm used to it," she said.
But Walters also knows how to use it to her advantage, like dropping her speed on an opponent who has underestimated her.
"I try to use my quickness to offset my height," she added.
That's something Larry doesn't worry about.
"She's got to learn to pull up a little earlier, either finish at the rim or shoot the outside shot," said Larry, who is in her 20th season at Old Dominion and has won an NCAA-record 15 Colonial Athletic Association titles. "Her head needs to catch up with her feet. She sees the floor really well. She's learning tempo, when to run, when to run a play or pull back."
Walters knows that refining her point guard abilities is one key to her success -- both for her as an individual and for her team.
"I just want to keep everybody involved and stay consistent," said Walters, who must work on her assist-to-turnover ratio. "I can't do it myself, but I want to try and help bring people together. A lot of my teammates look up to me."
Figuratively speaking, of course.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.