NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Fifteen years before making history with her 400th career 3-pointer, Darby Maggard is in the car with her mother, DeeDee. They're headed to the gym where the Whitko High Wildcats, the girls' basketball team DeeDee coaches, will be playing another school in northeast Indiana.
A basketball sits cradled in Darby's lap. She holds it with two hands, firm but gentle. She won't be playing tonight of course. She's not quite 7 years old.
Instead she'll be up on the balcony, dribbling her ball from first whistle to final buzzer. She'll begin a habit that survives to this day as the senior season of her illustrious career winds down at Belmont University.
Long before her peers have arrived at the gym or after they've gone home, Darby Maggard (Larwill, Ind.) is there with a basketball in her hands.
She was small for her age even then, and knowing her mother's slight stature, Darby realized early on a life of basketball could be difficult. But she was determined. As she grew older and other players grew taller, her game evolved to survive.
"I knew. Every single coach that I've had told me. I was going to have to master the 3-point line in order to be successful," said Darby, who is generously listed at 5 feet, 5 inches.
Darby holds a litany of Belmont women's basketball school records and this month broke the Ohio Valley Conference record for career 3-pointers, the truest testament of an extended impact on the game. In the process, she became just the fifth player in NCAA Division I history to surpass 400 career threes (now at 409 and counting).
Behind those quantifiable numbers are the innumerable practice shots that date back to her days tailing mama Maggard to the gym. Well, not quite that far actually.
DeeDee Maggard, a coach by trade, knew better than to allow her only daughter to take up the 3-point shot from the onset. Proper form and precision was paramount first.
She set a goal for young Darby: make 8-of-10 shots from seven spots inside the 3-point line during practice. Only then could she move beyond the arc. The day finally came in sixth grade.
By then the form was there, a quick touch that becomes a smooth shot square to the basket. It's looked nearly identical across hundreds of 3-pointers with the Bruins and thousands upon thousands more in practice.
Darby honed that deliver every day through middle school and high school, counting each attempt as her shooting percentage crept steadily upward.
"When you're in the gym by yourself, it really is just you against yourself," she said. "I just wanted to get better."
The results showed. Before now nearing 2,000 points in her Bruin career, Darby scored 2,274 while prepping at Canterbury School and caught the eye of several Power 5 Conference college recruiters. In Belmont, though, she found a coach and a program that matched her desires.
Come to Belmont to serve and become a leader, she was told. Come to Belmont and shoot the three.
"Coach Cam (Newbauer), his motto was chuck it from the cheap seats," Darby joked of the Bruins' head coach from 2013-17. "He saw potential in me that I didn't see in myself. He helped me see it and go after it. None of this would be possible without him."
Belmont head coach Bart Brooks picked up right where Newbauer left off in grooming Darby to become the greatest shooter in program history. She hopes to extend her playing career beyond this season before following her mother into coaching. Ths first step is the WBCA's "So You Want To Be A Coach" program in April.
But first, Darby and the Bruins have some unfinished business. Belmont clinched its third consecutive OVC regular season championship last week and will carry the No. 1 seed into the upcoming OVC Tournament.
There the Bruins will chase a fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament led by their senior point guard. She'll likely be the smallest player on the court. She'll certainly be the first one on it, practicing her shot before the game.