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Before she was a politician, Maura Healey was a basketball player. Here’s how her excellence in the sport helped her career.

Maura Healey shared a recent laugh with the UMass women’s basketball team in Amherst.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

“It’s all about the assists, it’s never about the points scored.”

— Maura Healey

Maura Healey’s got game.

“I was pretty good with the ball from the time I was little,” says the former Harvard point guard who is running for Massachusetts governor. “We had a hoop behind the house and it was just dirt and gravel and we played as we could. It was probably good to learn to dribble on gravel.

“I became a good ballplayer because every night I would do fingertip pushups in my bedroom upstairs because I was told if you had strong fingertips, you’d be a great ball handler. And my hands are small, obviously, so I needed to try to find whatever advantage I could.”

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Her grandfather put up a hoop in their barn in Hampton Falls, N.H., and Healey would play there at night, amid the sheep, listening to the radio and shooting baskets in the cold.

She has worn No. 14 since junior high school.

“I wanted to wear the number of the best point guard ever,” she says, “and I just chose Bob Cousy.”

They became friends.

“We talk about basketball,” she says. “About everything.”

Healey is at home on a basketball court.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Her parents divorced when she was 10, and her mother sold her diamond wedding ring to build a half-court for basketball.

Healey, now 51, was a star at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, where she received the first Governor’s Award in 1988, given to the Granite State’s high school athlete of the year, and was first-team all-state in basketball and soccer and an AAU All-American. She was named Miss New Hampshire Basketball in 1988 and was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Her high school and AAU coach was her stepfather, Ed Beattie.

“I could have never become the player I was without him pushing me,” she says.

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When her mother, a school nurse, attended games, she was so animated that sometimes fans gave her a row all to herself.

At 16, Healey was invited to try out for the US national team. She was cut in an early round by legendary coach Pat Summitt, at the time the winningest basketball coach in NCAA Division 1 history.

Healey (center) playing for Winnacunnet and wearing No. 14 because it was Bob Cousy's number.

Healey didn’t feel bad because during the tryouts she got to play with Nancy Lieberman, nicknamed “Lady Magic.” Afterward she thanked Summitt.

“Just keep working hard,” Summitt told her.

Healey played point guard at Harvard from 1988-92. The Crimson won the Ivy League championship her junior year and she was chosen a cocaptain her senior year.

After she graduated, she played two years for UBBC Wustenrot Salzburg, a professional basketball team in Austria.

If elected, she’ll be the second consecutive Harvard basketball player to become governor of Massachusetts. Incumbent Charlie Baker played for the Crimson in the 1977-78 season.

Healey loves to talk basketball on the campaign trail.

“I know that I would never be in the position I am today if it were not for my athletic career,” she tells the UMass women’s basketball team while visiting the Champions Center in Amherst.

Healey talked with UMass basketball players on a recent visit to Amherst.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

“You learn a lot about discipline, about hard work, what it means to fail. You get up and get after it again.”

Without warming up, she plays a game of HORSE against UMass guard Sydney Taylor, who shows no mercy.

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“Oh my God,” she mutters after Taylor drains a shot from well beyond the NBA 3-point line.

Later in the day, at a rally in Amherst, the 5-foot-4-inch attorney general stands on a chair and explains how basketball will help her govern.

“I will be somebody who as a point guard is going to collaborate,” she says. “It’s about the assist, it’s about teamwork, it’s about getting people to play together.”

Teammates remember

One of Healey’s former teammates, Dr. Erin Maher Salvador, is in the crowd, wearing a campaign button that reads “My Governor is a Baller.”

“She was a very energetic point guard,” says Maher Salvador. “Maura had a great handle. And she could dribble like there was no tomorrow.”

She remembers being shocked at how hard Healey worked.

Healey was a point guard for Harvard from 1988-92.Courtesy Healy Family

“We would have these long practices,” she says, “and then everyone would be so tired and then you’d look back as you went into the shower and Maura is doing running drills and agility drills and dribbling drills on the basketball court as the lights were going off.”

Healey’s coach, Kathy Delaney-Smith, the winningest coach in Ivy League history, calls her the “ultimate point guard,” with “a high life IQ.”

“I don’t mean Harvard IQ, I mean passion IQ, hard work IQ,” says Delaney-Smith.

In 1991-92, Healey’s 6.5 assists per game were the most in Ivy League play, and she was named Harvard’s best defensive player. She also averaged 7.4 points her senior season.

When she graduated, she was third on Harvard’s all-time career assists list with 310.

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“I have this enormous pride that I knew her and that I was her coach,” says Delaney Smith. “I’m all about presence. And she’s little and she’s very attractive, and her voice is so soft, and yet she can kill you. That combination is fabulous to me.”

Healey also had a softer side, inviting teammates to New Hampshire for a home-cooked meal.

Teammate Tamara Butler Battaglino says Healey used to “emanate warmth. She used to just swing by my freshman dorm with hot chocolate and say, ‘Hey, how’s your studying going? Want to take a walk?’ And she was really a mentor to me and an adviser.”

Maura bought sneakers at a Northampton shop before shooting hoops with the UMass women’s team.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Teammate Jody Fink remembers her as totally unselfish on the court.

In the last game of the 1989-90 season, Healey drove the court, passed up a wide-open three, and fed Fink for the winning layup. Harvard beat Dartmouth, 65-64, to spoil its unbeaten season.

“Her style on the court was if she did something, she was very calm and collected about it,” says Fink. “But if a teammate did something, she was leading the cheers. Her game face is dimple-less. Quite serious until we score and then she’s dimples.”

The Austria days

Healey graduated from Harvard with a degree in government in June 1992.

“I’m 21, I’m graduating from Harvard,” she says. “I did a couple of on-campus interviews with investment banks and companies like Procter and Gamble, but I wanted to keep playing basketball.”

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She got offers from teams in Turkey, England, and Austria.

She loved playing in Austria, home to ”The Sound of Music” and the birthplace of Mozart. Not bad for a former Hampton Beach Casino waitress.

Healey (back row, second from left) with some of her Salzburg teammates.Courtesy of Anna Ponz

“I was given housing, a car, and my contract [$3,000 a month] was to play on the team and also coach in their youth programs,” she says.

She stayed in a little farmhouse with a cow barn attached to it.

“My bedroom was right next to the cows,” she says. “I’d hear them at night.”

She was one of two foreigners on the team. The other was a 6-foot-4-inch center from Czechoslovakia who spoke no English.

Healey was a star, averaging 22 points, 7.5 assists, and 5 rebounds her first season.

“She was a great passer, a good shooter, and she played defense,” says Anna Ponz, an Austrian teammate who played forward on the now-defunct team.

“She was really great with the team. Yeah, we had really much fun, too. What the hell? We were young. We went dancing and drinking beer. We traveled. We did a lot.”

Early on, her teammates put her to the test.

They challenged her to retrieve a single coin from a famous fountain, telling her she would get one wish.

Healey still has good form on her jump shot at 51.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

The team cheered as the future attorney general ditched her shoes and stepped into the icy waters and snagged a coin.

“So she passed the entrance exam brilliantly,” says Ponz.

“I remember my first game,” says Healey. “Somebody goes by me in the lane and I’m like, that’s a travel. And it turns out that’s not a travel in Europe, you’re allowed another step. So there were definitely some adjustments.”

After two seasons abroad, Healey went to law school and became Massachusetts attorney general in 2015.

Now, she hopes to replace Baker, whom she once beat in a 2014 game of HORSE.

Healey grew up a huge Celtics fan during the Larry Bird era. She remembers how angry she was at her coach for scheduling a practice on a Sunday afternoon during a Lakers-Celtics finals.

She would not name names — it would do zero good politically — but she did have some advice for the current Celtics, who were just two wins shy of a championship last season.

“I would counsel players to not whine to the refs,” she says. “I don’t think it ends up doing much good. And the best way to deal with it is just go out and play hard.”

Diplomatic.


Stan Grossfeld can be reached at stanley.grossfeld@globe.com.