Last summer, Jada Williams and Grace Slaughter played together on a national championship girls basketball team. They shared a court again Tuesday night, but this time as rivals and without nearly as much at stake.
But that didn’t make the occasion any less momentous.
“We’re used to playing with each other and against each other,” Slaughter said. “Tonight’s our first high-school experience, so I just wanted to go out and have fun with my teammates.”
This was the high school coming out party for two of the most talked-about freshmen girls in the nation, and it took place in a preseason jamboree at Lee’s Summit West. Williams, a 5-foot-6 point guard, launched her career at Blue Springs. Slaughter, a 6-1 guard/forward, debuted for Grain Valley.
And in a small gym adjacent to the Titans’ field house, they ended their first night as high-schoolers battling against each other in two six-minute periods. Williams had four points, two assists, a rebound and a steal and Slaughter scored all six of the Eagles’ points in a 25-6 Blue Springs victory.
“This was me and Grace’s first time playing high school ball so we were getting out jitters out and stuff,” Williams said. “But it was a lot of fun to play against her, because we’re used to playing together.”
Williams and Slaughter are already used to being in the spotlight. By the time she was 13, Williams already had two NCAA Division-I scholarship offers and a bundle of highlight videos. Slaughter received an offer last May to try out for the U.S. Women’s Under-16 team at the Olympic training center in Colorado. And when they powered the U.S. Central Region team to the Under-14 championship in the Jr. NBA Global Championship in Orlando, Fla., their profiles grew even higher.
“I was just extremely blessed to get that opportunity in the first place,” Slaughter said. “It’s really changed a lot, mentally, physically and just working.”
Williams’ and Slaughter’s precocious talents offer an opportunity and a challenge. While both will undoubtedly make their teams better, they’re still freshmen, and they still need to blend in with their more-seasoned teammates.
“You have high expectations for her, but she’s a freshman and there’s still plenty of things she doesn’t know,” Blue Springs coach Mark Spigarelli said of Williams. “There’s times when our seniors lead her, there’s times when she gives us leadership. We’re just trying to get everybody on the same page.”
Williams joins a deep and senior-laden team at Blue Springs. The Wildcats return all five starters and top scorers from last year’s 13-12 team, which gives Williams time to grow into the lineup and ease into her leadership role.
“I definitely don’t have it easy,” Williams said. “I have to work hard like everybody else in practice. We’re all leaders on the floor, and the point guard is supposed to be the leader, and I just think that pulling everyone together is going to be a big thing this season.”
Slaughter enters a different situation at Grain Valley. Keely Hill, a 5-10 post who averaged nearly 10 points a game, and guard Savannah Scott are the Eagles’ only seniors. With such a young team, Slaughter knows she will have to step up right away even if she is only a freshman.
“I just want to help the team,” Slaughter said. “As long as you’ve got a good positive attitude, the girls will come together.”
Grain Valley coach Randy Draper believes Slaughter is up to the task.
“She’s a great player,” Draper said. “And on top of that, she’s a great teammate. It easy for the team to go with her and be glad for her success because she’s going to get a lot of attention because she’s really good.”
Slaughter and Williams are already used to garnering attention at the highest level, and they’re sure to have more come their way. But on Tuesday night, all those accolades paled in comparison to a scrimmage in a small gym.
“I’m always excited to start something new,” Williams said. “Especially in basketball.”