I had to chuckle, as I sat in an auxiliary gymnasium at Lee’s Summit West High School last week.
With a standing-room-only crowd packed into the smallest gym at the high school, two of the premier freshmen in the nation were going head to head, and it was hard to tell who was having more fun – the appreciative fans, their respective coaches and teammates or Blue Springs’ Jada Williams and Grain Valley’s Grace Slaughter.
“Oh boy, are the next four years ever going to be fun,” Eagles coach Randy Draper said after the electric, glorified practice session that had the fans, and the coaches, begging for more.
“We’re so lucky,” added longtime Wildcats coach Mark Spigarelli, “because we have such a great blend of older girls and all our talented freshmen, and our seniors have welcomed the freshmen with open arms.
“I really think this might be one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve ever had as a coach because all the girls really seem to care about each other and just think of each other as members of the team.”
Williams’ face would light up when she would direct a deft pass to one of her fellow Wildcats, and Slaughter beamed when leading a fast break and dishing the ball off to a teammate who hit a layup.
These two young ladies are accustomed to the spotlight – the national spotlight.
They starred at the 2019 Jr. NBA Global Championship in Orlando, Fla. Williams and Slaughter earned plenty of attention after helping lead the U-14 U.S. Central Region team to the title with a 72-35 rout of Canada in the championship game at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort.
Williams, scored 11 points and added four assists, and Slaughter added eight points along with four rebounds as the Central team finished the week with a perfect 7-0 record.
“These girls are phenomenal,” Central coach Nick Bradford said at the time. “Jada and Grace are amazing young women – and I’m talking about them as young women, and not young basketball players.
“Each of them have 4.0 GPAs and come from wonderful families. We believe in a team concept and they certainly buy into that.”
Bradford said that each of the Eastern Jackson County standouts have already been offered Division I scholarships and are drawing serious attention from some of the top college teams in the nation.
“Jada has been on the radar for quite a while, and after what she did at Orlando, Grace is getting a lot of attention,” Bradford added. “Grace just burst on the scene in Orlando and she does so many things. They were just an unbeatable combo, along with all their teammates.”
Yet when they get together after the jamboree, they laugh and giggle, like ... well, like high school freshman.
“This was so much fun,” Slaughter said. “Getting to get a taste of high school basketball and my new teammates and playing against Jada was great.”
Added Williams: “This is the start – tonight is the start of our high school career, and we can’t wait to see what happens.”
Neither can I.
– Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com or 816-350-6333. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC