Grace Slaughter, the most talked about freshman in the history of Grain Valley High School basketball, sits outside of the gymnasium at North Middle School when the bell rings, signaling the end of another school day.
Suddenly, she is mobbed by a sea of smiling faces, getting hugs, high-fives and words of encouragement from many of the students she shared classrooms with just a year ago.
“I love this school,” said Slaughter, as she prepared for practice with coach Randy Draper’s Eagles, as teacher conferences forced the high school team to practice in Slaughter’s former middle school. “And I love the high school, and Coach Draper and Coach (Pete) Carpino and all my teammates. Before the start of this season, I wondered what high school basketball would be like, and it’s better than I ever dreamed it could be. I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.”
And that comes from someone who starred on the U.S. Central Region Under-14 team that won the Jr. NBA Global Championship in Orlando, Fla., in a nationally televised game.
Everywhere Slaughter goes, the whispers follow her.
“There she is,” a young fan might say, as Slaughter prepares for a pregame warmup, “that’s Grace Slaughter.”
Draper has admitted that one big reason he is still coaching the girls team after retiring as a teacher is the arrival of Slaughter and many other talented underclassmen.
“I’ve never seen a kid, a high school student, handle the attention the way Grace does,” said Draper, who watched Slaughter surpass 500 career points in just 22 games with his Eagles as she scored 33 points last week in a win over Grandview. “And I’m talking about the attention on and off the court. She’s just an amazing kid.”
Heading into Thursday’s game against Raytown South, Slaughter is the No. 2 overall scorer in the metro area with a 22.8-points-per-game average.
“She works so hard, that her teammates love her – and her coaches love her, too, and all she cares about is winning,” Draper continued. “If you want to see her smile, watch her reaction after a pass to a teammate that leads to a basket. She just lights up the gym with that smile.”
And when she’s not bringing the ball down the court, setting up the Eagles offense, the 6-foot-1 Slaughter, who can play any position, is hitting 3-pointers. She had six in the 33-point performance that left her with 501 points. She can also make deft, left-handed layups or play lockdown defense.
“She’s a coach’s dream,” Draper said. “She got so much attention before the start of the season and I think we were all wondering how she was going to handle it, and she’s handled it beautifully. The reason everyone loves her is because of who she is – just a great, great kid.”
Draper is a team-first coach who doesn’t bother himself with individual numbers until the end of a season, but even he is impressed with her 501-point freshman campaign.
“Well, 501 points is a lot of points – I don’t care where you’re playing, and I don’t believe we’ve ever had a freshman in the history of the school score 500.
“And we have a lot of basketball left to play this season. And what’s so great is that all her teammates were as excited for her as she was, because she’s just that kind of kid.
“And we have her three more years. I just think, ‘How much better will she be in two or three years?’ It’s scary – scary good.”