Casey’s 1,000 point club built on selflessness

Published 12:51 am Saturday, February 1, 2020

For most high school players, scoring 1,000 points is their career goal. For the majority of them, it’s not something that they will reach. For Casey County’s girls basketball team, four have eclipsed that mark.

“It’s crazy,” senior Jordy Stephens said about the team’s scorers.

First was Gena Cravens, who hit the 1,000 point milestone as a sophomore and just eclipsed the 2,000 point mark off a deep three in a game in January against Manual. Lauren Lee was next, scoring hers on a fastbreak layup against Rockcastle County. Natalie Duggins was next, scoring from the elbow in a win over McCreary Central. And this year, a converted and-1 put Stephens over the mark.

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“This group has been really special. We’ve all made it to that 1,000 point mark,” Stephens said. “That’s so special because not only are we so good as a team, but also individually we’re strong.”

Yes, all four of them know the shots that put them in the 1K club, but that’s about the end of their thoughts about themselves. All four seniors were just as — if not more — excited for their teammates accomplishments than their own.

“We’re so close that we don’t care how we do. If someone else is doing good — we’re happy for them no matter how we’re doing,” Lee said. “Also, part of my job as a point guard — it’s not just scoring, it’s assisting. I don’t always need those points.”

“We’re thinking about everything else except that,” Stephens added. “We couldn’t care less if we made it to 1,000 points. It’s a goal, but it’s not our priority.”

For head coach Tara Weddle, that selflessness is at the cornerstone of what she believes makes her team so special.

“I’ve had games where I have to yell at them to shoot the ball or score the ball or want to score. It’s just how well they share the ball,” she said. “They don’t care which one is scoring — you never know with our team who’s going to have 20 points and who will have three. 

“That’s an asset for our team. The fact that they don’t pay any attention to that speaks a lot about how they are as individuals and players. They’re all about the team. They’re not selfish or about individual goals or state lines.”

That team-first mentality is reflected in how Lee reacted to her 1,000th career point last year.

“Obviously I was really happy, but I think the game as a whole overshadowed it,” she said. “Rockcastle is a big district game, but when I did get it, we were down. So I was happy, but the game overshadowed it.”

All four players said that when they knew they were close to the milestone, they felt the pressure more. Cravens said that she didn’t want to know when she was close to 2,000 because of the pressure she felt when she was nearing 1,000. But her grandmother let it slip on accident, so she said that when she sank that three, it was a “big relief.”

“I just kept scoring and then I got to twelve,” she said about the game when she reached the milestone. “Tara drew up a play for me to score and I was just ‘Well, I guess this is the one.’”

Having four players combine for over 5,000 career points can be overwhelming. Stephens could only say “wow” when she realized what her and her teammates have done. But the group of prolific scorers means that no individual feels like she has to carry the team offensively.

“It’s so helpful. I’ve been on and I’ve been off, but I always know my girls will pick me up,” Cravens said. “It’s just a great feeling knowing that no matter who’s having a good night or a bad night, we’ll still play as a team and hopefully come out with that win.”

“Jordy has really stepped up this year and Natalie Duggins has really stepped up as far as taking over games,” Weddle added. “Last year Gena Beth got denied — there were several games where they’d put a chaser on her. It ended up playing to our advantage because it took a defender away and gave the other four a chance to score the ball.

“It’s a good thing and sometimes it’s a panic thing because you never know who’s going to show up that night,” she added. “We always talk — at least two of them will show up hopefully. I wish we’d have a game where all five — or at least four — show up at the same time because then we could really do some damage.”

Another thing that makes the quartet special is that there was never any internal competition about getting their points.

“It’s so nice to not have to deal with it. You hear about drama on so many teams. Jealousy or one player’s shooting it too much — stuff like that,” Weddle said. “We have never had that — and I’ve had them since they were eighth graders — we’ve never had that issue of someone getting mad about that… They don’t care how the points get on the board as long as we’ve got more than the end of the game.”

In fact, the only semi-competition in regards to eclipsing 1K was between Duggins and her mom who scored over 1,400 career points.

“It was always a dream because my mom got it. I always wanted to live up to that and be as good as her,” she said, before adding that her mom still trash talks her a little for having less right now.

While they don’t have egos when it comes to intrasquad dynamics, they do feel the competitive edge to be the better players when they play against highly touted stars from other schools. Before the game at Christian Academy of Louisville, the Centurions celebrated senior Shelby Calhoun — a McDonald’s All-American game nominee. The Rebels won that game, and Cravens acknowledged that their competitive fires were stoked by the CAL star.

What makes this Casey group so special is that they aren’t just a bunch of scorers. While Gena Cravens is one of only three Lady Rebels to get to 2,000 points, Weddle is most proud of her performance on the other end of the floor this year.

The thing I’m most proud of from her is that she’s not just scoring the ball. Everybody knows that she can shoot,” she said. “This year she’s really busting a gut on defense — getting in passing lanes and getting steals. That makes her more dangerous than just being someone who can score — she’s guarding this year.

“Lauren and Jordy both play extremely hard on the defensive end. Jordy’s a freak of nature sometimes when she’s guarding the ball and blocking shots,” Weddle added. “Lauren has this motor in her. She’s just so aggressive on offense and defense and is everywhere at once. It’s not only that they’re 4,000 point scorers. They play hard on the defensive end. Natalie Duggins rebounds the ball — especially when she gets mad. The other night she got mad and had 14 rebounds.”

Casey County wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the district tournament weeks ago and now with the four seniors eclipsing their career milestones, there’s not much to keep them from looking ahead at the regional tournament that has been insurmountable for them the last two years.

“I think they know — being there two years in a row is like a dagger,” Weddle admitted. “It’s always in the back of their head. We try not to put too much emphasis on that right now because we still have (some big games) left.

“The first game of the district tournament is the most important game of the season,” she added. “If you don’t win that one, region and state are out of the question. We stay focused on that. But this being their senior year, it’s like ‘it’s now or it’s not going to happen.’ This year we’ve played a schedule, I think, way harder than any schedule we’ve played since I’ve been here. That’ll help us in the long run.”

“We know that it’s not about focusing on the other teams. It’s about focusing on us,” Lee echoed. “I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but I feel like if we play our game, we can beat anybody in the region. But the thing is that we have to play our game because if we don’t bring our A-game, there’s a lot of great teams in this region and one play can totally change the game.”

No matter what happens when it gets to tournament time, Tara Weddle knows that this group of seniors will be one of the most special that will have gone through Casey County. But she also wants them to get over that hurdle.

“We’ve been in close game situations all year. They’ve played high caliber athletes all year,” she said about the schedule. “They handled it so much better than I thought they would — even those losses. I’m hoping that it’s a difference from last season. This is the year, there are no more second chances.”