Fishman said he would be expecting more from Gray this season even if Dudukovich was back.
Gray recorded 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game in 2019-20. As a freshman the year prior, she averaged 14.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals.
“It’s just part of a natural progression,” Fishman said. “Every year you want to see a player improve, so from a rebounding perspective I think she’s a little stronger physically this year. She wants to take on mastering more parts of the game. So, what do you do? You look for something else you can increase statistically how you contribute to a team’s success.”
With Dudokovich not playing and Nevaeh Dean graduated, West doesn’t return anyone else who averaged more than 6.0 points per game, so the Firebirds could be relying on Gray even more than in the past early on as others develop in the offense.
Fishman said that won’t change the way opponents defend her. They already tend to key in on Gray, and she’s risen above those added challenges.
“I don’t know how much more they can do,” he said. “She’s been face-guarded and seen box-and-1s, she’s been double-teamed since she was a freshman. I think you can outsmart yourself and give a player too much attention and make it too easy on a team that has some other balance. It’s always the art of coaching.”
The attention on Gray could free up players like junior guard Amara Flores, who finished with 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game last year, and senior Leah Abribat, who averaged 5.1 points. Fishman said Flores scored opportunistically last year but should be looking for shots more this season, and Abribat should be one of the top 3-point shooters in the conference.
The Firebirds also have some players who got some experience off the bench last year, including some who came up from the junior varsity squad for games. Emily Doerman played in all 25 games off the bench, and Elizabeth Key and Beri Ngwa got some time in 15 or 16 games, and Fishman expects all three to step up this season. West has just two seniors but a large junior class leads the roster.
One thing that won’t change is the expectation for excellence. West finished 21-5 last year amid a challenging schedule, and the Firebirds once again face a tough slate with the KEMBA Holiday Hoops tournament and Classic in the Country.
“We want to be great every moment in practice, every game,” Fishman said. “You are just always trying to get better. If you focus on the moment and what you’re doing right now, success will take care of itself over time. You set short-term obtainable goals and focus on a great drill, great practice, pile those on top of one another and get better. Our first long-term goal is winning the GMC championship – it’s always been that way. And hopefully we can achieve those goals.”
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jordan Rogers, Franklin senior guard
Emily Adams, Fenwick senior center/forward
Brooklyn Miltenberger, Monroe sophomore guard
Madison French, Lakota East sophomore guard
Kylee Fears, Talawanda sophomore forward
Callie Hunt, Edgewood senior forward
Ella Campbell, Madison sophomore guard
Jada Pohlen, Badin junior point guard
Kaylee Lawson, Carlisle junior point guard
Jayden Isaacs, Hamilton, junior forward
Kristen Leesemann, Fairfield senior forward
Veronica Allen, Ross junior guard