Lakota West High School girls basketball coach Andy Fishman doesn’t plan to take Nevaeh Dean off the court much this season. That’s how important the 6-foot-2 senior forward is to what the Firebirds are doing.
Dean, who recently signed with Virginia Tech, is one of three starters returning from last year’s 23-3 squad; however, she is the lone senior of that trio and expected to play an even greater role this season.
West is seeking its sixth straight Greater Miami Conference with an otherwise young roster that will be counting on Dean to lead the way. The Firebirds open this weekend at home in the Ohio Girls Basketball Report Journey to the Tourney event.
“I’m expecting everything from her, everything that a senior leader, D-1 talent can do for a program,” Fishman said. “She has to lead us on the floor and wreak havoc on our opponent. I don’t plan on taking her out of the game. She might get a break here or there, but she’s going to be our workhorse and I think she’s up to the task.”
Dean confirmed she is up to that challenge. She showed in the final game last year she can step up and handle more of a load, as she played a season-high 30 minutes and scored a career-high 24 points in a 67-55 loss to Centerville in the district finals. Now, that needs to be more of the norm, she said.
A fourth-year starter who averaged 9.4 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game last year, Dean finished only behind fellow returners Chance Gray and Kailyn Dudukovich in scoring. Two other seniors are on the roster this season — forwards Stella Lukusa and Kylie Zurlinden – but most everyone else has limited or no varsity experience, so Dean feels an added sense of responsibility to take charge as more of a leader and scorer this year.
“I’m just working on being sharp, being more of a vocal leader and a scorer,” Dean said. “I have full confidence in my teammates, but we’re so young, we’re going to have to build up confidence, and that’s why I need to focus on being more talkative, to help get them through tough situations so we can keep the standard of West going.”
During Dean’s first three seasons, the Firebirds have posted a 72-9 record with two trips to the regional championship.
Fishman said he didn’t realize how big of a contributor Dean would end up being when she made the varsity team as a freshman, but he quickly found out she could handle whatever he asked of her. She started the opener that season and remained in the starting lineup for 22 of 27 games, including a regional final loss to Mason.
Dean has been a mainstay ever since, and Fishman, who is in his 24th season as West’s head coach, has enjoyed seeing her progress over the years, especially as she prepares for her final high school season.
“Her ball handling has improved to where you will see she will rebound and push the dribble a little as opposed to just looking for the outlet,” Fishman said. “She will show improved leadership, being vocal, communicating with teammates and finishing around the basket. Her stamina is another big difference. She’s in really good shape, and I think that’s going to really help her take her game to another level this year.”
Dean said there is a little “pressure” that comes with being a leader of a program like West and having the desire to continue a winning tradition, but she and her teammates are capable of “powering through that together.”
“We’re just expecting like every year to get better as a team and as individuals on and off the floor,” Dean said. “We face some tough opponents early on, but we’re up to that challenge. Our team is young, but that just gives us more energy. We just have to leave it all on the floor and keep fighting through whatever comes our way.”
Dean also has the reminder of two close losses in the regional finals her freshman and sophomore seasons motivating her. Getting to state remains a goal but not yet the focal point. West has been to the Final Four three times, including a lone title run in 2015.
“It’s a goal for sure, but we’ve got to achieve a lot of other goals first,” Dean said. “We just have to take baby steps and make sure we’re playing our best at the end of the season.”
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.