It can be pretty scary to be a varsity starter as a freshman for a prestigious girls basketball program like the one at Homewood-Flossmoor.
Aunyai Deere can attest to that.
“Oh, yeah, it works my nerves a little,” Deere said, smiling. “I just try to keep pushing, because I know I have a team behind me that’s going to help me get through.”
The most knowledgeable of which is Syracuse recruit Alyssa Latham, the senior leader on a team filled otherwise with underclassmen.
“I learn so many things from her,” Deere said. “She teaches me different moves and about me finishing. Any time I need something outside of the court, she’ll help me with it. That’s what I love about her.”
Deere did some leading herself Thursday night for the host Vikings in a 62-32 SouthWest Suburban Blue victory over visiting Lockport in Flossmoor.
Latham led the way for H-F (12-6, 3-1) with 20 points and six rebounds. Jaeda Murphy added 19 points and five rebounds, while Deere contributed 10 points.
Veronica Bafia had six points and five rebounds for Lockport (13-13, 0-4). Lucy Hynes added six points, while Kaya Osinski chipped in with five.
Deere, a 5-foot-7 guard, has started every game this season. She’s averaging seven points, four rebounds and three assists.
In Thursday’s win, she was the key in helping the Vikings race to a 22-7 lead during the first quarter with a 3-pointer and a layup.
The final minute of the third quarter belonged to her.
Deere scored one basket on a running jumper. On H-F’s next possession, she drove the lane and then made a beautiful dish to Latham for a layup. Her finale was a backcourt steal and a court-length dash to the basket for a bank-in.
What a burst of energy.
“I was just playing off my teammates, playing off the energy they were giving me,” Deere said. “It just motivated me to keep going. On the pass to Alyssa, I’m always looking to find the post when too many people are on me.”
Latham, for one, was impressed.
“Aunyai is a great kid, on and off the court,” Latham said. “She’s been working since preseason on stuff in the gym, working on her game. And she’s gotten a lot better.
“She needs to get the mentality that she can do it. We believe in her. I think now she’s starting to get it and it’s clicking. I’m happy for her.”
One of Latham’s goals in the preseason was to be a mentor. She’s taking that role seriously.
“I work with Aunyai a lot,” Latham said. “We work on post, entry passes, helping her with her IQ. It doesn’t have to be critical all the time or perfect all the time.
“We do some teaching, but we’re pretty much trying to go out there and have fun.”
Latham can speak from experience. She had to go through the learning curve as a freshman starter.
“Yeah, my experience was a lot different,” Latham said, laughing. “I was with more upperclassmen, and she’s with a lot of underclassmen. But I tell her all the time, ‘Hey, when I was on varsity, it wasn’t perfect. I had a lot of things to work on.’
“I just keep telling her she’s a great kid and she’s going to be great one day.”
Deere is definitely a part of H-F coach Tony Smith’s future game plan.
“Aunyai is a kid who likes to create for others,” Smith said. “That drive and pass is what she likes to do most. I’m trying to get her to have that 50-50 balance of knowing when to take that shot and make that pass.
“We’re looking for her to be a main piece of what we do here. She has to keep growing and keep coming. She can’t shy away from the bright lights. She has to keep those lights shining.”