Dean making the most of her final shot with Huskies
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Monday, Jan. 27, 2014

Dean making the most of her final shot with Huskies

For Kelsey Dean, basketball has always been about family.

It all started with her immediate family, as her father, Stephen, and mother, Felicia – both high school hoop standouts themselves – first introduced her to the game.

Kelsey found her own passion on the court in the Huntersville Youth Athletic Association, which led to what would become her next family in the form of the Lake Norman Magic and now Carolina Warriors AAU team, coached by Stephen Dean.

The tight-knit AAU team has not only stuck together for more than five years, but many of its players have developed into high school standouts – from Hough High’s Dean and Anna Diggs, to Bandys High’s Madi Story, to Charlotte Catholic’s Sophie Rossitch, to Lake Norman Charter’s Ezinne Mbamalu – who push each other in every workout. All five girls have also eclipsed the 1,000-career point mark for their respective high school teams in the last year.

Dean’s latest family – Hough High's girls basketball team – has also grown up together as the core of its the senior class, including herself, Julia Brown, Olivia DeMarcus and Diggs – all four-year starters – has defined Huskies basketball over their four years of existence.

“Basketball has always been a huge part of my life,” said Dean, who also grew to be a die-hard North Carolina Tar Heels and Davidson basketball fan. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been playing it, watching it or thinking about it all the time.

“I’ve met a lot of my best friends because of basketball. We’ve played in so many games and gone on so many road trips together. We have all become really close on and off the court.”

While Dean, 18, has established herself a key player on every team she’s played for, she has played a big role in Hough’s success from her first day with the team.

Dean has progressed each year, averaging eight points as a freshman on a Huskies team that finished 17-10 in its inaugural season. Then, she stepped up her game to 10 points per game as a sophomore on a team that went 19-9.

Last year, Dean made her biggest jump, when she became the Huskies' top scorer, averaging 15 points and six rebounds for an 18-win team.

While Dean’s numbers have been impressive, Hough girls basketball coach Jason Smith says that is not what defines the 5-foot-10 senior.

“Kelsey is a player that leads by example in every practice and every game,” said Smith, in his second year as the Huskies’ head coach. “If you don’t pay attention, you wouldn’t notice all the things she does for this team. She can score and rebound at a high level, but she does all the things even better. She is the first person to set a key screen or make a defensive stop or dive for a loose ball. She does these things all the time. She’s a tough, old-school type of player.”

In her final high school season, Dean has been at her best, averaging a career-high 17 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

Dean, who is shooting 50 percent from the field, has been a model for consistency, notching double figures in scoring in every game. She's also had several breakout games, including 23 points in a win over Mooresville, and 32 points – including her 1,000th career point – and 11 rebounds in a victory over Independence.

But Dean likely had her best performances in Hough’s run to the Upward Classic tournament title on Dec. 27-30, averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game in the Huskies’ wins over Kings Mountain, South Meck and Berry. In the final, she had 17 points and 14 rebounds and earned all-tournament honors.

Dean’s efforts have been critical after Hough had a tough 5-4 start, during which it also lost its first two MECKA 4A conference games to Hopewell and Mallard Creek.

Since then, however, the Huskies have won five straight through Jan. 11.

Dean has gotten a lot of help, especially from the other four-year starters – Brown has averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds per game, Diggs has averaged 7.8 points and 4.2 assists, and DeMarcus has averaged 4.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Others have come up big, with sophomore Alex Denny (7.4 points per game) and Emily Cowie (6.3 rebounds per game) also contributing strong minutes.

“The early losses were definitely a wake-up call,” Dean said. “But we didn’t panic, we came together and knew we had to buckle down, starting in practice and in every game. For the seniors, this is our last opportunity.”

Smith saw a similar progression.

“When you have four four-year senior starters, it should be a special year,” Smith said. “When we struggled a little bit, you could see how mature these girls were. They didn’t point fingers. They all want this to be a year they never forget. We know we are going to have to earn it, starting in our brutal conference.”

With Hopewell, Mallard Creek, North Meck, Robinson and Hough all bunched at the top of the MECKA 4A standings, it will be a battle for league supremacy and playoff position.

Like her team, Dean has a lot to play for, as she tries to decide whether to play basketball in college.

Right now, her only formal offer is from the University of Mary Washington, a Division III school in Virginia. Dean has also been accepted to Belmont University in Tennessee, N.C. State and UNC Wilmington as a regular student and is waiting to hear from UNC Chapel Hill in the same capacity.

“I definitely think Kelsey is a college basketball player, and she has showed it,” said Smith, noting she has played her best against the best competition. “I believe she could be a great addition to a D-III or (Division II) program. She just needs a chance.”

While Dean hopes more college basketball opportunities will come, she isn’t wasting a minute of her final high school season.

“I’m playing every game like it is my last,” said Dean, who visited Mary Washington Jan. 18-19. “But no matter what happens in the future, I want to finish my time at Hough knowing I gave it everything I had.”

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at jedwardsjr23@gmail.com.

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