By JESSE SMITHEY
Scott West can recite Denae Fritz’s career accomplishments like no other.
The Maryville High School girls’ basketball coach had a front-row seat to the 5-foot-11 guard’s stellar four-year prep career and witnessed each milestone reached and award won.
So when he starts rattling them off, they spew forth without thought or hesitation, as if you just asked him his daughter’s birthday.
Two-thousand points. One-thousand rebounds. Four hundred assists. Two-time district MVP. Miss Basketball finalist. Miss Basketball winner. …
Yada, yada, yada.
Well, here’s one more to add to West’s verse: Fritz is the 2020-21 5Star Preps Girls Basketball Player of the Year. The Iowa State signee earned it for the second consecutive season to go with the 2018-19 5Star Preps Underclassman of the Year award.
Fritz helped Maryville (30-5) reach the Class AAA state semifinals this past season, as the Lady Rebels won their first state tournament game since 1923. She averaged 19.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. She posted a 20-point, 10-rebound performance in the state quarterfinals and 15 points against eventual-state-champion Blackman in the semifinals.
While her senior season didn’t end with a state title, Fritz has already turned her focus towards her next set of goals. She reports to Ames, Iowa, on June 8, and she isn’t going there to be some role player. She wants to be All-Big 12 and ultimately play in the WNBA or overseas.
Those have been the goals all along, really.
“No matter what was happening, that’s always been a dream of mine: to go play college and then go play pro,” she said. “Basketball is all I really know and all I really wanted to do with my life.
“That’s been my goal since I was little.”
Fritz’s parents shaped her game in her formative young years, her mother preaching to her the defensive side of the game and her father molding the offensive part.
As she grew in the sport and began standing out among her peers, she sought tougher competition, oftentimes ending up in pick-up games in parks and gyms against guys.
“(Aside from) the basketball guys, any typical guy at the school can’t stay with her,” said West. “I play her a little bit. Her game is at another level, as far as girls go.
“She’s a once-in-a-lifetime player. For someone like me to have the opportunity and privilege to coach her, she was a joy to be around. And like I always say: she has an edge. But that edge never cut me. It might have cut some other people, but I came out unscathed. We had a pretty good four years together.”
Fritz pinpointed her defense as an area that she’ll want to enhance to compete even better at the next level. Not that it was a weak point. She routinely swatted a shot or two at the high school level or came up with a pair of steals.
But basketball on the Power 5 level will be different, and she knows all facets of her game must be sharp.
Though Fritz’s offensive game is clearly a strength, West expects it to evolve even more.
“With Denae, it’s being able to put it on the floor and be able to handle it more. As far as basketball skills, she’s got all the other intangibles,” he said. “She can shoot it, jump and defend. But when she gets to that next level in the Big 12, she’s going to have to go against 5-11 and 6-3 guards who can put it on the floor. She’s going to have to do that a little bit.
“There’s not a huge window that she needs to work on, but that would be the one that I would think would be in her wheelhouse and one she could really concentrate on.”
Talk to any high school standout after his or her first year of college sports and, more times than not, they’ll all speak on how college sports feels like a job compared to the work they did in high school.
It’s a reality Fritz knows is on the way, and she’s handling it the only way she knows how. By staying on the court.
“To be honest, I’m trying not to stress out about it too much or go in there worried. I know I have to go and play hard every day,” she said, “and work for what I want out of basketball. Stay focused academically.
“It really is a job. I’ve seen that and talked to some people and they all say that it is. … I’m just working out and playing basketball every day that I can to get my body prepared to be there.”