One of the highlights of the annual winter basketball high school tournaments in the Ozarks is the people-watching aspect. Because these things, after all, are as much a social happening as a sporting event.
And found perched high in the stands at Drury’s historic Weiser Gym with some of her former Glendale and Missouri Flight AAU teammates on Wednesday was former Lady Falcons star Megan Deines, who certainly has many tales of her own to tell after her first semester of playing for Big East Conference and national Top 15 team Louisville.
And that’s certainly good news for area girls’ prep basketball.
We know that the Ozarks is a hotbed of great teams, as the annual season-ending state tourney results in Columbia tend to bear out. But trying to recall the last Springfield girls’ prep product, pre-Deines, to make her way to a significant NCAA Division I program and work her way into the playing rotation from Day One is difficult (Kickapoo’s Heather Ezell at Iowa State?)
The 6-foot-1 Deines, a combination shooting guard/small forward, has done just that for a Cardinals team off to an 11-2 start and ranked 14th nationally.
Deines is coming off her best collegiate effort in her young career, scoring 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting and adding five rebounds and four assists in Louisville’s 106-32 shellacking of Wagner on December 21 (in hindsight, a night when Wagner wished the Mayans had been right).
For the season, Deines has started all 13 games for coach Jeff Walz’s Cardinals and is averaging 9.0 points (third on the squad), 4.2 rebounds (fourth) and is tied for second on the team with her 15 made 3-pointers. Before her Wagner outburst, Deines has posted career-bests of 16 points and six rebounds in a victory over Gonzaga in an event held late last month in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico.
Asked if she has surprised even herself maybe a little by stepping immediately into the starting lineup for a Louisville team with legit Final Four aspirations, and Deines admits she honestly didn’t really know what to expect.
She has played good national caliber AAU competition for years with the Flight and her father/coach, Jim Deines, in addition to four years of prep ball for GHS in an Ozarks’ area that annually produces some of the top girls teams in the state, as the final four in Columbia typically bears out.
“I knew I just wanted to come in and work hard and see what happened, and however it turned out this year really was fine with me,” Deines says, before adding with a smile, “it’s turned out pretty good so far. It’s been fun.”
And Deines seems to be getting better by the game as her confidence continues to soar. Earlier in the year, she was content with shooting treys and avoiding contact, and Walz was quick to reminder her that she was brought into to do more.
“Coach has been tough on me … even the other girls mention that he always seems to yell at me for some reason,” she says with a smile, “but my dad has always been tough on me, too, so he knows he can do it and it won’t bother me.
“I used to be a driver in high school, and he’s brought back that part of my game here of late.”
Deines, who scored 1,615 points in her four-year career as a starter for Glendale (earning All-State First Team honors each of her last two seasons), is a self-admitted hoops junkie who came to the Drury campus with her friends to watch the Lady Falcons play before heading back to Louisville in a couple of days. (She was disappointed, however, when Glendale didn’t play, as scheduled opponent Little Rock Hall couldn’t make it to Springfield Wednesday due to slippery road conditions in Arkansas).
She was intrigued by the news last month that Louisville will be switching to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) by the time she begins her junior year in 2014-15, and is excited by the prospects of getting to play traditional power UConn when the Lady Huskies join the league as well.
And really, who can blame her for wanting to get back to Louisville and seeing how this gem of a rookie collegiate season turns out?
“We’re trying to get to the Final Four … the two games we’ve lost so far (to Kentucky and Colorado), we shouldn’t have lost,” Deines says. “But I think those two (losses) have made us better.”
And a better Louisville will continue to be triggered by a better Deines going forward … which will also be better feather in the cap for girls high school basketball in the Ozarks.