Brown Deer girls coach Scott Laurent has seen a little basketball in his time, and he knows a special player when he sees one.
It's just that the thought of facing Shorewood freshman guard Khamya McNeal at least twice a year for the next three seasons is something that will no doubt haunt some of his dreams.
McNeal went off for 36 points and at least seven assists as the Greyhounds outscored the Falcons, 40-19, in the second half to cruise to a 79-45 victory Wednesday, Jan. 25.
"Just an outstanding player," said Laurent. "She plays beyond her years. I've been around this league about 10 years and I'm trying to recall a freshman who's had this kind of impact and I just can't remember one.
"Just really special."
And Greyhounds coach Jeff Eimers is glad that McNeal, who is averaging 20.5 points a game, is on his side.
The Greyhounds took a huge graduation hit last season, including three-time Now All-Suburban forward Jada Stackhouse, but with McNeal's arrival, "reloading" replaced "rebuilding" in the team's lexicon, as this win pushed the three-time Woodland Conference East champs into a narrow lead in the division at 6-4 (10-5 overall).
Whitnall (5-4) and Cudahy (5-5) remain close behind and the schedule is not kind to Shorewood, with West Division powers New Berlin Eisenhower, New Berlin West and Pewaukee all coming up.
But with McNeal on his side, Eimers remains optimistic, because such is her talent level that the Marquette University women's program was there watching her.
"We've really structured the offense around her," said Eimers. "She really doesn't take a bad shot. We were a bit concerned about her outside shot, but (assistant) coach (Derek) Donaldson has really been working hard with her on that."
The work showed up against the Falcons, as the 5-foot-5 McNeal hit four 3-pointers.
But McNeal says she's trying not to be a one-player show. She's just doing what she's always done.
McNeal said she's never known a time when she didn't have a basketball in her hands, estimating that she started playing when she was in kindergarten.
"And it wasn't always easy for me, I've had to work really hard at it," she said.
She spends her offseason playing with Playground Elite Select program but has quickly adapted to high school ball.
"It's been a lot of fun," she said. "The most interesting thing I've had to adjust to is taking control of the game (as point guard). I really like my teammates. They're starting to get used to my passes."
Which can be as subtle as a simple bounce pass in the lane at the end of a fast break, which forwards Olivia Reilly (20 points) and Natalie Tomaszewski (10) benefited from several times, or a laser-beam, side-arm, NBA-style hard flip which narrowly missed bouncing off an unwitting teammate's head in the first half.
"I like assists," she laughed.
Like Laurent said, she changes games, which was not good news for the Falcons.
Brown Deer stayed in the game early on the strength of four 3-pointers, two of them from its own star freshman guard, Mattie Schimenz (18 points).
A 3 from Falcons sophomore guard Michaela Drake put Brown Deer up, 9-7 ,with 14:26 left, but then McNeal took over, hitting a layup and then converting an old-fashioned three-point play to make it 12-9 Shorewood.
Brown Deer sophomore guard Kimberlyn Ford hit one more 3 to tie the game at 12-12, but then the Greyhounds went on a 19-6 run that put them in control for good at 31-18. Reilly had six points in the run while McNeal had seven, including a 3-pointer that finished it off at the 3:24 mark of the half. She would finish with 22 points before the break.
McNeal would have seven points and four assists in Shorewood's 16-2 outburst to start the second half that gave them control of the game for good. Both sides eventually emptied their benches.
"In the second half, we just had no answer for her (McNeal)," said Laurent, whose team is now 0-10 in Woodland play and 3-12 overall. Freshman guard Jonisia Nash helped out Schimenz with 10 points.
"We played good ball for 14-16 minutes," added Laurent, "but we just couldn't keep up. But I am happy with our progress. I'm proud of the kids. We've been able to rewind the clock a little. Last year, there were long stretches where we were just not competitive. We're competitive more often now, but we just need to find a way to put in a full game."
McNeal was happy that the Greyhounds were able to build on the big victory over Cudahy on Jan. 20.
"It was nice to play well again," she said. "The whole team played well, like we did against Cudahy. We really needed that win."
Eimers was happy that the team picked it up in the second half.
"The first half was a little disappointing," he said, "but in the second, we really played hard. It's really working this year. We have all different age groups involved and good things are happening. We know the upcoming schedule is hard, but I told them, we beat Cudahy, so we're still in this thing. We just have to see what we can do."