By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark leads the nation in 3-point field-goal distance.
The No. 2 player on that list is Clark’s former AAU teammate and high school opponent.
“I mean, obviously, she’s probably the best player in the country,” Western Illinois guard Anna Deets said. “So that’s pretty big. And I didn’t realize I had that stat.”
Deets, who grew up in Mason City, Iowa, played with Clark on the All Iowa Attack AAU team, and faced off against her in high school.
“She’s really good,” Deets said, in a near-whisper as if she was passing along a secret, and then adding a laugh.
So, to be listed in that company…
“I think that’s pretty cool,” Deets said.
Deets, a junior, leads the Leathernecks in scoring this season at 12.6 points per game. She leads Western Illinois and ranks sixth in the Summit League with 49 3-pointers.
It’s the distance, though, that’s made the difference — Deets’ average is 25 ½ feet.
Deets said it’s about how teams have defended her in the past.
“I was just getting roughed up, constantly,” she said. “And then it’s also about confidence. I mean, a lot of times I don’t know where I’m at on the court, so if I’m open I’ll shoot it. But it’s just knowing that it’s going to go in, and knowing that your teammates have confidence that it’s going to go in.”
“I think she definitely puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” Western Illinois coach JD Gravina said.
Deets said her shooting distance grew during her high school career.
“I started shooting them pretty deep, because no one was giving me the close shots,” she said. “And it’s still about practicing the deep ones. I’ll go home, and my dad will be like, ‘All right, make the deep ones.’ So it’s just constantly getting the repetition of it.”
Gravina saw Deets’ shooting ability in those AAU games she played with Clark, but her game has developed inside the arc as well.
“What’s really impressive for her is she wasn’t recruited as a go-to scorer,” Gravina said. “She was recruited more as a role-playing shooter. But she’s developed a cut-and-finish game, where she can get to the basket as well, which I think is going to be huge for her and the team moving forward.”
“I think it was just having confidence in my abilities,” Deets said. “It’s just realizing what teams are giving me. OK, they’re taking away my (outside) shot, so I can get to the basket and help my team in other ways.”
Deets is also the Leathernecks’ best free-throw shooter at 83.1 percent.
“If they take away my three, I’ll shoot longer ones,” she said. “But teams are playing me more straight-up now, because they know I can get to the basket and they don’t want to put me at the (free-throw) line.”
Deets is also the second on the Leathernecks in rebounding and is one of the team’s better defenders.
“One thing I didn’t realize when I was recruiting her was how much of a defensive presence she was going to be,” Gravina said. “She’s one of the best at knowing how to take a charge. Now this year she’s become more of a rebounding presence. Those are the things that have been a pleasant surprise.”
“I think I’ve grown a lot,” Deets said. “A big step in my growth is just all of the experience I’ve gotten — I’m an upperclassman now, which feels kind of weird. And also, I’ve grown from just being a shooter. And I think that’s important.”
Photo: Western Illinois guard Anna Deets (33) smiles during a game against St. Xavier earlier this season. (Photo courtesy of WIU Athletic Communications)