WESTVILLE — Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, De'Aaron Fox, Donovan Mitchell, Grace Weston.
All six were in Brooklyn for the 2017 NBA Draft, including the current-Westville sophomore guard in Weston. They all earned their way into being there for their basketball talent, but obviously, in much different ways.
When Weston was in eighth grade at Westville Middle School, she made her way an hour-and-a-half west to Chicago to participate in a Junior NBA regional skills competition. The setup was much like the NBA Skills' Competition during All-Star Weekend, with hoops to pass through, cones to dribble around and various different shots to make, both long and short range. It was a true test of her and plenty others' passing, dribbling and shooting abilities.
Weston didn't have many expectations coming into the competition. It was just a fun, different way to see how she stacked up against the rest of the players in her grade within the greater Southern Lake Michigan area.
"I actually won my region and got an all-expenses paid trip to New York," Weston said. "I got to go to the Draft and meet some retired and current pro basketball players and everything. It was a really awesome experience. It really helped my skills and helped expand my basketball knowledge a lot."
During her visit back East, Weston got to meet most every draftee, including the famous Ball family and the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year runner-up in Mitchell.
Although she'll always cherish meeting up-and-coming stars such as Ball, Mitchell, Tatum, Fox and others, none of them compared to her favorite player she met; someone that's not quite a household name like the rest.
"I really liked Justin Jackson from North Carolina," Weston said. "He's a really good shooter, and I've been a shooter my whole life. So it was really cool meeting him and talking to him before and after the draft. I really love watching college ball because they move the ball really well and work with each other so well. My school and travel teams do that, too, and when (Jackson) was in college, he played the way I like playing."
Jackson averaged just over 10 points and two assists per game his first year as a Tarheel, comparable to Weston's 7.6 points and team-leading 2.8 assists last year in her freshman season at Westville. Jackson's 3-point shooting improved over seven percent to 37 percent from beyond the arc in the next two seasons before declaring for the NBA Draft — the same skill that Weston has been working on improving this offseason.
And while Weston is a special talent at her young age, she still might not be the Blackhawks' best player. That title belongs to her older sister, senior forward Sarah Weston. She led the team by almost four points per game with 12.3 and scored more in a single contest than any of her teammates with a 22-point performance against Boone Grove.
The sisters can fill it up in a variety of fashions, from dribble-drive penetration to knocking down stepback 3-pointers. Westville will certainly lean on their scoring this season, but it's not the best trait they bring to the table.
"Both are very special passers," said the girls' uncle and Westville coach John Marshall. "They're always able to find the open player, whether it be one another or one of their teammates. We're going to rely on their scoring a lot this year, for sure. But we also have other girls capable of putting up points, so having Grace and Sarah able to get them the ball when they're open is great."
It's hard to miss their passing prowess when attending one of the Blackhawks' practices. While other girls take their time to deliver somewhat softer, off-target passes, the Westons always know where the ball is going and pass it with conviction. From no-look, one-handed slings across the body to soft, precise touch-passes down low, they possess every pass in the book.
Something that will open up their teammates even more is their ability to play at a quicker pace. The Westons are a rare breed for Class A girls basketball in the fact they both play Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball in the offseason. AAU ball is typically played much more up-tempo than lower-class high school basketball, and the Westons' experience playing travel and club basketball year-round helps them dictate a quicker brand of offense, leading to Westville's success.
"It's crazy how much faster the game is at AAU compared to high school for us," Sarah said. "We love playing that kind of basketball though. It's a lot more fun to play more up-tempo, and we've gotten really used to it since we've played AAU for a while now. It takes a little for us to get used to the slower play in high school, but even when we think we're playing slower, it's still a lot quicker than most teams (in Class A) are used to seeing. Playing up-tempo worked really well for us last year and we're going to try to do the same thing this year."
The Westons' high basketball skillset and IQ surely will prove beneficial for the Blackhawks this year in Sarah's final high school season, but it's the intangibles and leadership styles they bring to the team that make them as valuable as they are.
Sarah is co-captains with senior forward Nicole Albers and leads, simply, by just being her. She doesn't do too much vocally — her game speaks for itself, and it rubs off on the rest of her team. But in the rare occurrences where she does raise her voice, the team listens.
"Sarah's a very smart, experienced basketball player," Marshall said. "She knows a lot about the game and is always there to make sure her teammates are held accountable. Grace is the more vocal one of the two, but Sarah just does everything right and gives her all, and the team really takes after the example she sets forth."
While Sarah and Grace certainly differ in their leadership styles — especially considering Grace is still only a sophomore — that's a good thing, according to Marshall. When you're one of the most talented players on your team, you need to lead in some way, shape or fashion.
The Westons influence their teammates in a positive manner with their work ethic, skillset on the court and overall demeanor. If anything they exude can rub off in any way to the rest of their teammates, Marshall will surely take it.