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ALBRIGHT: Aleea Crites’ big first impression at Rio Grande going to help both down the road

Photo Provided Rio Grande’s Aleea Crites goes up for a shot against an opponent in one of the Red Storm’s regular-season games. Crites has emerged as a threat and that benefits her and the school now and down the road.

This was part of head coach David Smalley’s plan.

Aleea Crites was supposed to be in these situations, right away.

On a team stuffed with returning seasoned players like Lexi Woods, Haley Jordan, and Chyna Chambers along with other big time freshmen like Braxton County grad Jocelyn Abraham and Caitlyn Brisker, there were still plenty of opportunities even if the Red Storm stayed healthy.

It wasn’t that the group needed her on the floor. Rather, the freshman’s length, talent, athleticism and ability to score around the basket provided an immediate tantalizing package.

“We knew once she got acclimated and understood our system that she wouldn’t be looking back. She always was going to be an integral part of what we are doing. We knew we had to get her on the floor,” Smalley said.

Shortly into the season, she figured things out, even as she believed this year was about learning to play with everyone and the group’s style.

“I realized they were giving me more chances and talking and explaining things to me more. A lot of the older girls were coaching me and giving me advice on what I should be doing. They want me here and are expecting me to do things and I started seeing everything they were seeing and what they were wanting me to do,” Crites said.

Then, she went out and started doing everything.

There she was leading her team in scoring for the first time in her college career with 18 points against Great Lakes Christian. There she was calmly finishing off a 12-0 run that was a difference-maker in the first matchup against Ohio Christian. And there she was blocking five shots against Asbury along with being a nuisance on defense for every offensive unit the Storm came across.

So when she takes the court for the Storm’s Feb. 13 game with Ohio Christian, it shouldn’t be too surprising that she does so as that important piece Smalley first prophesied about at the beginning of the campaign.

And during that evening against the Trailblazers, similar to the other 21 games she’s appeared in (with 17 starts), it isn’t just another step for her in the small painting of one season.

But another giant leap for both her and the program, because as the end of the year nears, the recruiting process starts to heat up, and the Storm want all the advantages they can get in luring talent.

Crites’ continued progress and transformation helps in this regard: By pointing to her accomplishments, Smalley not only has the “This is where we can help you get to in just a short time” card to play with recruits, but he can also say “This is someone you get to play with if you come to school in Rio Grande.”

Of course, that isn’t all on Smalley and his staff. It was Crites who put in all the hard work to learn and acquaint herself with the system, to make this selling point possible.

She has done a masterful job of displaying what is possible from a freshman, mirroring the exact same determination she displayed as a first-year player at Parkerburg High School.

It has definitely impressed her coach and made him excited for the future.

“I don’t think she realizes how good she is or how good she is going to be,” he said. “Trapping, pressing, putting her in the back, she gets her hands on balls she doesn’t get credit for and is unbelievable in transition.”

Hard not to believe when you sit down and talk to her. Crites didn’t need any validation of her abilities by being a 30-point scorer, but rather she just wanted to be a key piece by doing what is asked of her at all times.

She’s done the only thing she knows how to do on the basketball court, make her teammates around her better and perform her tasks to the best of her ability.

And it not only has her in a good place, but her school as well.

Plus, she is gaining an understanding of what might she might be capable of in the next couple of campaigns.

“It really does make me excited knowing they believe in me and knowing they are expecting so much from me in the next couple of years. It makes me want to work harder and get better,” she said.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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