Blount Press Row

The Wonderful Wizard of Lawrence Avenue

Miss Basketball Fritz like nothing we’ve seen

Maryville senior Denae Fritz made history last week when the Iowa State signee became the first girls player from Blount County to be named the state’s Miss Basketball. Photo by Wallace Bowden

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

It was there her freshman season, in one eye-popping stat.

Denae Fritz was the starter at point guard for Maryville that rookie year, on a team that already had a pair of alphas. Courtney Carruthers and Lindsay Taylor could handle the scoring. Looking for a way to fit in, Fritz went to work on the glass.

By season’s end, she’d led the Lady Rebels in rebounding — 60 better than the next best player.

Think about that for a second.

A wiry, ball-handling wizard of a point guard, and she leads her team in rebounding.

By 60.

You couldn’t help but wonder: What happens when that kid starts shooting and maybe grows a little bit?

Those questions were answered last week when Fritz was named Class AAA Miss Basketball for the 2020-2021 season, becoming the first girls player in Blount County history to receive the state’s highest honor for high school hoops.

The selection comes after the Iowa State signee was named a finalist for the award a year ago.

That remarkable freshman season set Fritz on a path to another achievement no other Blount County girls player has ever attained. We’re not sure any boys player has ever done such a thing, either.

By third grade, Fritz was already displaying an acumen for the game well beyond her years. Photo by Wallace Bowden

Beginning with her sophomore year, Fritz did indeed start scoring, culminating in the future Cyclone reaching 2,000 points for a career this past season. She never stopped rebounding. With the start she had, she also finished with better than 1,000 career rebounds, achieving a 2,000-1,000 double we’re not sure even the greats of the halfcourt, six-on-six era ever reached.

No one is likely to ever catch six-on-six legends Doris and Marie Rogers of Porter — 3,550 and 3,548 points, respectively — for the all-time Blount County record. Fellow 3,000-point scorers Ann Baker of Maryville and former Pantherette Stephanie Johnson Thompson are likely safe, too.

Girls basketball in Tennessee switched to the fullcourt game with the 1980 season.

There was a third Rogers sister, Faye, a guard. Rules in the six-on-six game didn’t allow guards to shoot. You had to be an awfully impressive athlete — and team-first to the point of sainthood — for many to remember your name.

Faye Rogers was that good. So is Fritz.

It’s there “the Wonderful Wizard of Lawerence Avenue” begins to separate from all but a handful of players Blount County has ever known.

Blount Press Row launched a year-long project earlier this month to create a BPR Hall of Fame to commemorate our 10 years as a company. Fritz becomes only the third inductee so far after a stellar career that includes: the Miss Basketball selection; 2,015 points; 1,088 rebounds; 415 assists. Unless something really wild happens, the Iowa State signee will shortly receive her second All-State selection to go with a 2020 region most valuable player award.

Fritz didn’t just give the ball up and go rebound that freshman season. So good off the dribble, few defenders could stay in front of her, leading to lots of help defense and open looks for teammates.

Carruthers paced Maryville with 64 assists that year. Fritz was just back with 59, adding 40 steals and 15 blocks in a telling portend of the phenom to come. For a career, the assist number climbed to 415 by close of her senior season, which included back-to-back state tournament runs.

The Lady Rebels reached the Final Four in 2021 before falling to eventual state champion Blackman.

All those assists is another 830 points Fritz is partly responsible for — if all those buckets were simply deuces. Carruthers, Gracie Midkiff, Aaliyah Vananda, Katie Cunninghanm, Maria Allocco, Grayson Patterson, Taylor West — Maryville shot, and made, a lot of 3s the last four years.

Point being: No one can ever claim Fritz was simply out for herself.

For the Miss Basketball awards ceremony, instead of dressing up, “She told her mom, ‘I’m a Lady Rebel. I’m wearing my Maryville gear,'” Maryville coach Scott West said. “As a program, that’s what you want your kids to be.”

We fully get the wardrobe thing; Nike makes some nice stuff.

The basketball player Fritz was the last four years will never be forgotten. There’s something else that also warrants being remembered.

Blount Press Row thought highly of what Fritz might one day become long before she played her first high school game. Someone close, someone in a position to know, tipped us off.

Fritz led the Lady Rebels on arguably the most successful run in program history, including back-to-back state tournament appearances. Maryville advanced to the Final Four this season before falling to eventual state champion Blackman.

If BPR had an all-time favorites list, DeAndra Fritz, Denae’s older sister, would absolutely make our starting five. A three-sport standout at Maryville, DeAndra led the girls soccer team in scoring her senior year. She was a jet-quick guard on the basketball court. Versatile, she was a 17-foot long jumper in track and field.

Prior to DeAndra’s senior year, Denae had caused a real stir on the summer AAU circuit. We’d gotten to know and become a really big fan of DeAndra by that point. After a soccer game that fall, we got right to it: “So, we hear your kid sister can ball!”

DeAndra’s eyes lit up. The smile was so telling. “Oooooooh” was pretty much the only audible response, but that was enough.

We didn’t know much about Denae at that point, but, if DeAndra thought that much of her, we knew we’d have her back, whether she could play or not.

The latter, we soon found out, would not be a problem.

A little heads up for the good folks out in Ames.

Fritz can grab the rim.

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