Naomi Stuger grew up running track and playing softball. She was first exposed to the game after softball practice when she decided to shoot baskets with the eighth grade team just to kill time.
Most of her shots must have been going in because the eighth grade coach on site asked her to join the team.
Now Stuger’s the player Kell has been building its program around for the last two seasons, and she poured her 1,000th career point Jan 4 in a lopsided win over Region 7AAAAA rival North Springs.
“It was a good accomplishment,” Stuger said on reaching four digits in career scoring. “When I came to the program, I didn’t know what I was in for because the team had a losing record. I came here wanting to do my best and we ended up being a progressively better team. I eventually got my 1,000th point and happened to be the first female in this school to do it since it has been created.”
Stuger made an impression her eighth grade season and would go on to make varsity her freshman year at Kell. And there is cause for concern when joining a program that’s won less than 10 games in its first seven seasons. Turns out, Stuger was the catalyst the program needed.
Kell won eight games during Stuger’s freshman campaign, which was a huge step forward after winning the Lady Longhorns won just two games the year before. Stuger remembers Kell beating then-region rival Lassiter in overtime and being the one that provided the game-tying 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime. She went on to assist another successful 3-pointer during overtime that led the team to victory.
And things only got better The Lady Longhorns experienced their first winning season in Stuger’s sophomore year and went on to make the state tournament for the first time last season.
It was Stuger’s speed from running track helped give her basketball career a quick boost. Her quickness allowed her to be good at layups, which would often lead to double-digit performances during her underclassman seasons.
When second-year coach Craig Hines took over the program a year ago, he really wanted to build this team around the senior guard. At that time, Stuger had committed to taking basketball seriously.
“At first, I really didn’t like to practice,” Stuger said.
She then developed a consistent jump shot. Hines also worked with her in becoming a more efficient passer and defender and sought aid from her brother Joshua and outside coaches on developing her jump shot.
While her 5-foot-9 frame makes it hard for Stuger to play center, she can now play any other position effectively.
Some games, she’s a shooting guard capable of scoring 20 or more. Other games, she may play a different role and rack up the rebounds, steals or assists. In Kell’s latest win over Class AAAAAA’s No. 2-ranked North Cobb, she had only six points but pulled down 10 rebounds.
“She can play just about anything and what she really brings to the table is her maturation progress,” Hines said. She doesn’t need to score 20 points now to be happy. She could now score five points and be comfortable in being our lockdown defender. If I need a point guard, I got her. If I need a rebounder, I got her.”
Stuger has already led Kell to its first winning season and first playoff appearance. Now she’s eager to take Kell deep into the playoffs before she makes her college basketball plans in the spring. She’s already attracting interest from Jacksonville University, Charleston Southern, Agnes Scott and others.
“We’ve made it to state (last year), but this year, I want to go to the final game and win it, hopefully,” Stuger said. “It would be a great accomplishment to make that happen.”