by Michael Smith
Grain Valley senior Grace Slaughter remembers walking up to the stage donning a big and bulky knee brace at the DiRenna Awards show in 2022.
She was one of the finalists for the DiRenna award, given to the best high school girl and boys basketball players in the greater Kansas City area. Just two months before that, she tore her ACL in a game against Blue Springs that caused her to miss the rest of the season.
The then-junior didn’t win the award that season, despite averaging more than 30 points per game. But it 2023, Slaughter came back better than ever.
She helped the Grain Valley girls basketball team to the Class 6 District 7 championships, and shattered multiple records on the way.
She earned plenty of awards, too, which included the 2022-23 DiRenna Award for the senior as voted on by the Greater Kansas City Basketball Coaches Association. She received the giant trophy at the awards show Thursday at Truman High School.
She is the first player in Grain Valley history to earn the award.
Last month, Slaughter was named the Missouri Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year and was the Missouri Class 6 Player of the Year along with being the Suburban White Conference Most Valuable Player. She was an all-state selection all four seasons with the Eagles and also helped Team USA win the U16 FIBA Americas gold medal in 2021.
This season, she finished with 2,575 career points (780 this season), which puts her at 14th in state history, according to the Missouri State High School Activities Association’s website. For her senior season, she averaged 27.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
“There was a moment of shock because of the amount of talent there is in the area,” Slaughter said. “Kansas City is such an incredible place for basketball in general. The athletes here are amazing. To be recognized as one of those players that was up for that award is incredible. I wouldn’t be able to do it without my support.”
Veteran head girls basketball coach Randy Draper credits Slaughter’s work ethic as one of the reasons she claimed the DiRenna award.
“It’s just so great that she won it,” Draper said. “She doesn’t have a finish line. I thought that separated her. She always had the next goal and the next thing she wanted to accomplish. She was always working on something to get better.”
Slaughter is in the gym constantly working on her game. She said her parents often stayed up late at night to help rebound the basketball for her as she got in practice shots. She said she always thinks about a quote from NBA Legend and Hall of Famer Larry Bird, who played with the Boston Celtics from 1979-1992.
The quote is: “My coach told me, “Larry, no matter how much you work at it, there’s always someone out there who’s working just a little harder – if you take 150 practice shots, he’s taking 200.” And that drove me.”
“I can’t count the amount of times we went to the gym and got there at 5 in the morning and stayed until 10 at night and put up shots and prepare for the season the best I could,” Slaughter said.
The senior was a complete player. She was a great defender, could score inside, could beat defenders off the dribble drive, she made solid passes to teammates out of double teams and was good at knocking down 3-point shots.
And that was because of her talent and the hard work she’s put in, and maybe a superstition or two. Before games and late into the halftime period, Slaughter shot a handful of reverse layups just before the game or the third period started, while her teammates are in a huddle with Draper. It’s something she said helped her mentally.
“When I came out with a bloody nose on Senior Night, I had to do those reverses,” Slaughter said. “Literally, the game had been postponed for at least five to 10 minutes and I was like, I am doing these.”
“It does feel like good luck. I just want to stay loose. Draper and I have a good enough relationship where he knows I that I like my routines.”
Even though she has two months before she starts training to prepare for her freshman season as a member of the University of Missouri women’s basketball team, she’s has been training hard, working with her father on her game as often as she can.
But even after moving on to play at the NCAA Division I level, she will never forget her four years she played at Grain Valley, she said.
“I learned so much in high school,” Slaughter said. “I had so many incredible coaches and people. My parents stayed up late with me and helped me get up shots at the gym. I would not have chosen to spend a high school career anywhere else. And Coach Draper … I will miss our late-night talks and watching film.”
Grain Valley senior Grace Slaughter receives a trophy from Dr. David DiRenna for being named the DiRenna Award winner, given to the best high school girls and boys basketball players in the greater Kansas City Area. For the season, she averaged 27.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Photo credit: MIchael Smith