David Baxter can’t recall how many coaches during the past four years have gushed about Benton Central senior Cassidy Deno’s jump shot.
When he takes a seat on the bench in Arena Gymnasium to be interviewed, Deno shows why.
“When she is on fire, it is fun to watch,” Baxter says amid the sound of nylon popping in the background as Deno is among three players shooting at the basket above.
“Her shot is pure.”
Swish. And then swish again. Then a few more.
“You can’t teach somebody to shoot like she does,” Baxter says as more echoes of made baskets add to his statements.
Baxter coached 2008 Indiana Miss Basketball Brittany Rayburn while he was at Attica. Rayburn is one of the best 3-point shooters in Purdue women’s basketball history. Asked who is the better 3-point shooter between Deno and Rayburn, at first Baxter can’t answer.
Finally, he does.
“I would love to see them have a 3-point shooting contest,” he said. “And I don’t know who would win.”
Perhaps no one knows better than Deno’s brother, againsy whom she claims to be undefeated in shooting games PIG and HORSE.
“You can ask him,” Deno said. “He is probably still a little upset about that.”
Deno is sure that at some point she has lost a game to someone, but if it happened, she can’t pinpoint where or who it was against.
Her 3-point percentage has been phenomenal during her four years, whether it be early in games, late in games or even the most pressure-packed situation. One example is her shot from the corner to put the Bison up two in the final minute in the Class 3A state championship game two seasons ago. That shot she ranks as her favorite moment.
The Bison lost that game, and Deno has dreamed about being back on that stage for two years. On Saturday, Benton Central has an opportunity to get back there when the Bison play Hamilton Heights in the 3A North Semistate at Crown Point. A victory puts BC in the finals for the second time in three years.
But the senior version of Deno is so much more advanced than the one who played in that game in 2011.
That player was a spot-up shooter.
This player is a stronger, more diverse nightmare of a matchup.
“If you are just a spot-up 3-point shooter, it is a lot easier for people to guard you,” Deno said. “I realized that. I had to develop different aspects of my game. If people run out on you, give the shot fake, drive and get the pullup.”
That’s where Deno has killed teams this season — hitting mid-range pullup jumpers or driving to the basket. Inside the arc, Deno is shooting 59.8 percent (73 of 122), but she also leads the area with a 43.5 percent mark from 3-point range (77 of 177).
But the other totals are up, too: assists, steals, blocks, rebounds. She leads the Bison with 174 rebounds and 42 blocks, which she credits to taking strength training in the offseason that also helped make her quicker and able to leap higher.
During an inbounds play at practice on Monday, Baxter told his team to trust Deno was going to correctly get the ball in the right person’s hands on the play. He calls her “the second-best passer in the state behind (Indianapolis Colts quarterback) Andrew Luck.”
“She makes great passes,” freshman Bayley Goodman said. “She doesn’t just get her own shots. She gets other people shots too.
Deno’s basketball days aren’t close to over. She has multiple options to play college basketball. But she’s still undecided on her future, because the only basketball that matters to her right now is Saturday’s semistate game.
“This is my last year as a Benton Central Lady Bison, and I want to go out with a bang,” Deno said.