Kankakee Valley girls basketball coach Ryan Myers waited as long as he could to start a freshman on the varsity team.
Five games into the 2010-11 season Myers could not wait any longer and turned his point guard duties over to Lauren Stokes.
He hasn't taken them back since.
Now that she's a senior, she's added even more elements to her game, making her a hard-driving guard who is second on the team in rebounds while leading in scoring, assists and steals.
"There's a vision she sees," Myers said. "When she comes into the game, she makes people around her better. She sees the floor and sets the offense and runs the right sets. Offensively, immediately she looked to her teammates more, then in the second half of her sophomore year, she looked for her own shot a little bit.
"The biggest thing in her freshman year — not that her team was in desperate need of a point guard — everyone kind of relaxed when Lauren had the ball. That's so crucial."
That's not what Stokes felt at all. She felt nerves, especially right away, afraid that a little mistake from a little freshman would cost her team.
The longer she played mistake-free, the easier it was to hold her position.
Stokes had also inherited a spot as the starting setter on the volleyball team prior to beginning basketball as a freshman.
"To be completely honest, it was very, very nerve-wracking," Stokes said. "I was so scared I was going to mess up and everyone would hate me, but it was an honor to be starting as a freshman. As I went on, I got better.
"Because I started as the point guard, Tiffany Conley could score more, and she got better."
Making the players around her better has been Stokes' M.O. from the beginning.
She worked her way into the starting lineup of every team she's played on at Kankakee Valley, and in the fall earned a coveted K.V. blanket, given to those athletes who earn varsity letters in 10 seasons.
This basketball season is Stokes' 11th, and if she plays softball in the spring, she'll have 12 letters in four years, starting for every team.
"I think with her, the first thing you see is her quickness," Myers said. "She's very quick, very speedy. More times than not, her quickness puts her in position to do something on the court. That's a big thing."
By the time Kankakee Valley finishes its winter break, the Kougars would have played three games: at Knox and in the Winter Classic at Argos. That's three games in which Stokes could reach and pass the school record of 215 steals. Through three years and eight games this season, she has 208 steals.
Stokes would just like to see her team win those three games. With the bulk of the scoring returning from last year's 16-5 season, expectations were high at Kankakee Valley.
This 4-4 record is not at all what they envisioned.
"When we came into the season, everyone expected that we'd be really good this year, and we'd go into games thinking 'we're not going to lose,'" Stokes said. "Now that we know we can lose, we're trying harder in games and trying harder in practice. In the beginning of the season, we felt like we were going to win every game, now we have to work that much harder. Yeah, we do feel like the target is there because we could be so good."