A year ago, Ashton Millender was a state champion, part of the Marian squad that captured the 4A crown over Rolling Meadows.
A month after the season, she'd announce her decision to attend DePaul.
But she wanted more. She wanted to be the area's Player of the Year.
"After I didn't get it last year, I had the mind-set to go get it this year," she said. "I saw I was capable of getting it. I just had to work hard."
She did. The Spartans swingman led her team to a third-place finish in the state, averaging 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game along the way. She was named all-tournament at Oswego and Montini, and was named the MVP of the East Suburban Catholic Conference.
And, yes, she has earned the Times' Illinois Player of the Year honor.
Millender's recognition marks the ninth time in the last 13 seasons a Marian player has won the award.
"It feels great," she said. "I just tried to work hard for myself and the team. It's just having heart for the love of basketball."
To hear first-year Marian coach Dan Murray tell it, Millender's heart and love for the game have been on display since the Spartans' first practice of the season.
"Her work ethic is, bar none, as good as anybody's," he said. "When it comes to basketball, she goes as hard as she can in every drill, every practice, every game."
That helped in adjusting to Murray's new system. Despite bringing three starters back from the state championship team, the Spartans were a largely inexperienced crew — especially in terms of Murray's offensive concepts.
"The one thing I evaluated was it was pretty evident they were pretty much a face-up, perimeter-oriented ball team," he said. "A lot of our kids weren't comfortable throwing the post-entry pass, playing with their backs to the basket, looking down low.
"But Ashton was further along. I don't think it was something she was unable to do before. But it was something, in our system, she was able to flourish in a little."
Millender's total 3-pointers dipped, from 73 as a junior to 71 this season. But her scoring was up nearly a point per game.
"I learned more moves in the post," she said. "It was something I looked forward to. I like being physical."
In general, Millender responds well to challenges.
Murray's favorite Millender game this season was against Rolling Meadows. Playing opposite Northwestern-bound Alexis Glasgow, Millender scored a career-high 29 points and held Glasgow to half her average as Marian crushed its 2013 title game opponent.
Millender favored Marian's sectional title win over Oak Lawn, when she scored 12 of her team's 14 overtime points in a 67-62 win. After a one-point first half, she finished with 24 points.
"I couldn't hit any shots in the first half," Millender said. "But I didn't give up in the end."
She didn't give up in the beginning, either, when the transition to Murray wasn't going so well.
"There was a point where a few of us got in trouble," she said. "When we were in Tennessee, we didn't wake up on time, so we didn't start a game.
"Everybody was complaining about coach Murray's rules, this and that. I just told everybody, 'This is just new. It's OK. We have to do this.'"
Maybe she came by that attitude in games outside her Glenwood home with her older brother, Alan Jr., a former Seton player now a 22-year-old student at Central State University. Maybe her leadership stems from never letting little brother Alec, 12, win, but keeping him interested in the challenge.
But, ultimately, she thought to thank one influence above all others.
"My dad," she said of Alan Sr. "Without him, I wouldn't be the player that I am right now. He pushed me to be a better player."
She's pushing still, as DePaul fans will soon find out.