Mackenzie DeWees plays as if she was born on a basketball court.
She very nearly was.
Heather DeWees was coaching at Western Tech in the late 1990s while pregnant with her first child when thought the time had come to deliver. Instead, it was false labor and DeWees drove from the then-Carroll County General Hospital back to Baltimore, and coached that night.
When daughter Mackenzie did arrive, it wasn't anywhere near a court. But it sure wasn't long before she found a basketball.
"I was born and I just came out playing basketball," Mackenzie DeWees said.
From shooting at a miniature hoop in a diaper at age 2, a moment captured in a a photograph that hangs in Mackenzie's room, to playing competitive AAU ball all around the country, to nearly averaging a triple-double in her first high school season, DeWees has packed a lot of basketball into her short life.
As a freshman playing on the varsity at Manchester Valley this season, DeWees not only led the program to its best season, she led the county in scoring, rebounds, and steals en route to being named Times Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
It might seem everything came naturally for DeWees — from the time she was a toddler shooting at a toy net as her family joked her first words would be, "Box out." After all, her mother was a Division I player at Mount St. Mary's who coaches basketball year-round, notably as the only coach in Manchester Valley varsity history.
It only makes sense that Mackenzie DeWees would be gifted at the sport. There's slightly more to it than that, however.
"She works hard," her mother/coach said. "She didn't just wake up and become a basketball player. She really sacrifices a lot of her social life for school and for basketball."
Heather DeWees said Mackenzie has been to more than 40 basketball camps since age 3. She began lifting and working with a strength and conditioning trainer in seventh grade. She has a ball-handling coach who helps her work on her dribbling and handles.
Throughout the season, DeWees often stays 20-30 minutes after the Mavericks' practices end to take extra shots. At home, she watches film from each game two or three times, studying herself, her teammates, and opposing players.
It was in early middle school when Heather DeWees thought her daughter may just be talented enough to play for her varsity team as soon as she entered high school. After playing year-round for her Central Maryland Attitude AAU team, it became clear that'd be the case.
"You don't really see a freshman on varsity that much, and they look at you and they think you're not going to be as strong or weaker because you're playing against kids that are four years older than you," Mackenzie DeWees said. "They tend to double-team, or hit you a little rougher."
No matter what opposing defenses threw at DeWees this season, she typically found a way to beat it, averaging 21.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 9.3 steals per game, all county-bests. She averaged 8.1 points more than any other player in the county, in addition to dishing out 4.4 assists a game.
DeWees recorded a triple-double nine times, including each of her first four games. In her county debut on Dec. 16, she went for 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 steals to help the Mavs beat eventual-county champion Liberty.
"Oh my gosh, Mackenzie DeWees is phenomenal," Lions coach Barry Green said. "As I shared with my kids, I totally respect that kid's game. It is unbelievable that in our county, she gets to play basketball. ...
"She is one of those rare talents that you can't take her out of the game."
DeWees also helped the Mavericks beat Westminster on Feb. 2 for just the second time in program history. She had 27 points, 10 rebounds, 12 steals, and seven assists, continuing to prove that neither MV, nor she, was a fluke.
"She just has a motor," Owls coach Mike Ninosky said. "She goes after everything, second-chance points, she gets rebounds from the 3-point line. She goes in with heart and she goes 100 percent."
And then just four days after that monumental win, DeWees helped the Mavs make more history. She struck for 16 points, 11 rebounds, and seven steals, as MV beat South Carroll for the first time.
"When you have one person that can score that many points and find that many people that are open and make smart decisions like that, when you have a floor general like Mackenzie, you're going to be successful," Cavaliers coach Liz Padgett said. "She's going to take that team a lot of places."
This season, that place ended up being tied for second in the county standings, the highest finish for the Mavericks in their first six years.
Larry Butera says he knew when DeWees was in the third grade that she was going to do special things like that. The Glenelg assistant coach, who is also an assistant for Heather DeWees' Central Maryland Attitude, first encountered Mackenzie when he was coaching against her in a recreational league.
It wasn't just a talented basketball player that Butera saw. He was impressed by DeWees' hustle and determination to win.
"She's got that nasty competitive edge, and I'm telling you, she had it in the third grade," Butera said. "You see this kid just turn into a beast when she gets onto the basketball court and it's like Clark Kent going into a phone booth."
DeWees is already being recruited to play at several Division I schools, a decision she says she won't make until after her sophomore year. She is considering Villanova, Quinnipiac, Richmond, Mount St. Mary's, Bryant, and Loyola.
A year ago, Butera thought DeWees had that type of potential. Add a year of maturity, hours of extra commitment, and one dominant season at the high-school level, and Butera now knows for sure.
"I think that she's going to be a Division I basketball player. And she is going to be an outstanding Division I basketball player," Butera said. "Sometimes you watch her and it just feels like you're watching the only player on the floor. I mean, it's really, to me, mesmerizing to watch the kid play."
But college is still a ways off for the 14-year-old. And she has some things she wants to accomplish first.
DeWees was thrilled with the Mavericks' rise to second place in the county standings this season. But she wants to see them become county champions.
She didn't get to play in the Class 1A playoffs this season after an ankle injury cut her season short, and MV fell to Brunswick in a sectional semifinal. DeWees wants to see the Mavs get, at least, their first region title.
And what kind of personal goals does DeWees have for the near future?
"I just want to play basketball," DeWees said.
Just as she seemed born to do.
Reach staff writer Jake Rill at 410-857-7875 or email@example.com.