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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Dadeville's D'Aja Caldwell was named the MVP of last week's Class 3A Area 7 girls basketball tournament and she is also the Outlook Player of the Week.

It’s rare to find a high school player who really studies his or her sport these days. With so much else consuming young people’s attention, finding time to watch a sport can be tough.

And it’s not any easier for Dadeville freshman D’Aja Caldwell. But Caldwell doesn’t seem to need to study the game of basketball to understand it really well.

“She has a raw talent,” Tiger coach Pam Holloway said. “From what I’m used to, she doesn’t study the game like us old-school players did, but it’s like she just gets it. She absorbs a lot.”

That’s turned her into an important player for the Tigers despite being so young. Caldwell put up back-to-back double-digit scoring performances last week to be named the Class 3A Area 7 tournament MVP, and she is also the Outlook Player of the Week.

Although she’s young, Caldwell stands at 5-foot-9 and it’s not just her scoring that’s been invaluable for the Tigers. She also isn’t afraid to get in the trenches and fight for the rebounds. She scored a double-double in both area games, helping the Tigers to upset Beulah in the championship and take the title for the second year in a row.

“(Her rebounding) has been a big thing,” Holloway said. “I always tell them that rebounds and free throws are the major things, and she does a good job with that. She does the little things — those little intangible things like blocking out, making sure she’s helping on defense, understanding the plays.” 

Also despite her age, Caldwell has emerged as a leader on the team. Dadeville is full of youngsters, having only one senior on the roster this season, but it’s still tough for a freshman to stand out with leadership qualities and Holloway said Caldwell has that in spades.

“She tries to keep such a good attitude with everyone,” Holloway said. “She’s always keeping everyone motivated and she just works hard.”

One of the reasons Caldwell is able to soak up information like a sponge is because she’s so coachable. She may not be the most talented player or the tallest player and she still may make mistakes because of her age, but Caldwell listens to what Holloway has to say and takes that in.

“Her skill level, yeah, she has some things she needs to work on but there are a lot of things she does well just because she knows and understands things that I’m asking of her that I see for the team,” Holloway said. “I always say she’s very coachable and she’s a smart player. She’ll see things (we need to change) as well and we’ll bounce it back and forth off the team, and I think that’s real important for a freshman.”

Because Caldwell is so young, she certainly has a bright future ahead of her. Holloway said if Caldwell sticks with the game and continues to work hard and absorbs information, the sky is the limit. Especially with a young supporting cast around her, that should allow Caldwell and the Tigers to grow into a solid team over the next few years.

“I want her to work on her skill level and continue to be a strong foundation for the team,” Holloway said. “I want her to not only get better herself but also to help the other teammates around her get better. I just see if she can get stronger and work a lot harder in the offseason, I think she can go far.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.