EVANSTON — While speaking to reporters outside the team’s locker room Friday night, Evanston girls basketball coach Elliot Whitefield was asked about center Krystal Forrester, who happened to be standing right next to him.
The freshman had just scored a career-high 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in a 66-34 demolition of Niles West, as Evanston improved to 15-5 overall and 4-2 in the CSL South.
Many coaches would have been reluctant to heap too much praise on a player who was within earshot, fearing the approval could lead to complacency.
But Whitefield raved about Forrester’s work ethic.
“Krystal is probably our hardest worker,” Whitefield said. “When we’re running sprints in practice, she is right up there. She may be the fastest out of all of them. If everybody on our team worked as hard as she did on a daily basis, we’d be close to being undefeated.”
Forrester, whose older sister Nichelle Campbell played for Evanston three years ago, said practicing and playing hard come naturally.
“I just feel it’s important to work hard for the team, not just for myself,” Forrester said. “The team is more important than one individual person.”
On paper, it appeared the Wildkits could struggle this season without Alecia Cooley, the all-conference center who graduated last year. But the presence of Forrester and fellow freshman Leighah-Amori Wool, who is 5-foot-10, has given the team two frontcourt players capable of picking up the slack.
At this point, Wool appears a little more skilled offensively, especially on the perimeter, and has been more willing to take shots. She is among the team’s leading scorers.
But Whitefield said Forrester has been solid defensively, and he has encouraged her to take jump shots when she is open.
“She has to work on some skill development. But to be a freshman and to be in the position she’s in, where she’s expected to play against their biggest, strongest kid and rebound for us, that’s a huge responsibility,” Whitefield said. “I think sometimes early on, she has been sort of looking to the seniors [to score]. But I’ve seen her shoot. I tell her all the time, ‘Step up and shoot the ball,’ because she has a nice touch.”
Against Niles West, Forrester showed she could score in a variety of ways: in transition, in the post going right and left and hitting jump shots.
Forrester, who wears Kevin Durant No. 35-brand socks during games, said she idolizes the Oklahoma City Thunder forward, and that like Durant, she hopes to be a big who can hit from the outside.
“I probably shoot more [outside shots] in AAU [with Full Package Athletics]. I’m used to playing with them,” Forrester said. “I’ll probably get more comfortable shooting outside [for Evanston] sooner or later.”
Whitefield said that along with looking for her shot, Forrester needs to work on her footwork, post moves and lateral quickness. But teammates are recognizing the contribution Evanston’s No. 44 already is making to the program.
“Starting as a freshman is tough all by itself, and not having the experience playing on varsity is sometimes tough,” said Evanston senior Dashae Shumate, who played on Niles West’s team as a freshman in 2010-11. “But Krystal does a great job of doing what she’s supposed to do and what the coach asks her to do. She makes some mistakes, but she always plays hard and it’s visible on the court and to everybody on the team.”