CHARLESTON — Shae Littleford hears the words. She hears the barking from the bleachers as parents and fans implore opposing players to notice the obvious. She knows how her game and her tantalizing scoring ability are perceived and viewed by adversaries.
Shae Littleford only goes left.
At least that’s what the self-declared scouts in the stands say. She only drove left because, for the longest time, no one really made the natural lefty do otherwise, or could stop her even by trying to force her right. It only increased the cries and the cajoling.
“Hearing those words really motivates me more to develop my right hand even more so it’s harder to guard me, harder to stop me,” Littleford said. “It’s about going both ways to not be guardable.”
That would be the appropriate way to describe Littleford’s sophomore season at Charleston. She was named a first-team all-state selection and first-team All-Apollo Conference. She scored her 1,000th career point in January. The Herald & Review's Girls Basketball Player of the Year averaged 23.6 points per game, second in all of Class 3A. Her 111 steals set a Charleston record. She led Charleston in assists and was a frequent initiator of Regan Bollant’s Class 3A-leading 88 3-pointers.
“That’s as a sophomore,” Charleston coach Jeff Miller said. “Holy cow.”
Right in the middle of racking up all the accolades, though, Littleford’s off hand became, well, less off. That would need to happen eventually as she faced smarter and more skilled defenses that could take her left hand away often enough to make her less effective. She encountered that more and more as this season progressed.
“This year they were going to guard me knowing that I’m left-handed,” Littleford said.
Littleford, though, had a counter to it. Of course she did, because the idea of arriving at a boundary of her skills at this point in her career is preposterous. She had been waiting and working years for the moment where she would need to test the development of her right hand.
“The consciousness of it has always been there, but when you can get to the rim as easily with the left as she can, barrel through people and around people and no one was taking it away from you, it was kind of like, ‘why do I have to go right?’” said Littleford’s father, Jim. “I was glad to see her get forced to go right.”
Most of Littleford’s production still came from her left hand, but the moments of her intrepid disruption of the trend stand out in this record-setting Charleston season. The mid-range pull-up jumper became a reliable tool on the belt this season. So did driving right. Neither had to be as dangerous as her left hand, but both still needed to be respectable threats.
Both moves, and her game as whole, are a product of nearly four years of individual workouts in Indianapolis, once or twice per week making four-hour round trips on weeknights with Jim as the chauffer and Thomas Rhett or Dan and Shay often as the soundtrack of choice.
Littleford plays AAU basketball for Indiana Elite, also based out of Indianapolis. Some weeks during the high school offseason consist of two training sessions during the week and an AAU tournament on the weekend.
“We know our way around Indianapolis pretty well,” Jim said, chuckling.
This grind is the price of development. It has never been a burden, though, because Littleford genuinely enjoys practicing. It is an undertaking to embrace, not dread.
“She’s made herself a good basketball player just by sheer work ethic,” Miller said.
The Littlefords’ driveway features a painted halfcourt for her to practice on her own. She pulls out the shooting gun and tries to take 500 shots during these self-guided sessions. Jim, after years of observing trainers, understands enough of the workouts to run them himself. He’s a former college player and coach, after all.
“It’s a lot of work. I really, really love it. So that keeps me motivated,” Littleford said. “I want to be the best I can be. That takes a lot of extra work. Whatever it takes to be the best I can be, I’ll do it.”
The recent focus in shooting practice was that pull-up jumper from around the foul line, which has become useful as a way to score before help defense can arrive.
“It has taken me a lot of reps and a lot of confidence to do that and be able to do it in a game so I’m comfortable and I know I can make those,” Littleford said. “That goes back to the offseason and just getting in a lot of reps.”
A Feb. 4 game at Effingham stands out as an exhibition for just how far the mid-range jumper has progressed. Littleford accounted for all of Charleston’s final 10 points of the third quarter, scoring 8 herself and using that mid-range on multiple occasions. She scored two straight baskets to begin the fourth, turning a 40-37 deficit into a Charleston lead it never relinquished.
Lost in there, she also drove right just enough to keep Effingham off-balance. Littleford ended the game with 29 points, helping Charleston clinch the Apollo Conference title, earn its third win of the season over Effingham and shove aside those ideas about being a one-dimensional scorer.
“She really didn’t start going right a whole lot until the last third of our season,” Miller said. “The scouting report is she always goes left. When she started mixing it up and going right, she had them a little mixed up.”