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JCA's Meghan Novak (left) defends a fast break by Marist's JeTaun Rouse during their basketball game in Joliet Wednesday, January 12, 2011. Brett Roseman ~ Sun-Times Media

Marist’s JeTaun Rouse remembers her first varsity game like it was yesterday.

“I was a freshman and it was our home opener against Montini,” she said. “The atmosphere was crazy. I was nervous and scared at first. I didn’t start the game. They had three or four Division I players who were going to places like Notre Dame and UConn.

“Yet when I got in the game, I scored about 15 points,” Rouse added. “I remember thinking when I got out there, ‘I can handle this.”’

No longer that nervous young freshman, Rouse is now a confident, charismatic although still somewhat quiet senior who could lead the RedHawks to the state finals at Illinois State’s Redbird Arena for the first time since 2008.

Last week, the 5-foot-9 guard showed just how dominant she can be when she scored 83 points in four games against some of the best competition in the country at the Naples (Fla.) Holiday Shootout, including 30 points in a 51-48 loss to Owings Mills (Md.) McDonogh, ranked No. 23 in the country by MaxPreps.

“She had a phenomenal tournament,” Marist coach Mary Pat Connolly said. “She really was our go-to player the whole tournament. I was so proud of the way she performed. She’s really grown to be the player we expected her to be.”

The Marquette recruit demonstrated her versatility in Florida, playing wherever her team needed her.

“JeTaun can play anywhere,” Connolly said. “When our point guard got into foul trouble the first two minutes of a game, JeTaun played the point for us. She posted up. She rebounded. She scored. She proved she can play big-time.”

Rouse has not only grown on the court, she has also matured off the court.

“I think I have grown and matured these past four years,” Rouse said. “I used to have a temper. It was horrible. I would get upset on the court. But as I grew older, I realized I can’t lose my head. You never know who’s watching you or in the stands recruiting you.

“You have to be aware of your environment and how you handle yourself in public,” she added.

Although years removed from that scared and nervous freshman, Rouse is still soft-spoken in public. But she never lacks words of encouragement for her teammates, particularly the underclassmen.

“She’s really taken a lot of our younger kids under her wing,” Connolly said. “She’s pretty quiet speaking-wise. She’s more of a leader by the way she performs. But off the court she’s a pretty funny kid. She’s very enjoyable to be around.”

If Rouse’s performance in Florida is any indication, there are more good times ahead for the RedHawks.

“It was great competition, great competition,” she said. “We battled our hearts out. Every team had four, five girls who were going to play Division I. There are not many teams in Chicago at that level yet. I think in the end that it’s going to make us stronger as a team.”

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