When Shay Fluker entered the halls of Belleville West High School four years ago, she was an athlete of immense potential.
Powerfully built even at 14, Fluker was a streaky shooter who sometimes played out of control despite helping lead the Maroons freshman squad to a 27-1 record and Southwestern Conference championship.
“You could see even as a freshman how much ability Shay had. She was strong even back then and she could run and jump. She was just a very good athlete,” West coach Clayton Fisher said. “We didn’t bring her up to the varsity her freshman year. We brought Imani (Berry) up but we left Shay and Alliyah (St. John) with the freshman and they ended up losing one game all year and winning the conference.
“But from the opening game of her sophomore year, she’s been in the lineup and a huge part of the success we’ve had here the last three years.”
One of the top players in the Southwestern Conference the past two years, the 5-foot-10 Fluker has been one of the best players in the state this year.
Averaging 20.7 points per game for a Maroons squad which was 23-5 entering play in the Class 4A O’Fallon Regional on Wednesday, Fluker tuned up for the postseason by scoring 93 points in three West victories last week.
Included among that outburst was a 41-point effort in the Maroons 59-40 win against O’Fallon and a 31-point outburst on senior night as the Maroons smashed Collinsville 73-53 in its regular-season finale.
“I just felt it. The shots were there. I was open and when the defense would come out on me, I can take it to the basket,” Fluker said. “It felt good to be able to help my team win. We’ve had a good season and we’d like to keep it going and see if we can win a regional or sectional.
“East St. Louis, O’Fallon, Collinsville are in our regional and then we’ve got probably Edwardsville in sectionals next week. We respect them all. But we feel like we can beat anybody when we play our game.”
Fluker has not only played her game, but she’s elevated it to the next level during her senior season. Under the watchful eye of her father, Marlon Fluker, Shay goes through a workout every morning before school. She said the workouts consistent of working with weights, agility and conditioning drills.
“I guess you could say my dad’s tough on me. But it’s only because he wants what is best for me,” Shay said. “He wants me to be able to reach my goals and to be able to go to college and get an education.”
While Fluker’s physical skills have continued to improve, so to have her mental game and her maturity levels.
Driven by a case of urgency with this being her senior year, Fluker is even more serious about the game which has been such a big part of her life for so long.
“I love playing basketball. It makes me happy. But this year I’m taking each game more seriously,” Fluker said. “I mean, I always take the game serious. But I’m a senior now. For high school, this is it and I know that there will be no more next seasons. I have to make a name for myself and if I am going to do it while in high school, it’s got to be now.
“Basketball wise, I’m not forcing things as much as I have in the past. I’m not looking as much to make things happen when they’re not there. I’m letting the game come to me more this season.”
Fluker will conclude her high school career at West in the next few weeks ranked in the top three school history in career scoring with more than 1,500 points. She also should be playing college basketball someplace next season.
Fisher said that his all-Southwestern Conference guard has gotten interest from several NCAA Division I and II schools, as well as many of the nation’s top junior college programs.
“Like all young players, Shay’s got some things she needs to work on, like her ball-handling and her defense. But those things can be worked by the college coaches,” Fisher said. “I think any school that is fortunate enough to get Shay, will be getting a very good player. A player who has a lot of talent and a player who has the total package that you want as a player.
“She is a very good perimeter player. But what makes her even better is her ability to take the ball to the basket. With her size and strength, she can post up inside. She’s just so strong. There isn’t any doubt in my mind she’s one of the strongest athletes in this school.”
And now that strong athlete is ready to take her game to the college level.
“I’ll miss high school but I think I’m ready for the next level,” Fluker said. “(Former Edwardsville player) Kortney Dunbar is playing at the University of Tennessee and I text her sometimes and she tells me what it’s like to play at the big-time level and what I need to do to improve my game.
“I don’t know where I’ll be going next year. I’d like to go away to school three or four hours. But we’ll see what happens.”