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Montaya Dew leaves high school behind to get a jump start on her college basketball career at Arizona

Arizona freshman Montaya Dew
Graphic and photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

It seems like a lot to give up. Montaya Dew is ranked No. 8 in the class of 2023 according to ESPN. A player that highly regarded is bound to get invites to the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic. She was likely to get a lot of articles written about her in her final year of high school. Maybe she would help her high school team win its 14th state title.

The incoming Arizona freshman didn’t care. She was ready to move on with life, and that meant giving up all of that as well as things like high school proms, the traditional graduation season, and the other trappings of a high school senior year.

“I didn’t think about it,” Dew said of the high school rites of passage. “And for me, it wasn’t really that hard. I’m very quiet and shy, so I didn’t really think of those things when I was in high school. So, it wasn’t really hard to give up for me.”

It’s obvious that this is true. Dew speaks softly. She’s extremely polite, thanking those who take an interest in her for taking the time. She’s not a self-promoter. She has an easy smile as she peeks out from under her hair.

From all indications, that’s her manner on the court, as well. She is about her team, not herself. When ESPN did an article about the top players in the class of 2023 and what they bring, it wasn’t a point guard who was named the best facilitator and passer in the class. Instead, it was the 6-foot-2 forward from Las Vegas’ Centennial High.

“It’s easy to get caught up in point guards’ dynamic ballhandling and long-range shooting, but in the new era of spacing and small ball, more hybrid players are emerging as facilitators,” wrote Shane Laflin. “Early on, Dew’s pass-first mentality was evident, then it almost became a liability when she wasn’t as aggressive of a scorer. Her 6-foot-2 size allows her to come off of ball screens and see the whole floor as a point-forward type, which causes mismatches in opposing personnel and defensive rotations. She reads defenses well and knows which option to attack. What’s more, she has adjusted her approach, and she is not afraid to shoot and make plays herself. A good passing big is extremely valuable at the next level, as it allows quick guards to make plays without the ball in their hands and provides much more spacing for defenders to have to cover.”

Dew said it comes naturally to her. She enjoys the feeling of everyone being happy.

“My personality’s just kind with everybody,” Dew said. “Everybody’s trying to fit in, and I just try and help everyone else out on the court. So, just not being me being selfish and taking it a lot of the times. I want to help everyone else on the court and get their stat line filled up.”

Her decision to arrive on campus early is in line with how she handled her recruitment. She was the first 2023 commit to give her word to Arizona head coach Adia Barnes. She committed relatively early in the process saying that she wanted recruiting to be over.

“During the recruitment process, it was pretty stressful for me just knowing that I don’t talk a lot and there are a lot of schools that want to talk all the time,” Dew said last January. “And then Adia, just talking to her, I feel like I could talk to her about anything. She’s very dependable and down-to-earth—like, really down-to-earth. I feel like she and I will have a really good connection and bond when I go there.”

Finishing high school and moving on was something she planned early, as well. She started preparing during her junior year, taking summer classes so she could wrap things up and enroll early.

“I was ready to be done with high school,” Dew said. “But, yeah, I think it was just wanting to be in college and just being ready to start my next chapter in life.”

Part of starting the next chapter involves being prepared. She felt that the extra semester on campus would help her once she steps on the court for her real freshman season.

“I decided to do that just because I know that I’d be able to practice and kind of get ahead, so I’d be ready for my next season,” Dew said. “I can actually play and just be ready not having come in and kind of learn everything and get into the process of it. I’ll already be ready.”

Dew and her family have had tradeoffs outside basketball. She said that she’s sure that her mom is sad to see her go. It helps that she’s a bit older, though. Although she’s the baby of her family, she turned 19 on January 10, 2023.

Her older brother and sister brought her to Tucson at the end of December, where she quickly settled into a local student housing complex with three other UA students.

“We had to pack up all my room in just a few days,” Dew said. “My brother and sister drove me down and then I got all settled in. It’s just been nice, and my roommate’s moved in now, so it’s been fun.”

There have been tradeoffs on the court, too. Dew hasn’t played organized basketball since last summer. She’s been working with a trainer since that time. When she finally gets in a game next November, it will be well over a year since the last time she played with a team in a game that counts.

“It’s been just difficult trying to just back into the team-like situations and just remembering plays and learning plays now,” Dew said. “I just needed a playbook now, and that’ll be the last thing. I’ll just understand everything from there and it’ll be better.”

Barnes is pleased with how quickly Dew has picked things up.

“She’s just been thrown into the fire, like learning some plays we’re reviewing, and she picks up stuff really fast,” Barnes said. “So, she’s a smart player. It’s something about Centennial. Karen does a great job. Her players are ready. They always have a high basketball IQ. I don’t know if it’s because she teaches the game so young, but they’re always solid. They’re able to accept coaching. So, I really love getting players from Centennial.

“Karen” is legendary Centennial head coach Karen Weitz, who has coached the girls’ team for years, winning 13 state titles, and added the boys’ team to her responsibilities last May. While some players have difficulty adjusting to the complexity and number of plays at the college level, Dew said she was well-prepared by Weitz.

“My last year with Centennial, we had a lot of plays, and my coach was a lot tougher back then, so it’s been easier kind of adjusting into Coach Adia’s playing style,” Dew said. “So, I think my coach from high school kind of prepared me for college.”

Weitz has prepared a lot of players for Division I basketball, including former Wildcat favorite Sam Thomas. Weitz has said that she believes that high school coaches can coach harder than college coaches can, which has helped her get her players ready for the next level. Barnes agrees, saying that both high school coaches and male college coaches can generally coach harder than female college coaches.

“It’s just the way it is,” Barnes said.

Weitz’s demeanor is noted by her players.

“Her toughness rubs off on to you,” Dew said. “And you just have to have that mindset of just being strong and being ready for the next chapter.”

Coming from a program that is highly successful and demands accountability is something players can draw on once they get to that next chapter.

“Sam Thomas was someone that was underrated,” Barnes said. “I think Montaya is going to be like a bigger kind of version of that. But I think she probably is even ahead of Sam at some places or some areas of her game, and she is a little bit bigger. But players from there do well and fit our system because [Weitz] plays really hard defense. She coaches them hard. And so they’re coachable. They’re able to accept coaching, which a lot of players can’t. And they always know the game and they don’t try to cut corners because they’ve been held to standards for years of high school basketball. So, I love getting players from her…Thank you, Karen, for giving us some good players that impact our program.”

Dew won’t be appearing on the court this season, but she is traveling with the team. Her first road trip was to the Bay Area when the Wildcats split their games against California and Stanford.

“That was fun,” Dew said. “Just being able to adjust and it’s been really good.”

It’s not all about the fun and preparing for next season, though. Dew gives Arizona something it needs in practice simply by being there.

“Right now, we don’t have practice players, because everybody’s gone,” Barnes said last week. “So just to have an extra body. I feel like every week we’ve kind of had people out. Shaina [Pellington] had the flu. Someone’s sick today. So, I feel like we’ve had multiple players out, and so it’s been hard to have 10 people to play.”

Next fall, it will be about more than just helping her teammates get ready for games. Dew is the highest-ranked player in the best class Arizona has ever signed. She will already be one step ahead when the other highly regarded members of the class arrive. It can only help all three of them as they prepare to take the Wildcats into the future.