I love high school basketball and try to get to as many local games as possible.

I love high school basketball and try to get to as many local games as possible.

I always try to arrive early and watch the teams warm up. You can learn a lot about the players and how serious they are about their games. The ones who really care are dead-on focused on basketball. The ones who don’t care as much are dead-on focused on checking out friends and family members in the stands.

At the Jan. 3 Portage Trail Conference Metro Division contest between Coventry and host Springfield, I had a chance to see a player who was about as locked in as I’ve ever seen. Her pregame actions were worth coming out for on an extremely rainy and dreary Saturday night.

She stood at the time line, near the sideline opposite the benches, dribbling the ball between her legs. Back and forth she went, time and time and time again, never once looking at the ball – and never once losing control of it. She appeared almost effortless, as if the ball were on a string like some yo-yo.

And whatever was going on in the stands was hardly her concern. She was honing her skills, and probably would have done it even if the gym were empty.

Whatever the case, she was putting on a real show. I can’t emphasize enough how good she is, how smooth, natural and poised she looked.

With the way she carried herself, she had the look of a point guard. A point guard’s No. 1 duty is to handle the ball, so she was practicing exactly what she should have been practicing.

Did I mention that this was a boys game?

So, then, what was this girl – all of 9 years old – doing on the floor?

Nina Shaffer,  a fourth-grader at Green Primary School, is the ball girl for the Spartans. Her father, Steve Shaffer, is the team’s third-year head coach. Her sister, Jenna, is a freshman on the Green High School girls basketball team.

Being around all that, it’s not surprising that Nina, while she plays soccer and golf, is a basketball junkie – a gym rat. She can’t get enough of the sport. On a family trip to Florida, while everybody else was stretching their legs and using the restroom at a service plaza, Nina grabbed her basketball and practiced her dribbling on the asphalt parking lot. It was a chance to get better, so she took advantage of it.

That’s just the way she is.

There are other Nina types around the area. If you look hard enough, you’ll find them – young girls who chase hoop dreams just as fervently and passionately as any boy.

It is truly fun – even enthralling – to watch, especially for older people like me who remember all too well when there were no high school or college sports for females. Then came Title IX in 1972 and the door opened for females to begin playing all competitive sports in high school and college, and eventually middle school.

Tony Kornheiser, who co-hosts the popular “Pardon the Interruption” TV show on ESPN, once said after watching one of his daughter’s games, “I have seen the future of basketball, and it’s a wearing a ponytail.”

He was right. And little Nina Shaffer is evidence of that.