The growth of Nalyce Dudley’s game coincided with the growth of her body and confidence.
One wouldn’t guess it looking at her, but Dudley was 5-foot-4 when she arrived at New London High School her freshman year. Her offensive game, therefore, was based around the perimeter.
“I was definitely short and everything was hard,” Dudley said.
Then Dudley hit a growth spurt during her sophomore year and grew six inches. Her game didn’t adjust right away, though, as she was still more comfortable shooting from the outside and making 3-point field goals for most of the COVID-shortened season.
Dudley, now a 5-11 junior, did make a concerted effort to get inside the paint late in her sophomore season. This year, she became the most difficult player to defend in eastern Connecticut as she could wreck teams inside and out. She even gave eventual CIAC Class LL champion East Hartford fits in a state quarterfinal.
Dudley’s development and impact made her The Day’s 2022 All-Area Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year.
“I was always a shooter,” Dudley said, “(but) if I had an off shooting game, I knew I would have to find another way to score. Driving to the basket was definitely something I would have to do.”
“That’s what I worked on a lot and that was just another advantage for me.”
New London struggled during the 2021 season and finished an un-Whalers like 4-7.
“You could see in those last four to five games that she could be a really special player,” said New London coach Tammy Millsaps. “We really saw the improvement in her ability to take over a game.”
Dudley helped New London reclaim its place atop the Eastern Connecticut Conference this past season. She was the tournament MVP in the Whalers’ 66-55 win over Bacon Academy in the ECC Division I final and helped them advance to the LL quarterfinals.
Oddly enough, Dudley began the season struggling to believe in herself.
“One of the goals that I set was finding confidence in myself because I definitely struggled with that in the beginning of the season,” Dudley said. “I was getting inside my head.”
A Jan. 15 trip to Brooklyn was a game-changer despite losing to White Plains (NY), 51-50.
“I just found my confidence,” Dudley said. “I just brought it back home and everything just sparked for me.”
Two days later, she had 27 points and 18 rebounds in a 57-46 win over Frederick Douglass Academy of Manhattan. It started the Whalers’ 14-game winning streak.
Dudley scored 15 of her 25 points in the second half and added 10 rebounds in the Whalers’ ECC Division I tournament championship win. She earned Connecticut High School Coaches’ Association Class LL all-state honors and has drawn interest from programs such as George Washington, Iowa and Northeastern.
“She really, really had the ball in her hands a lot (this season),” Millsaps said. “Her game just flourished. Last year, she was more considered a 3-point shooter. This year she didn’t take a lot of 3s. Her game was the high post, the block, the transition game and she just exploded based on. how our system was set up this year.
“She has unbelievable instincts on the offensive boards.… She has the knack of being able to see if it’s going to be short, if it’s going too long, if it’s just going to bounce off the rim. That takes a level of just concentration. that as a coach you can’t teach. “
Dudley averaged 24 points and 8.7 rebounds in three state tournament games and arguably saved her best for last against East Hartford in a Class LL quarterfinal game on the road.
The Hornets (26-2) threw player after player at Dudley as they struggled to stop her. They had senior Shailyn Pinkney, who has committed to Seton Hall, try to defend her. They even sicced multiple defenders on Dudley.
All the attention did little to stop Dudley. She single-handedly kept New London in the game and repeatedly showed off her first step and explosiveness that allowed her to get to the rim time and time again. It got to the point in the second half that East Hartford fans and staffers groaned every time she drove to the basket.
The Hornets won 61-47 en route to their first state title. Dudley finished with a game-high 32 points with eight rebounds in the loss.
“I was so happy how we played (this season),” Dudley said. “Even though we lost in the quarterfinals, I’m so proud. Had We had such a small group (of players), and we did a lot of things as a small group that a lot of people would underestimate.”