WEST CHESTER TWP. — Nathan Dudukovich isn’t the one to rally around personal statistics. The Lakota West High School senior guard just wants to win.
It’s been a growing mentality ever since his freshman year.
“When you’re playing, you really don’t think about anything else other than beating your opponent,” Dudukovich said. “Numbers just come as you play the game.”
Dudukovich became Lakota West’s all-time leading scorer Friday night when he bucketed 31 points at Oak Hills, passing 1999 graduate Dan Hutzelman (1,211) at the top of the list.
“At first, I knew at the beginning of the season because my coaches had been telling me that I was getting close to it,” Dudukovich said. “I kind of just go out there with the underdog mindset, though. My mentality is to go out there and destroy our opponents and constantly attack. And knowing that my teammates are always by my side.”
Lakota West fifth-year coach Jim Leon notified Dudukovich at halftime on Friday that he had 19 points and was getting close to the record.
“Nate didn’t care. He just wanted to keep playing and wanted to win,” Leon said. “So now we’re up by 15, and he’s got 27 points. I said, ‘Let’s break it at home. Your mom and dad might like that.’ I kept looking up at his mom (Debbie) trying to get her attention. And he said, “Coach, no. I’m not coming out. You can’t take me out.’ It’s funny. It always looks like he’s going to cuss me out if I take him out. But he gets it, though.
“I put him back in, and sure enough right after that, he got a breakaway steal.”
Dudukovich drove to the hoop with 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter and got fouled. Dudukovich slightly rolled his ankle in the process.
“I said, ‘Oh, crap. He’s hurt,’” Leon said. “But his competitive side kicked in. He regrouped and knocked down the shots. That was it.”
Leon called a timeout immediately after the free throws so his teammates, the visiting Firebird crowd and his family could congratulate him.
Dudukovich now has 1,214 career points.
“He hugged every teammate and thanked everybody,” Leon said. “That’s Nate. That’s his nature.”
Dudukovich’s nature is also competitive, Leon said. But Dudukovich himself understands how much his style of play has changed since his freshman season.
“My first year, I was an undersized, scrawny little kid,” Dudukovich said. “I played like 20 minutes a game and maybe started five games my freshman year.
“My main job was to literally just shoot the ball from 3,” added Dudukovich, who averaged 5.9 points and fired 43.2% from behind the arc his first season. “I really didn’t do much other than just shoot the ball.”
Leon said the way Dudukovich has transformed his game over the last four years isn’t all that surprising.
“His freshman year, he was mainly our sixth man,” Leon said. “When we had tryouts before that season started, I knew he was really good. And I was impressed. But I thought that maybe I should let him play JV and play all the time and get his confidence growing. But then I was thinking we should start him off with varsity and let him practice with us and play great competition.
“I remember talking to him and his dad and they both said, ‘Coach, we want to play varsity,’” Leon added. “And I made it clear that there’s no guarantee for playing time. You’re a freshman. It’s all going to be earned.
“We knew he was a great shooter,” Leon continued. “He came off the bench for us and just drilled 3s. Defensively he was limited because he wasn’t all that physically there yet. But he just kept making shots for us. And he made big shots. Clutch shots. He just earned more and more time.”
Leon said what stands out the most is Dudukovich’s adjustment from the end of his freshman summer into his sophomore season.
“My game was changing. I think that was really big,” he said. “I had a big jump in points that year. I really started to create my points off the drive and my handle and with the pull-up.”
Dudukovich scored 19.8 points a game his sophomore year and eventually upping his totals as a junior (25.3) — earning him first-team Greater Miami Conference honors both seasons.
“I wanted to try to figure out how to become a point guard type of player,” Dudukovich said. “I knew that I was going to have to handle the ball a lot more at the next level. I was starting to transition my game into more of a point guard.
“This year, my main goal is to score the points, because that’s what I feel my team needs me to do.”
All in the family
Dudukovich said it’s all hoops, all day at the family household.
“Everything is basketball,” he laughed. “Basketball is life.”
Dudukovich is the son of Dan and Debbie, who were both standout hoops players at Butler University.
Dan was a member of the old Lakota High 1992 state championship team and a 2006 Lakota Hall of Fame inductee.
Debbie is a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and was runner-up in 1994 for Indiana Miss Basketball at Kokomo High.
“That’s as much of a basketball family as you’re going to get right there,” Leon said. “The blood runs deep.”
Kailyn, Nathan’s sister and 2021 Lakota West graduate, was a standout hoops star and even better soccer player. She was named Ohio Miss Soccer in 2020 and helped Lakota West win a state title. Kailyn is Lakota West’s all-time leading goal scorer and currently playing soccer at Ohio State.
“You know with my sister, the career that she’s had — sometimes we poke back and forth with who’s better at which sport if you could compare them,” Nathan Dudukovich joked.
“But first, my family always has my back,” Nathan Dudukovich added. “They’ve always had my back with anything that I’ve been through with basketball, sports, everything.”
Nathan Dudukovich even boasted about his younger brother Alex, who is a sophomore and is also on the varsity squad.
“You’ll be hearing about him soon,” Nathan Dudukovich grinned.
Dudukovich, who has been playing with Midwest Basketball Club during the AAU season, currently has a Division I offer from Radford (Va.). But Leon said he expects more attention to come his way as his senior season progresses.
“This is his season year,” Leon said. “He wants to win. He wants to go as far as he can and reach as many accolades as possible as a team player.
“Just having him around to score or hit a big shot late in the game or when you know you have a shot at winning or coming back — he’s the guy that will take it and hit it,” Leon added. “He’s just a really good, caring kid — a great student, too. He’s been fun to coach that’s for sure.
“But whichever college that is fortunate enough to sign him, he’s going to be even better for them. Some school is going to be really happy. I really believe someone is going to get a great player and a great kid — someone who works hard every day.”