Sports

Local girls AAU basketball team aims high at national tourney

 

The seventh grade girls basketball team coached by John Paye is about to get started at the national AAU tournament in Kingsport, Tenn. The team -- Paye's Undisputed TNT -- plays its first game Monday.

Paye's daughter, Georgia, is a member of the team.

Ten years ago Paye took a seventh-grade team that included his oldest daughter, Emma, to the same place for the same tournament.

That team finished well back in the pack. But this year's team could create a different story.

"We've got to make it to the elite eight,'' Paye said. "Realistically we've got a shot at the final four.''

There are 27 teams entered in the tournament.

Most of the girls on the team have experience playing together in national tournaments the last two years on fifth- and sixth-grade all-star teams under Paye's direction.

As fifth-graders they finished 10th in the AAU nationals in Greensboro, N.C.

On that trip they visited the Woolworth's lunch counter where the famous sit-in took place in 1960, a landmark in the Civil Rights movement.

Last year as a sixth-grade team they placed ninth at nationals in Hampton, Va.

Playing against top competition has forced the players to raise their level.

"It makes you work harder,'' frontcourt player Marley Langi said.

The experience has also inspired confidence.

"I think we can go all the way and win it,'' Maeia Makoni said.

The team has developed a chemistry.

"I enjoy it a lot,'' Danielle McNair said. "I have a real special bond with my friends on this team. It's something other teams don't have.''

On to Tennessee

The team left Wednesday, flying into Knoxville. On that previous trip 10 years ago, the team was shown around the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville by Bruce Pearl, then the men's basketball coach for the Vols. Pearl was one of Paye's coaches at Stanford.

That team saw all the tributes to Pat Summitt, Tennessee's record-breaking women's basketball coach.

This year's trip took on special poignancy with Summitt's passing the day before the team arrived in Knoxville. One of the first stops on the campus tour was for a group photo taken at Pat Summitt Plaza.

Double teamed

Stanford has a long history -- extremely rare at the Division I level -- of encouraging athletes to play more than one sport.

Paye did the very unusual double of playing both football and basketball.

So how did he end up coaching girls basketball?

After his Stanford career concluded, Paye was with the 49ers in 1987 when the NFL strike occurred.

That's when he started coaching girls basketball at Menlo, his alma mater.

"Bill August, my old football coach, asked me to coach," Paye said. "I asked if it would be OK to bring Steve Young along."

The quarterback duo from the 49ers made a nice impression on the Menlo girls team.

"But when one of the seniors asked Steve Young to go to the winter formal with her, I said, 'that's not going to work,'" Paye recounted.

While Young went back to playing quarterback for the 49ers, Paye turned his attention to coaching.

He had immediate success as the Menlo girls basketball coach, winning three consecutive state titles from 1989-91 while coaching his sister, Kate, who went on to play on a national championship team at Stanford and is currently an assistant coach with the team.

Young, who went on to fame and fortune as the 49ers quarterback, hasn't forgotten about Menlo. He has two sons currently attending the school, one in 10th grade and another in eighth grade.

Menlo's future in good hands

The 2015-16 Menlo girls team advanced to the Northern California Division IV championship game, where it lost to eventual state champion Cardinal Newman.

That was Menlo's first NorCal final appearance since that run of championships during the John Paye-Kate Paye era.

So coach Paye is excited about the future.

The girls on his current all-star team are all about to enter eighth grade -- except for Makoni, who will be a freshman at Menlo in the fall.

So help could very well be on the way.

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