After years of making do with a minimal roster, Eastside College Prep girls basketball coach Donovan Blythe has filled the bench with a few good young women as the Panthers got bigger in more ways than one.
The same seven-player group that won last year's state Division V title returns with an additional four players, all freshmen and all competitive. Eastside didn't have any seniors last year and still doesn't but the Panthers have numbers.
Kiki Humphrey was the tallest player last year, at 5-8. She's looking up at three players taller, including 6-1 freshman center Kamaile Schaumkel, this year.
Schaumkel didn't score in Eastside Prep's 55-27 season-opener at Aragon on Monday, a Sportsmanship game. But she didn't need to score. The Panthers have an abundant of offensive weapons. Schaumkel, in the starting lineup along with fellow freshman DeDe Franklin, was a defensive presence and appears to have a natural ability to rebound.
“I want to try to get them experience now ... before we really get going,” Blythe said. “My veterans, they know how to play and what to expect. This is the time to evaluate and gauge the younger players.”
The game was sloppy, which was to be expected. The Dons, with six new players, aren't that much older than Eastside. The Panthers play a pressure defense and Aragon, under long-time boys' coach Sam Manu, are learning to press too. As a result, there were more turnovers than in a bakery shop, something both coaches were able to shrug off in the name of improvement.
“We come and play hard and sometimes it can turn into an ugly game,” Blythe said. “You just have to stay disciplined.”
Eastside is capable of turning sloppy play into uncontested layups, something that occurred frequently Monday. It's hard to imagine Aragon facing a quicker, speedier team.
The Panthers scored the game's first eight points and never let up. The Dons went the first 15:27 of the game with one made field goal. They hit two field goals in the final 33 seconds of the first half and made a run at Eastside through most of the third quarter.
The Panthers saw their lead dwindle to seven and then went into hyperdrive, outscoring Aragon, 22-1, the rest of the way.
“These guys play because they love the game and they love each other,” Blythe said. “These are great kids and that's what makes it so fun.”
Junior captain Kayla Tahaafe led the Panthers with 14 points and played with so much energy, it sparked her teammates to try and match that energy. Jillian David added 10 points and hit the game's only 3-pointer. Mina Tameilau also scored 10 points.
Eastside plays Windsor in the first round of the Ladycat Classic at Marin Catholic a week from Thursday.