Sports

Area girls basketball a hotbed for college recruiters

Hannah Jump, then a junior at Pinewood, goes in for a layup during a triple overtime victory over Mitty on March 17, 2018. Kaitlyn Leung (12) is also in the picture. Photo by Karen Ambrose Hickey.

The coronavirus shut down high school sports in the area from March 2020 to February 2021.

It didn't shut down the girls basketball recruiting pipeline. There were no game results to report during that time, but a hefty group of local high school girls announced their college commitments.

The Peninsula has never been a fertile breeding ground for boys basketball talent, the way it has for other athletic endeavors, such as aquatics and tennis, football and baseball. The area's affluence and demographics contrasts with the predominant socio-economic background and composition of professional and college basketball teams, particularly on the men's side.

For most of its modern history basketball, with its urban roots, has been known as The City Game.

The dynamic emerging on the women's side is a little different.

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In the class of 2021 alone, more than a dozen girls who prepped at high schools in the Embarcadero Media coverage area (Redwood City to Mountain View) are now playing college basketball.

An examination of causes for this effect can begin just down the road at Stanford, where Tara VanDerveer has built a women's basketball powerhouse. A trickle-down effect is apparent. Girls on the Peninsula haven't had to look far for role models and inspiration.

Kate Paye was one of the early standouts from the area. She played on three high school state championship teams at Menlo School and on an NCAA championship team at Stanford, then played professionally and is currently the associate head coach at Stanford.

"Some of it is no doubt due to Tara and the great culture of success she's created,'' Paye said. "A lot of girls in the area play at the Stanford camps. The ecosystem Tara has created has similarities to the Silicon Valley ecosystem.''

Following Menlo's trio of state titles from 1989-1991, Sacred Heart Prep had a great run in the mid-1990s under Mike Ciardella, winning five state championships in a row, two at the highest level, with a cast of talented players who went on to play at major colleges.

Since then the trend of local girls going on to play in college has accelerated.

When prep sports resumed after the coronavirus shutdown in February of 2021, it was a crazy madcap rush to fit in truncated schedules from three different sport seasons between then and the end of the school year in June.

Once basketball got underway, the Pinewood girls went 17-0 and won the Central Coast Section Open Division championship, defeating Archbishop Mitty in a final that took place on June 11.

All five Pinewood starters: Annika Decker (Tufts), Courtni Thompson (UC San Diego), Maia Garcia (Cal Poly SLO), Una Jovanovic (Cal State Fullerton) and Chance Bucher (Portland) moved on to the college ranks.

So has Palo Alto's Annika Shah (Cal Poly) and Carly Martin (Whitman), Menlo's Avery Lee (Yale), Priory's Aniyah Augmon (New Mexico) and Bineta Diatta (Panola), Sacred Heart Prep's Megan Norris (UC Davis) and Woodside's Hailey Stewart (Dominican). Throw in two players from Mitty who began their prep careers at Pinewood (Olivia Williams-UC Irvine) and Eastside Prep (Marley Langi-UC Davis), and what you have is a much larger representation than would be expected from the population group in question.

Those numbers swell when players from recent classes who are currently playing basketball at four-year colleges are included. That group includes Pinewood's Hannah Jump (Stanford), Klara Astrom (Yale), Briana Claros (UC San Diego), Kaitlyn Leung (Pomona-Pitzer), Erin Poindexter-McHan (Tufts), Akayla Hackson (Cal State San Marcos), Trinity Copeland (Long Island) and Natasha Thompson (Vassar); Priory's Ila Lane (UC Santa Barbara) and Tatiana Reese (Eastern Washington), Palo Alto's Carly Leong (Trinity), Sacred Heart Prep's Denise Stine (Clark-Atlanta) and Grace Florendo (Claremont Mudd Scripps); Sequoia's Soana Afu (UC Merced) and Mia Woo (Oberlin); St. Francis' Mia Grizelj (St. Mary's), Amanda Inserra (UC Santa Cruz), Raveena Dhiman (Occidental) and Paige Uyehaha (Azusa Pacific), Menlo's Mallory North (Occidental) and Los Altos' Jamie Baum (Rose Hulman).

Current high school players who have accepted offers and made their future college destinations known include Pinewood's Elle Ladine (Washington), Priory's Valentina Saric (Morehead State), Menlo's Sharon Nejad and Pinewood's Emily Lee, both to Pomona-Pitzer.

"There are a lot of great high school coaches in the area,'' Paye said. "My brother would kill me if I didn't mention him first.''

No question that coaches have made a difference in the crucial area of skill development. Kate's brother John Paye coached her when she played at Menlo and is the current head coach at the school. Doc Scheppler at Pinewood has had a long run of success, won multiple state championships, and sent many players to the next level. Scott Peters, at Palo Alto since 2005, has managed the not-so-easy feat of putting together a consistent winner at a public high school. Eastside Prep was a yearly power and a state champion under Donovan Blythe, but has fallen off the map once he left.

And then there are other nearby coaches who have contributed to making the greater Bay Area a women's basketball hotbed, such as Sue Phillips, the creator of a dynastic program at Mitty, and Kelly Sopak, Sabrina Ionescu's coach at Miramonte, who is currently at Carondelet and runs the high-profile Cal Stars club team.

Specialized training, attention to fundamentals and skill development are particularly important on the girls side. Guys who can play above the rim tend sometimes not to be overly coachable. Female players are generally more receptive to instruction. As a result the women's game is often more fundamentally sound than the men's game.

"If I have a choice between watching a men's game or a women's game, I watch the women's game,'' Blythe said.

The fiercely competitive and improvisational playground and streetball culture associated with men's basketball is a minimal factor on the developing female side.

"Girls don't play pickup games like guys do,'' Scheppler said. "Look at Sabrina Ionescu. She developed her skills playing with her brother. A feel for the game is not as apparent in female players.''

Sabrina's twin brother, Eddy Ionescu, was a reserve on the Oregon men's team at the same time his sister was the top female player in the nation playing for the Oregon women.

In the current athletic environment, prep players are not only coached at their high schools. Virtually all aspiring ballers also take part in AAU club programs.

"There are a lot of club programs around here for girls to choose from,'' Peters said. "If you're from some place out of the area, like Carmel or Salinas, you have a long way to drive.''

And it goes without saying the affluence of the area makes affording pricey club programs less of an issue.

Women's basketball is still in its relative infancy compared to the men's game. The depth of talent on the women's side is far less than in men's basketball. That's why extreme blowouts in college women's and high school girls games are much more common. There simply aren't as many potential players to choose from to fill out college women's rosters.

"It's a little bit easier for girls to get scholarships,'' Scheppler said. "The competition isn't as tough.''

One of the most important factors is directly related to the way the game has changed.

Basketball is much more wide open now than it once was. Scoring has shot way up in the NBA. When the 3-point shot was introduced coaches were cautious about using it too much. The emphasis was still on pushing the ball inside for a high-percentage shot.

Then the recognition dawned that shooting 33% on 3-pointers produced the same amount of points as shooting 50% on 2s. And if you can shoot better than 33% on 3s, an advantage can be had for the taking.

Now positionless basketball is ascendant. A high value is attached to 3-point shooting accuracy. Look no further than Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Their success has been felt all across the basketball world, nowhere more than in the Bay Area. Size and athleticism are no longer the sole determinants as to whether a player is considered suitable material for the next level

"Girls with Division I shooting and ball handling skills are no longer falling through the cracks because coaches are looking for longer, taller athletes,'' Scheppler said. "The acceptance of shooting as basketball's truth and the success of the Warriors has finally filtered down.''

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Area girls basketball a hotbed for college recruiters

by / Palo Alto Online

Uploaded: Sun, Feb 6, 2022, 9:49 pm

The coronavirus shut down high school sports in the area from March 2020 to February 2021.

It didn't shut down the girls basketball recruiting pipeline. There were no game results to report during that time, but a hefty group of local high school girls announced their college commitments.

The Peninsula has never been a fertile breeding ground for boys basketball talent, the way it has for other athletic endeavors, such as aquatics and tennis, football and baseball. The area's affluence and demographics contrasts with the predominant socio-economic background and composition of professional and college basketball teams, particularly on the men's side.

For most of its modern history basketball, with its urban roots, has been known as The City Game.

The dynamic emerging on the women's side is a little different.

In the class of 2021 alone, more than a dozen girls who prepped at high schools in the Embarcadero Media coverage area (Redwood City to Mountain View) are now playing college basketball.

An examination of causes for this effect can begin just down the road at Stanford, where Tara VanDerveer has built a women's basketball powerhouse. A trickle-down effect is apparent. Girls on the Peninsula haven't had to look far for role models and inspiration.

Kate Paye was one of the early standouts from the area. She played on three high school state championship teams at Menlo School and on an NCAA championship team at Stanford, then played professionally and is currently the associate head coach at Stanford.

"Some of it is no doubt due to Tara and the great culture of success she's created,'' Paye said. "A lot of girls in the area play at the Stanford camps. The ecosystem Tara has created has similarities to the Silicon Valley ecosystem.''

Following Menlo's trio of state titles from 1989-1991, Sacred Heart Prep had a great run in the mid-1990s under Mike Ciardella, winning five state championships in a row, two at the highest level, with a cast of talented players who went on to play at major colleges.

Since then the trend of local girls going on to play in college has accelerated.

When prep sports resumed after the coronavirus shutdown in February of 2021, it was a crazy madcap rush to fit in truncated schedules from three different sport seasons between then and the end of the school year in June.

Once basketball got underway, the Pinewood girls went 17-0 and won the Central Coast Section Open Division championship, defeating Archbishop Mitty in a final that took place on June 11.

All five Pinewood starters: Annika Decker (Tufts), Courtni Thompson (UC San Diego), Maia Garcia (Cal Poly SLO), Una Jovanovic (Cal State Fullerton) and Chance Bucher (Portland) moved on to the college ranks.

So has Palo Alto's Annika Shah (Cal Poly) and Carly Martin (Whitman), Menlo's Avery Lee (Yale), Priory's Aniyah Augmon (New Mexico) and Bineta Diatta (Panola), Sacred Heart Prep's Megan Norris (UC Davis) and Woodside's Hailey Stewart (Dominican). Throw in two players from Mitty who began their prep careers at Pinewood (Olivia Williams-UC Irvine) and Eastside Prep (Marley Langi-UC Davis), and what you have is a much larger representation than would be expected from the population group in question.

Those numbers swell when players from recent classes who are currently playing basketball at four-year colleges are included. That group includes Pinewood's Hannah Jump (Stanford), Klara Astrom (Yale), Briana Claros (UC San Diego), Kaitlyn Leung (Pomona-Pitzer), Erin Poindexter-McHan (Tufts), Akayla Hackson (Cal State San Marcos), Trinity Copeland (Long Island) and Natasha Thompson (Vassar); Priory's Ila Lane (UC Santa Barbara) and Tatiana Reese (Eastern Washington), Palo Alto's Carly Leong (Trinity), Sacred Heart Prep's Denise Stine (Clark-Atlanta) and Grace Florendo (Claremont Mudd Scripps); Sequoia's Soana Afu (UC Merced) and Mia Woo (Oberlin); St. Francis' Mia Grizelj (St. Mary's), Amanda Inserra (UC Santa Cruz), Raveena Dhiman (Occidental) and Paige Uyehaha (Azusa Pacific), Menlo's Mallory North (Occidental) and Los Altos' Jamie Baum (Rose Hulman).

Current high school players who have accepted offers and made their future college destinations known include Pinewood's Elle Ladine (Washington), Priory's Valentina Saric (Morehead State), Menlo's Sharon Nejad and Pinewood's Emily Lee, both to Pomona-Pitzer.

"There are a lot of great high school coaches in the area,'' Paye said. "My brother would kill me if I didn't mention him first.''

No question that coaches have made a difference in the crucial area of skill development. Kate's brother John Paye coached her when she played at Menlo and is the current head coach at the school. Doc Scheppler at Pinewood has had a long run of success, won multiple state championships, and sent many players to the next level. Scott Peters, at Palo Alto since 2005, has managed the not-so-easy feat of putting together a consistent winner at a public high school. Eastside Prep was a yearly power and a state champion under Donovan Blythe, but has fallen off the map once he left.

And then there are other nearby coaches who have contributed to making the greater Bay Area a women's basketball hotbed, such as Sue Phillips, the creator of a dynastic program at Mitty, and Kelly Sopak, Sabrina Ionescu's coach at Miramonte, who is currently at Carondelet and runs the high-profile Cal Stars club team.

Specialized training, attention to fundamentals and skill development are particularly important on the girls side. Guys who can play above the rim tend sometimes not to be overly coachable. Female players are generally more receptive to instruction. As a result the women's game is often more fundamentally sound than the men's game.

"If I have a choice between watching a men's game or a women's game, I watch the women's game,'' Blythe said.

The fiercely competitive and improvisational playground and streetball culture associated with men's basketball is a minimal factor on the developing female side.

"Girls don't play pickup games like guys do,'' Scheppler said. "Look at Sabrina Ionescu. She developed her skills playing with her brother. A feel for the game is not as apparent in female players.''

Sabrina's twin brother, Eddy Ionescu, was a reserve on the Oregon men's team at the same time his sister was the top female player in the nation playing for the Oregon women.

In the current athletic environment, prep players are not only coached at their high schools. Virtually all aspiring ballers also take part in AAU club programs.

"There are a lot of club programs around here for girls to choose from,'' Peters said. "If you're from some place out of the area, like Carmel or Salinas, you have a long way to drive.''

And it goes without saying the affluence of the area makes affording pricey club programs less of an issue.

Women's basketball is still in its relative infancy compared to the men's game. The depth of talent on the women's side is far less than in men's basketball. That's why extreme blowouts in college women's and high school girls games are much more common. There simply aren't as many potential players to choose from to fill out college women's rosters.

"It's a little bit easier for girls to get scholarships,'' Scheppler said. "The competition isn't as tough.''

One of the most important factors is directly related to the way the game has changed.

Basketball is much more wide open now than it once was. Scoring has shot way up in the NBA. When the 3-point shot was introduced coaches were cautious about using it too much. The emphasis was still on pushing the ball inside for a high-percentage shot.

Then the recognition dawned that shooting 33% on 3-pointers produced the same amount of points as shooting 50% on 2s. And if you can shoot better than 33% on 3s, an advantage can be had for the taking.

Now positionless basketball is ascendant. A high value is attached to 3-point shooting accuracy. Look no further than Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Their success has been felt all across the basketball world, nowhere more than in the Bay Area. Size and athleticism are no longer the sole determinants as to whether a player is considered suitable material for the next level

"Girls with Division I shooting and ball handling skills are no longer falling through the cracks because coaches are looking for longer, taller athletes,'' Scheppler said. "The acceptance of shooting as basketball's truth and the success of the Warriors has finally filtered down.''

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