A whirlwind series of visits to check in on some of the state’s top girls basketball teams for this season begins at Windward of Los Angeles where the All-American combo of Jordin Canada and Kristen Simon reside.
Note: Cal-Hi Sports girls basketball rankings editor Harold Abend is attending practices this week at some of the top schools in the state. He already has been to defending CIF Open Division champion Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland. This week, he’ll hit Windward of Los Angeles, Long Beach Poly, St. Bernard of Playa del Rey and Mater Dei. Look for the Cal-Hi Sports preseason state rankings on CalHiSports.com on Monday morning.
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Raining threes or what?
How appropriate that rain came into play while on a Wednesday visit to Windward of Los Angeles, which has cashed in on the ability to rain down three-pointers on opposing teams.
Three-point shooting is only one aspect of the game in which Windward will have a different look this season, but one foundation remains and that’s the returning one-two punch of Jordin Canada and Kristen Simon.
The USC-bound 6-foot-1 Simon was missing from the Wednesday practice and semi-scrimmage with Windward’s combination frosh/JV boys team, due to a cold, but Canada was there.
After returning from injuring her knee during the summer circuit, the UCLA-bound and ESPN No. 2 rated point guard in the nation looked smooth and fluid. She picked a couple of the boys clean, drove the lane on them and wasn’t afraid to go up and get rebounds, either.
On one shake and bake move, she caused the boy defending her to topple over backwards. His buddies consoled him but that’s a memory the buds nor he will never erase.
Although Canada admitted to a little soreness, both she and second-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard confirmed that the ESPN No. 6 rated player from the class of 2014 is totally healed and at full strength. In fact, doctors told Jordin and her parents that a brace wasn’t necessary.
With two top-notch Division I signed players on the roster, there is no doubt the Wildcats are one of the top teams in the state to begin the preseason.
Exactly where they fall will have a lot to do with a number of factors.
Leadership and three-point shooting
Canada was a leader, but Last year the bulk of the leadership and three-point shooting came from current USC freshman guard Courtney Jaco.
Now, not only will Canada have to pick up her scoring and outside shooting to supplement junior three-point bomber Emily Surloff, but the leadership is falling squarely on her shoulders, and Nygaard, who has some real talented freshmen guards, couldn’t be more pleased.
One of the girls Canada has taken under her wing is freshman guard Chelsey Gipson, a girl who made an impression on the Girls of Summer circuit.
“I’ve definitely taking Chelsey and (freshman) Alyssa Ramiocan under my wing,” Canada told Cal-Hi Sports.
“I think it’s great for Jordin to be working on developing her leadership skills both this year and for next year for UCLA,” said Nygaard, who starred at Stanford and is beginning to sound more and more like her mentor, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer.
“I felt I was a leader last year, but this year I need to be more vocal and set an example,” Canada remarked. “I know the girls look up to me and expect a lot from me. I have to push myself to the limit so they can see that and push themselves as far as they can.”
The supporting cast
The girls that will need to do the pushing include senior Macchiati Smith, who has been clutch in the past for Windward and will need to have a solid season.
The rest of the girls are underclass, and other than Simon there is no other real size.
One girl that has the capability to play big and tough is freshman forward Jasmine Blevins.
“I love her demeanor, her willingness to do anything I ask, she’s tough, and we need tough,” was Nygaard’s assessment of Blevins.
Another baby that impressed the Caravan with her size for a 5-9 freshman was guard/forward Tyler Collins.
Sophomore Danielle Samuel, another flashy guard at Nygaard’s disposal, looks improved since the summer circuit.
“We’re a different team than last year with a different style and because of it I’m going to have to be more patient,” Nygaard remarked. “We also have more usable depth and that will allow us to be more aggressive.
Still the keys are Canada and Simon.
If “the Canadian,” as Canada calls herself on her twitter handle, takes charge, and Simon controls the paint, Windward will be a force for sure this year.
On a final note, the beautiful campus and state-of-the-art facilities at Windward, including a weight room that looked like it was at a country club, couldn’t be outdone by the politeness and good manners of the girls.
After practice, every one of them, starting with Canada at the front of the line, came up to introduce themselves and thank us for coming.
The Caravan moves on to an early Thursday morning practice at Long Beach Poly, an interview with a former Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year turned first-year head coach, and then finally a scrimmage at Mater Dei between the Monarchs and 2013 Division V state champion Chatsworth Sierra Canyon.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend