The FAB Five for the Eagles are all headed to Division I colleges, including three in the Pac-12. This also is a team that beat both Mater Dei and Long Beach Poly last season.
Note: Cal-Hi Sports girls basketball rankings editor Harold Abend has attended practices during the last week at some of the top schools in the state, including a just completed whirlwind tour of Southern California. He began at defending CIF Open Division champion Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland and then Miramonte of Orinda. On Wednesday of last week, he went to Windward of Los Angeles, which was followed on Thursday with visits to Long Beach Poly and St. Bernard of Playa del Rey, then there was a scrimmage between Mater Dei of Santa Ana and Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth. On Friday, he completed the tour with a trek to the Inland Empire to visit Etiwanda. Look for the Cal-Hi Sports preseason state rankings on CalHiSports.com on Monday.
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Comparing this year’s team at Etiwanda with last year’s CIF Open Division champions from Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland is like trying to compare apples and oranges, but one thing is the same between the two teams, and that’s each bore a lot of D1 college-signing fruit.
O’Dowd had four of its five starters sign with D1 colleges, and a fifth starter, current junior point guard Asha Thomas, is one of the top 20 players in the nation at her position from the class of 2015, so she’ll be a D1 signee making it unofficially five from last year’s Dragons.
Etiwanda, on the other hand, did it officially all in one season, as all five starters on last year’s team that had consecutive wins over Long Beach Poly and Mater Dei of Santa Ana in the CIF Southern Section playoffs, have signed a letter of intent at a Division I college. And three signed with Pac-12 schools.
A unique twist to their story is that unlike at a private school where girls come from everywhere, Etiwanda’s FAB Five have all been classmates and teammates since elementary school.
The one preseason national ranking that has come out doesn’t have Etiwanda in its Top 25, but having five D1 signees definitely merits some attention, and Cal-Hi Sports will be giving the Eagles’ plenty of it when our rankings are released on Monday.
Etiwanda’s starting five is comprised of a huge front line and two girls that can drive and dish, or pull up and hit the mid-range jumper.
Headlining the front line is big, strong and deceptively quick USC-bound power forward and wing Amy Okonkwo.
Not only can the 6-foot-1 Okonkwo post up and spin past defenders to finish with either hand down low, she can nail three-pointers, something she did when she scored 28 points in the 73-72 home win over Mater Dei that almost brought down the packed gym.
“The atmosphere was supercharged for that game and so was I,” Okonkwo told Cal-His Sports at a Friday afternoon practice. “I think it was the best I ever played.”
“Amy is a force to be reckoned with,” said fifth-year head coach Anders Anderson, who with the Cal-Hi Sports Caravan watching, came out of the stands in the summer of 2009 to take over the team at the San Diego Classic – and has been at the helm ever since.
The backcourt has the other two Pac-12 signees.
Oregon-bound McKynzie Fort, who tied with O’Dowd’s Thomas as the eighth-highest rated player in the Girls of Summer player rankings, has everything in her game you want in a guard except a three-point shot, and according to Anderson, the 5-foot-9 Fort is working hard on improving her long-range shooting.
Fort’s backcourt mate is Arizona-signed Cherice Harris. Like Fort, Harris can play the one or two, and she’s very effective driving to the basket.
The other two bigs are Daeja Smith and Alyssa Anderson.
At 6-foot-3, the Cal-State Fullerton-bound Smith is the tallest girl on the team, and she does the dirty work down low.
Nevada Las Vegas-signed Anderson, the second daughter of the head coach to come through the program, is a 6-foot true wing who can play just about anywhere on the court, and play effectively. She also likes to shoot the three-pointer.
A girl that came in from Kansas last year and has been under the radar screen is senior guard Kayla Martin. She looked very good at practice, plays hard and is fundamentally sound. Having her to back up Fort and Harris, and bringing her in for a big that allows Alyssa to go from wing to post, will be an asset for Anderson in his arsenal.
Rumors abounded when Anderson took the coaching job with daughter Ashtyn Anderson on the team, and they continue with the SoCal chit-chat now rumoring that the Etiwanda social studies teacher will step aside once this season is over and Alyssa graduates.
“Like Mark Twain said about reports of him dying, rumors I am leaving after this season have been greatly exaggerated. There’s no reason I would want to leave with these kids.”
Everyone but one senior returned from last year, and this year’s team will lose nine seniors, but Anderson’s optimism seems well founded. .
Mikayla Wilson, a 5-foot-10 freshman, will spell the bigs. Anderson also really likes another freshman, point guard Maezelle Milan.
Other players that Anderson sees bright futures for are sophomore point guard Dominique McLoughlin, and 5-foot-10 freshman forward Leilia Orji.
Anderson, who has been assisted by Fort’s father, Todd, since they coached the girls in fifth-grade church league, has laid out a tougher course for his girls this year than last.
“Last year I wanted us to get our feet wet and establish ourselves. Now it’s on the girls to come out and prove themselves.”
The Eagles open with defending CIF Division III state champion Bishop Alemany at Mission Hills. Next comes the Nike TOC, and then the West Coast Holiday Festival, and finally they travel north to Stockton to face host St. Mary’s and St. Mary’s of Berkeley in the MLK Classic.
“Metal sharpens metal, so Etiwanda is preparing itself for our postseason competition against those perennial powers, and we don’t have any transfers,” Anderson said with a sly grin.
Anderson certainly has given the girls ample opportunity to get ready for those perennial powers.
“For us to all be playing in college is exciting but humbling as well,” Fort remarked. “We’ve got our scholarships. Now we have to prove ourselves.”