No boos for Cal Stars in national event

Head coach Kelly Sopak and girls from Cal Stars AAU club team have begun the spring/summer looking like one of the best in the nation. Photo: Harold Abend.

Head coach Kelly Sopak and girls from Cal Stars AAU club team have begun the spring/summer looking like one of the best in the nation. Photo: Harold Abend.

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Sabrina Ionescu, as expected, was focus of many major colleges at Boo Williams Nike Invitational in Virginia, but every one of them also went home talking about Stockton St. Mary’s freshman Aquira DeCosta.

If the talent-laden Cal Stars team wasn’t on the radar screen of every major college program prior to its showing at the Nike EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League) portion of the Boo Williams Nike Invitational spring NCAA viewing event in Hampton, Virginia last weekend, they certainly are now.

The Bay Area based Stars went 5-0 after defeating the top EYBL teams in the nation.

The girls opened with a win over host Boo Williams, 65-51, followed that up with a 94-82 victory over Cy-Fair Shock of Texas and its loaded line-up of top recruits, then pinned an 84-59 loss on the Carolina Flames, beat Team Takeover (Washington, D.C.) 87 67, and then finished off a perfect trip with a 93-57 blowout of Texas United.

While the Stars went 5-1 two years ago at the Boo Williams event and 4-1 last year, this was their best showing by what is probably the best team they have ever put on the floor. The girls averaged 84.6 points per game and had an average margin of victory of over 20 points.

With Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year and Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year finalist Sabrina Ionescu (Miramonte, Orinda) and State Freshman of the Year Aquira DeCosta (St. Mary’s, Stockton) suiting up together for the Stars for the first time on a national stage, head coach Kelly Sopak (Miramonte) and his girls definitely turned some heads while turning back some teams with highly-regarded national recruits.

In fact, since returning from Virginia, Sopak has hardly had time to sleep with all the calls, texts and emails he’s received from college coaches throughout the country.

While two-time USA Team Gold Medal winning member Ionescu got most of the buzz, Acosta became a huge topic among top college programs with several other Stars girls improving their college prospects after strong showings in Virginia.

“Sabrina is kind of established so there was not a lot of new stuff for her but Aquira is new,” Sopak said.

Ionescu, the ESPN No. 1 ranked combo guard and No. 5 overall rated player in the nation, already has two dozen offers, and the list reads like a who’s who of elite programs, including Connecticut, Duke, Maryland, Louisville, Notre Dame, Stanford and Texas, plus Cal and just about every other Pac-12 school as well.

In Virginia, she averaged 15.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and shot 96.4 percent from the free-throw line. The high games from Ionescu were 26 points against Cy-Fair Shock and 21 points with 12 assists versus Team Takeover.

When the Stars completed their 5-0 showing with the thrashing of Texas United, there were plenty of eyes on the girls despite a Sunday morning 8 a.m. starting time.

Some of the coaches were there to see Ionescu and Texas United star and ESPN No. 1 rated recruit Lauren Cox, but our sources other than Sopak, including several college coaches, told us it was Acosta many wanted to see. The 6-foot-2 Class of 2018 star didn’t disappoint after finishing with a game-high 21 points and seven rebounds. DeCosta even dropped in two three-pointers.

“The whole UConn staff was at the game and I know they were looking closely at Aquira,” said Sopak who added: “I’m looking forward to a call from Geno (Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma) or someone on the UConn staff.”

Before the Stars could even get on the plane home, Sopak’s cell phone was busy with inquiries about DeCosta from South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Louisville, Cal and Oregon.

Another Stars standout that made a big impression and improved her already solid standing was St. Mary’s junior Kat Tudor. For the five games in Virginia, Tudor, who made 105 three-pointers last season for St. Mary’s and has 299 for her career, was 21-of-44 from outside the arc and also showed much improved ball-handling skills.

“The college coaches told me Kat is not only the best shooter in her class but is now one of the best wings with the way she’s developed and with her ability to put the ball on the floor,” Sopak remarked.

A girl that made one of the biggest splashes for herself and the Stars in Virginia was Salesian (Richmond) junior Minyon Moore.

“Minyon played phenomenal,” Sopak said. “She’s a top flight defender who comes off the bench for us as a sixth man, but once she gets in you can’t keep her off the court. She’s had a lot of mid major interest from schools like UC Santa Barbara, Pacific, Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, Lehigh and Boston College, but she has a big July ahead of here and will go higher. Now she’s getting interest from Colorado.”

After a strong Virginia showing, Valley Christian (Dublin) junior Nina Bessolo received an offer from UC Davis and decided to commit to playing for a good friend of the Caravan, Aggies’ head coach Jennifer Gross.

Another girl that moved up to the top Stars team this year and has been working hard to improve her status is Freedom (Oakley) junior Cydnee Kinslow.

Sopak reports that Kinslow is now getting mid-major interest from Pepperdine, San Francisco, Lehigh, Denver and Pacific.

A lot of the success has to do with Sopak. Unlike many other club coaches, Sopak doesn’t just send the girls out there to play.

“I kind of laugh when people say club coaches just roll the ball out there and let the girls go,” Sopak chuckled. “It’s much more than about playing games. For Boo Williams, we get there a day early and leave a day late, and we have three practices. It’s about skill and team development and preparing the girls to play against the top competition in the country.”

Other top California programs competing in Virginia were a Cal Swish team that went 4-1. Cal Sparks went 3-2, Team Taurasi finished 2-3 and West Coast Premier had a rough 0-5 trip.

Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at marketingharoldabend@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend


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One Comment

  1. walter guanella
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    nice article!!

    good job Harold 🙂

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