Girls of Summer: Injury woes

Two of the three Cal Sparks players who suffered injuries this summer were Jaelyn Brown (left) and Dijonai Carrington. Both Jaelyn & Dijonai had torn ACLs, both were first team all-state as juniors and both are likely out for all of next season. Another all-state junior from last season who also is likely out for all of next season due to a knee injury is Sacramento McClatchy's Gigi Garcia. Photos: Harold Abend.

Two of the three Cal Sparks players who suffered injuries this summer were Jaelyn Brown (left) and Dijonai Carrington. Both Jaelyn & Dijonai had torn ACLs, both were first team all-state as juniors and both are likely out for all of next season. Another all-state junior from last season who also is likely out for all of next season due to a knee injury is Sacramento McClatchy’s Gigi Garcia. Photos: Harold Abend.

In this second part of a two-part wrap-up of the NCAA summer viewing period, we are focusing on the top Southern California club teams after highlighting the NorCal teams in Part 1. In short, it was an awful two months for Cal Sparks Gold as it was decimated by injuries to three leading players (and three of the state’s best 2016 players). The Wiggins Waves, meanwhile, were solid and have a 12-year-old coming up already turning heads.

Note: Thanks to the Orinda Magic club team, West Coast Jamboree and CalStars club team for supporting analyst Harold Abend in his annual Girls of Summer series of stops at many of California leading summer tournaments. Appreciation also goes out to the Mission Valley Sheraton in San Diego, a great place people stayed last month during the San Diego Classic (including Harold) in the heart of the San Diego area’s top attractions.

For Part 1 of this girls hoops summer wrap-up, CLICK HERE.

Note: Our final Girls of Summer player rankings also are still to come. Those posts will be for Gold Club members only. Join our team today because the price is going up soon. For details, CLICK HERE.

As a member of the Nike EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League), the Cal Sparks Gold club team of Southern California faced the nation’s toughest competition during the spring and summer events.

Like the Cal Stars Elite team of Northern California that won the EYBL National Championship, the Cal Sparks Gold started league play at the Boo Williams tournament in April in Virginia, where it went 3-2, and then closed out the NCAA July viewing period at the Nike Nationals in South Carolina. The rest of the viewing period schedule for the Los Angeles-based Sparks Gold was different in almost every way possible.
The bad fate began after Boo Williams when the Sparks hosted an event in May. After playing well and beating Orange County-based Cal Swish, they lost to the Cal Stars Elite and also lost All State First Team Elite forward Jaelyn Brown (2016, Murrieta Vista Murrieta) to a knee injury just as her game was beginning to elevate even higher.

“She tore the ACL so we’re playing it by ear,” said club director and Sparks Gold head coach Elbert Kinnebrew.

Despite the injury, Brown still has solid interest from Notre Dame, South Carolina, Texas A & M and UCLA, plus others.

Kinnebrew and his girls then opened the viewing period by hosting the Cali Summer Tip-Off at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Not surprisingly, they went 4-0 in the top division.

From there, however, things began to unravel again.

All-State First Team Junior and Division I Second Team Bakersfield Garces (2016) 6-foot-4 post Celeste West hurt her shoulder in the Summer Tip-Off and only played on and off the remainder of the viewing period. West still has major interest from Cal, South Carolina, Texas A & M and Southern California.

All State First Team Elite San Diego Horizon 2016 Dijonai Carrington then tweaked her ankle during the dead period at the San Diego Classic and started the second half of the viewing period on a bad wheel.
Cal Sparks girls bb logo
According to Kinnebrew “she played phenomenal and picked up the load” at the EYBL Nike TOC in Chicago. Despite Brown out of action and West hurting, the Sparks went 4-1 behind Carrington with their only loss coming to All Iowa.

At the Ballin in the Ballroom event hosted by Kinnebrew and the Sparks at the Westin Las Vegas Lake in Henderson, Carrington continued to impress but then she was felled by an even worse setback than ankle.

In the final game against the Minnesota Stars, she flew into the stands to block a shot and tweaked her knee. It didn’t appear to be serious and was diagnosed as a strain but that wasn’t the end of it.

The Sparks then moved on to South Carolina for the end of the viewing period at the Nike Nationals with a questionable Carrington and West still with one shoulder.

“Dijonai insisted on playing but she wasn’t right,” Kinnebrew said. “Even so, she had 13 points in the first 11 minutes of our first game.”

The Sparks went on to lose the game and Carrington as well because the girl with the heart of a lion was not playing on a strained knee but an ACL tear.
Decimated by injuries to their top three players, the Sparks went 0-5 at the nation’s toughest tournament.

“We fought hard and did our best, and other girls stepped up, but when you lose three All Americans and try to compete at the Nike Nationals it didn’t work out for us,” Kinnebrew reflected. “Even so, I’ve never been so proud of a team that went 0-5 in my life.”

As for Carrington, Brown and West, Kinnebrew says no major schools have backed off in their interest despite the injuries.

For Carrington, the updated list of top schools according to Kinnebrew is Cal, Louisiana State, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Stanford and Texas A & M.

Other girls Kinnebrew said played well during the summer were:

Kayla Overbeck, a 6-foot-2 Vanderbilt committed 2016 power forward from Newbury Park, helped pick up the load with West hurting.

Alicia Hernandez (2016) of Sacramento, the star of Cal Sparks NorCal Black, travelled with the Sparks Gold for the viewing period and helped spread the floor. The combo guard has interest from Georgetown, Loyola-Marymount and Nevada Las Vegas.

Tayler Bennett, a 2016 guard from Long Beach St. Anthony, has narrowed her choices to offers from Loyola-Marymount, New mexico, Rice and UC Santa Barbara.

Brittney Reed, a 2016 wing from Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) recently verbally committed to Loyola-Marymount. Briana Johnson, a 2016 point guard from Gardena Serra, gave Kinnebrew “steady play.”

Kate Tokuhara, a 2016 wing from Bishop Alemany of Mission Hills, was the team’s top defender and a player Kinnebrew feels is underrated. Another girl the coach feels is overlooked because she’s under 5-foot-5, is defensive specialist Dalis Jones, a 2016 from Norco.

Solid viewing period for Wiggins Waves

The Wiggins Waves of the San Diego may be a young but they definitely turned some heads in both portions of the NCAA viewing period in July, and also in the dead period as a high school team playing as defending Division V state champion La Jolla Country Day at the San Diego Classic.

Te-Hina Paopao's family in Oceanside is well-known for athletic success and she could be next as a La Jolla Country Day basketball player. She's only 12, though, so we'll try not to get too carried away. Photo: Harold Abend.

Te-Hina Paopao’s family in Oceanside is well-known for athletic success and could be next as a La Jolla Country Day hoops player. She’s only 12, though, so we’ll try not to get too carried away. Photo: Harold Abend.

The Waves, coached and directed by La Jolla Country Day head coach and 2012 State Coach of the Year Terri Bamford, are led by a senior, and that’s All-State Junior and Division V First Team selection Mai-Loni Henson, but most of the other stars are underclass, including First Team All-State Sophomore and Division V honoree Alaysia Styles.

The Waves player that actually got as much attention as Henson and Styles, however, was 2020 point guard Te-Hina Paopao, a La Jolla Country Day middle-school student who comes from a family with a rich athletic tradition in the Oceanside area of San Diego County.

“To have a 12-year-old (Paopao turns 13 in August) as the point guard and one of the leading scorers on an elite 17U team says it all,” said Bamford, who coached 2004 Ms. Basketball and former Stanford and WNBA star Candice Wiggins, for who the Waves are named, and 2013 Ms. Basketball and current Washington star Kelsey Plum.

“Te-Hina has to be one of the top 2020 guards in the country,” Bamford continued. “She ranks right up there with Candice and Kelsey. She has their kind of work ethic, athleticism and mental toughness already. She understands screens and mismatches and can get to the rim. She just gets it and is going to be really special.”

The Waves played in an elite division and without a losing record in any of the five events they competed in this past travel-heavy July.

The girls started the viewing period by going 2-2 at the Cal Sparks Cali Summer Tip-Off. From there, they went to the Lake Las Vegas Classic in Nevada and went 3-1 in ASGR (All Star Girls Report) summer league action, losing only to eventual champion Hoop Dreams.
During the dead period, and playing as La Jolla Country Day, they gave St. Mary’s of Stockton a tussle early on but lost in the San Diego Classic 3A Division title game.

The Waves then opened the second half of the viewing period at the Cal Sparks Ballin in the Ballroom at Lake Las Vegas where they went 4-0 and won one of the two elite divisions. Along the way, they beat the Lady Heat of Las Vegas, Cal Sparks NorCal from the Sacramento area, the Junior Crusaders, and Peninsula Elite from the San Mateo/Santa Clara County area.

The Waves closed out the viewing period by travelling back east for the ASGR Summer Basketball Playoff in the Charlotte, North Carolina-area. They were 4-3 with two of their wins over the very tough Tennessee Team Pride and Philly Freedom Stars.

Both Henson and Styles were selected to play in the ASGR All-Star game.

Other girls that got kudos from Bamford for their play were Kiera Oakry (2018, La Jolla Country Day), three-point specialist Jayda Villareal (2018, La Jolla Country Day), Bianca Notarainni (2018, La Jolla Country Day), and Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita) 6-foot-3 incoming senior Taylor Donohue.

The Waves will host an ASGR event during the NCAA fall viewing on September 26 at La Jolla Country Day.

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

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