Girls of Spring: DeCosta and De Rest

The 209 has had several of the top girls basketball players in the state in recent years and that will continue next season with junior Aquira DeCosta from Stockton St. Mary's and senior Loretta Kakala of Manteca. Photo: Harold Abend.

The 209 has had several of the top girls basketball players in the state in recent years and that will continue next season with junior Aquira DeCosta from Stockton St. Mary’s and senior Loretta Kakala of Manteca. Photo: Harold Abend.


For the top girls basketball prospects in the state from the Classes of 2017, 2018 and beyond, Aquira DeCosta from Stockton St. Mary’s reigns as the best. But she’s not the only one that analyst Harold Abend checked out during three springtime NCAA events. Go inside for writeups on the next 10 top prospects, the next nine after that and then a list of the next 31 followed by 19 more listed who could break out and then the No. 1 up-and-comer plus 10 more from the Class of 2019 and one from 2021. In all, 82 players were evaluated.

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The Cal-Hi Sports/Prep2Prep Caravan made three stops during the spring that included the NCAA viewing period in April.

Two of the three stops were in Northern California during the viewing period and at the Cal Stars’ Elite is Earned Invitational at the old gym at the former Alameda Naval Air Station, and the East Bay Explosion Spring Fling at Chabot College in Hayward.
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The final stop was the West Coast Premier West Coast Spring Invitational at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga in mid-May.

All in all, more than 30 games and around 600 players were observed, and while an effort was made to go deep on the lists that follow, the reality is that only so many players could get some sort of mention, and we feel we went pretty deep with 82 total players listed.

Also, please note that only girls who were personally observed are included and other than the top player it is not meant to be a rankings-type feature. The lists do include input from other national analysts but only those that were present and covering the same games. Girls not observed or that were injured are not on the lists. What list the player is on is based on the observations and not the entire spring and viewing period events. It also only includes California girls and the lists are in alphabetical order. Lastly, the difference between the Best of the Rest lists in most cases is miniscule and playing time had an effect in some cases.

SHE’S NUMBER ONE

Aquira DeCosta (St. Mary’s, Stockton) W, 6-2, 2018
The Cal-Hi Sports State Sophomore of the Year looked just as dominating as she has in the past and did nothing to diminish her status as the ESPN No. 6 overall and No. 1 rated wing in the nation. She can do it all, including occasionally hitting the 3-ball. It came as no surprise when DeCosta was chosen for the 12-member 2016 USA Women’s U17 World Championship Team. She was the only California girl chosen for that team and was the only girl from the Golden State to be a finalist in the final cut before selection. DeCosta and the team depart for practices and scrimmages through the upcoming weekend in France and Spain. The American girls then open FIBA U17 World Championship Group C play in Zaragoza, Spain on June 22 against South Korea.

BEST OF THE REST GROUP 1
(10 PLAYERS)

Jayda Adams (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) G, 6-0, 2017
A veteran of USA Basketball, Adams made the third cut and was among the final 41 players at the U17 tryouts. She’s not a dynamic scorer but does all the things that make her a team player. She will be the top returning player for Mater Dei next season and the leader of a young group.

Ayanna Clark (Long Beach Poly) C, 6-3, 2017
There is little doubt that Clark is the most physical big girl in the state and she showed it at the West Coast Invitational by dominating the paint. When she gets the ball down low, the USC-commit and ESPN No. 1 rated post for incoming seniors is like cash money.

Jasmine Jones and Myah Pace are off a good start for their spring-summer season. Photo: Harold Abend.

Jasmine Jones and Myah Pace are off a good start for their spring-summer season. Photo: Harold Abend.


McKenzie Forbes (Folsom) W, 6-0, 2018
Forbes plays for an AAU team from Arizona but was observed for one game at the West Coast Spring Invitational, and we agree with coaches and analysts at the event, including Mark Lewis of Blue Star Media recruiting and Mark Williams of Premier Basketball, that Forbes has her stock rising with her all-around solid game. Based on how she looked when observed in Southern California it’s not surprising Forbes made the final 41 at the USA U17 tryouts.

Jasmine Jones (Long Beach Poly) W, 6-0, 2017
The Long Beach Press Telegram Player of the Year was one of the top performers at the West Coast Spring Invitational despite playing on a sore ankle she twisted in a solid performance in a win over Forbes and her Arizona team. Despite being hampered in the tournament’s title game, she had a double-double 12 points and 10 rebounds and her defense was lights out. Jones is long for 6-foot and by the time summer has concluded her stock will be sky high if she continues to improve.

Loretta Kakala (Manteca) C, 6-3, 2017
One of the top true big girls in the state has some major colleges looking at her because she is the prototypical big that major programs are looking for. Her game has significantly improved since last summer and her consistency around the basket both on offense and defense has gotten better against top competition. Kakala was one of five California girls to make the final 41 at the USA U17 tryouts but the state’s only true big girl.

Destiny Littleton (Bishop’s, La Jolla) G, 5-8, 2017
The Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year and Ms. Basketball finalist is in the best shape she’s ever been in and that fact was agreed upon by one of the nation’s top girls basketball analysts Mark Lewis of Blue Star Media. Littleton is a scoring machine and is running the floor exceptionally but one area the ESPN No. 9 ranked player overall and No. 2 guard from the class of 2017 needs to work on when she plays with elite players is sharing the ball a little more often. She made the second cut down to 41 players on the USA U17 team.

Myah Pace (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland) W, 5-11, 2017
Another girl who continues to rise as a top recruit is this long wing from Northern California. Pace plays for a SoCal club team where she shined at the West Coast Spring Invitational. What impressed analysts like Mark Lewis of Blue State Media most was her ability to elevate over bigger girls to get good looks at the basket. Her defense was exceptional as well.

Khayla Rooks (Mission Hills, San Marcos) W, 6-0, 2017
Many will be rooting for her this summer after the sudden death of her father, Sean Rooks, the former NBA center. Rooks played well at the West Coast Spring Invitational but frankly not good enough to improve her stock at this time. She showed flashes of brilliance around the basket on both ends of the floor but coaches and analysts felt she needs to get in a little better shape.

Alaysia Styles (La Jolla Country Day) W, 6-2, 2017
The long, lean, deceptively quick and gazelle-like Styles wasn’t at her best in the first half of a game at Chaffey College, but it was early morning and she caught fire in the second half. She even drained a 3-pointer. She continues to improve but consistency will be a key if she is to be an impact player at Cal where she has verballed.

Iimar’I Thomas (Sacred Heart Cathedral, San Francisco) W, 6-0, 2017
To see the progression of Thomas, even from the end of the season when she led the Irish to the CIF Division III state championship, to April and May, is phenomenal. Part of the knock on Thomas has been that she was not in tip-top shape but that is a thing of the past. She can run the floor with anyone her size and she is a tenacious defender and rebounder. Her mid-range shot is improving as well. She was one of the youngest 2017 girls at the USA U17 tryouts and did survive until the halfway cuts, but because she is so young for a 2017 she can come back next year for the U16 team tryouts.

BEST OF THE REST GROUP TWO
(NINE PLAYERS)

Shalexxus Aaron (Apple Valley) W, 6-2, 2017
Look for this girl to make a name for herself in Southern California after putting up solid numbers in Kirkland, Washington last season and impressing analysts and college coaches. She’s quick, goes to the basket, can pull up and gets after it on defense. Big-time colleges like her game and so did we.
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Julia Blackshell-Fair (Vanden, Fairfield) G, 5-9, 2017
She played her heart out on both ends of the court in a loss at the West Coast Invitational but analysts and college coaches would like to see even more improvement in her game, particularly her shooting range.

Sydney Boyer (Oaks Christian, Westlake Village) W, 6-1, 2017
The top returning player for Oaks Christian has a nose for the basketball and seems to be involved in crucial plays because of it. Boyer seems to be much improved in all aspects of her game than when she was first seen at the West Coast Jamboree in December of last year.

Jordan Cruz (McClatchy, Sacramento) G, 5-10, 2017
Her time is limited on her club team but watching her against the top competition it’s obvious why Cruz has top mid-major interest and a couple of majors as well. She can shoot, run the floor, plays solid defense and isn’t afraid to hit the boards. Consistency has been an issue but based on how she looks so far this off-season it won’t be surprising if Cruz has an even better season than last year.

Angel Jackson (Salesian, Richmond) C, 6-5, 2019
Colleges are really beginning to like Jackson as her game continues to improve. Several coaches and analysts agree her improvement since last summer has been staggering. She is a hard worker and is improving in all aspects of her game.  Her footwork around the rim and her shot blocking ability has greatly improved.   She is even developing a midrange game.  She runs the floor much better than last year.  Jackson is a virtual double-double machine in points and rebounds and/or blocks. In a game at the Spring Fling, she had a triple-double 12 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocks.

Lesila Finau (Dublin) W, 5-11, 2018
Sila, as she is called, continues to develop her overall game using basketball smarts and tenacity on both ends of the court.  She is a long limbed defender and offensively knows how to attack the rack and hit the three.  Her passing has really improved this spring and she is adding the stop and pop to her repertoire. Finau is getting a lot of interest from major colleges.

Naje Murray (St. Mary’s, Stockton) G, 5-7, 2017
Murray is another girl whose stock continues to rise as her game gets more exposure to the college coaches and nationwide analysts. The phrase “has a high motor” could have been invented for Murray, who blazes around the court on both ends of the floor. She can get to the rack as quickly as anyone in the state with her patented slashing move but defense may be her best asset.

Kiana Smith (Troy, Fullerton) W, 6-0, 2017
Smith had a very solid spring and her stock is definitely rising upward going into the summer viewing period. She can handle and distribute the ball, attack the basket, can shoot the 3-ball and plays good defense. She impressed at the USA U17 tryouts.

Tyiona Watkins (Brea Olinda) W, 5-11, 2018
The top returning player off of the CIF Division I state championship team is a load to handle and is still developing. Besides being able to finish strong around the basket, she also can rebound and handles the ball well on the fly.
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OTHER TOP SKILLED PLAYERS
(31 PLAYERS)

Ariana Abdulmassih (St. Ignatius, San Francisco) F, 6-3, 2017
Namiko Adams (West Campus, Sacramento) G, 5-7, 2017
Allesandra Aguirre (Bishop’s, La Jolla) G, 5-9, 2017
Alyssa Alvarez (Convent of the Sacred Heart, San Francisco) G, 5-8, 2017
Ayzhiana Basallo (St. Ignatius, San Francisco) G, 5-6, 2017
Sarah Bates (Clovis West, Fresno) G, 5-9, 2017
Sasha Brown (Sacramento) W, 5-11, 2017
Paiton Demps (Elk Grove) G, 5-7, 2017
Tiana Eaton (Rowland, Rowland Heights) W, 6-0, 2017
Kendal Ellenbeck (La Jolla Country Day) F, 5-11, 2018
Jasmine Hardy (Bishop Alemany, Mission Hills) F, 6-1, 2018
Kiara Jefferson (West Campus, Sacramento) G, 5-8, 2018
Ariel Johnson (St. Mary’s, Stockton) G, 5-9, 2018
Aubry Knight (Ventura) F, 6-1, 2017
Zhane Lewis (Brookside Christian, Stockton) F, 6-0, 2017
Elle Louie (Miramonte, Orinda) G, 5-11, 2017
Juliana Louis (St. Anthony’s, Long Beach) E, 6-2, 2017
Jessica Malazarte (Bishop Montgomery) G, 5-3, 2017
Bianca Notarainni (La Jolla Country Day) W, 6-0, 2018
Kiara Oakry (La Jolla Country Day) G, 5-10, 2018
Leilia Orji (Etiwanda) F, 6-0, 2017
Camille Parker (Alta Loma) G, 5-8, 2017
Barbara Rangel (Ventura) C, 6-3, 2017
Bre’yanna Sanders (Clovis West, Fresno) G, 6-0, 2017
Rainah Smith (Sacred Heart Cathedral, San Francisco) W, 5-10, 2018
Claire Steele (Miramonte, Orinda) G, 5-5, 2018
Lianna Tillman (Lincoln, Stockton) G, 5-9, 2017
Haley Van Dyke (Campolindo, Moraga) F, 6-0, 2018
Jayda Villareal (La Jolla Country Day) G, 5-6, 2018
Nyah Willis (Valley Christian, San Jose) G, 5-9, 2018
Neenah Young (St. Mary’s, Stockton) G, 5-11, 2018

GIRLS THAT COULD BREAK OUT
(19 PLAYERS)

Mikayla Bismillah (California, San Ramon) G, 5-7, 2018
Anna Blount (Sacramento) F, 6-1, 2019
Jordan Bryant (Miramonte, Orinda) F, 5-11, 2018
Maya Burris (Lick-Wilmerding, San Francisco) W, 5-11, 2017
Bianca Camello (Salesian, Richmond) G, 5-6, 2019
Maaeva Dwiggins (Carondelet, Concord) G, 5-9, 2018
Gabriela Edmond (California, San Ramon) W, 5-10, 2018
Marley Fernandez (California, San Ramon) F, 6-0, 2017
Taisia Fleming (Salesian, Richmond) G, 5-5, 2018
Jessykah Frank (Miramonte, Orinda) F, 6-2, 2018
Camille Johnson (Moreau Catholic, Hayward) G, 5-7, 2019
Maya Lawrence (Sacramento) W, 5-10, 2017
Taloau’au’au Li-Uperesa (Leadership, San Francisco) W, 5-11, 2019
Zakiya Mahoney (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland) G, 5-10, 2018
Tamera McNeil (Hercules) G, 5-8, 2017
Tatyana Modawar (Carondelet, Concord) F, 6-2, 2019
Shannon Newman (San Ramon Valley, Danville) W, 5-11, 2017
Caroline Stephens (St. Mary’s, Stockton) G, 5-7, 2017
Michaela VanderKlugt (Carondelet, Concord) W, 5-11, 2017

She may be from one of the most famous athletic families in Oceanside, but Te-Hina PaoPao will attend La Jolla Country Day in the fall. Photo: Harold Abend.

She may be from one of the most famous athletic families in Oceanside, but Te-Hina PaoPao will attend La Jolla Country Day in the fall. Photo: Harold Abend.


THE TOP UP-AND-COMER

Te-Hina Paopao (La Jolla Country Day)
G, 5-9, 2020

She may only be 13 years old but the incoming freshman actually made the first cut at the USA U17 tryouts and that is a significant accomplishment. She has excellent size and strength and a good frame already for a point guard despite her youth. Mark Lewis of Blue Star media was very impressed with Paopao, who comes from a family with a big athletic tradition in the Oceanside area. “She’s fun to watch unless you’re on the other bench,” Lewis said. “Her concepts and ability to understand the game are phenomenal for her age and level.”

OTHER TOP UP-AND-COMERS
(11 PLAYERS)

Adriana Avent (Sacramento) G, 5-10, 2019
Ali Bamberger (Carondelet, Concord) F, 6-3, 2019
Madison Campbell (Clovis West, Fresno) G, 5-11, 2019
Makayla Edwards (Salesian, Richmond) W, 5-10, 2019
Angel Galbraith (Salesian, Richmond) G, 5-6, 2019
Da’Ja Hamilton (Summit, Fontana) G, 5-8, 2019
Emily Howie (Heritage, Brentwood) G, 5-4, 2019
Ila Lane (Woodside Priory, Woodside) C, 6-3, 2019
Khylee-Jade Pepe (Middle school) F, 5-11, 2021
Jordan Sweeney (Heritage, Brentwood) G, 5-8, 2019
RyAnne Walters (Sacramento) G, 5-6, 2019

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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