California teams take some lumps at the Cal Sparks Ballin’ in the Ballroom but dish out some as well. A game between the Wiggins Waves and San Jose Cagers drew perhaps the most interest. The Cal Sparks team also split up into two teams, one for seniors-only and the other for underclass-only, and each one had its moments.
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The heat was certainly on outside at the 59-team July 23-25 Cal Sparks Ballin’ in the Ballroom at the Westin Lake Las Vegas with temperatures reaching 115 degrees or even higher. Inside, the heat was on as well with teams from outside California dominating a lot of the action.
When two high school teams posing as club teams, so they both can continue a long tradition of playing together outside of school, are each missing one of their top players and are still competing in the top NCAA certified viewing event in the Nevada/Southern California area, they are going to take some lumps. They did, but both the San Jose Cagers Blue and Wiggins Waves 17U dished some out as well.
There were other games between teams from outside California that might have been very important to the 115 Division I college coaches that could view the girls live at the NCAA certified viewing event, but it was standing room only on the coaches side of the ballroom when the Cagers Blue and Wiggins Waves met in a Friday night showdown.
Whle St. Mary’s of Stockton may be the presumptive preseason No. 1 team in California when those rankings are announced in November, both the Cagers (playing with all Archbishop Mitty of San Jose girls) and the Waves (with all but one girl from La Jolla Country Day) may be right there as well.
Both teams were short a top player but it was still the superior depth and size of head coach Sue Phillips and her Cagers girls that prevailed down the stretch in a 52-47 victory where they trailed 45-44 with less than three minutes left in the final of four eight-minute quarters.
Cagers 6-foot Mitty guard and state Freshman of the Year runner-up Haley Jones (2019) was absent due to other commitments, and she is a huge part of Phillips’ arsenal. For the Waves, it was hard-nosed incoming junior guard Kiera Oakry who was out after fracturing her collarbone in the July 9-12 Lake Las Vegas Classic on a flagrant takedown. Oakry had been having a great summer and increasing her stock.
As for the girls who did play, it was a typical Cagers/Mitty effort where everyone contributed. Heleyna Hill led the Cagers with 14 point and two assists, and was 6-for-6 from the foul line ,including two key late free-throws. Madeline Holland, a 6-foot incoming senior wing, played very well despite missing some easy shots around the basket. She had a double-double 10 points with 11 rebounds with three steals and two assists. Tahlia Garza, 6-foot-2 incoming senior forward, finished with 13 points, three rebounds and three blocks. Nicole Blakes, a 6-foot-2 incoming junior, played great defense against Waves’ Cal-bound incoming Country Day senior Alaysia Styles, and added nine rebounds and five blocked shots. Karisma Ortiz, a 6-foot incoming junior, played great defense and added three points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“Maddie has been playing phenomenally all summer,” Phillips said. “So has Tahlia, Heleyna and Karisma, and their offers are increasing, and you saw the great job Nicole did on Styles.”
As for the Waves, the double and triple teaming had its effect on Styles as she had six of her shots blocked, but she still managed to fight through the pressure and finished with a double-double 11 points and 13 rebounds with two assists. However, while Styles goes on impressing this summer, the girl that continues to have the crowd, college coaches, analysts and opponents buzzing is Waves’ guard and Country Day incoming freshman Te-Hina Paopao. Despite having the Cagers’ Hill on her like a blanket, the 5-foot-9 phenom finished with 19 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists and three steals.
“Pow…Pow” means Paopao
At the San Diego Classic when she drained a 3-pointer, made a reverse underhand layup, followed it up with a floater in the lane, and then drained another long trey, one official turned to yours truly at the scorers’ table as he ran by and uttered “Pow…Pow” with a long pause in the middle, but what he really meant was Paopao as in Te-Hina.
When you watch Paopao, it’s hard to believe she won’t turn 14 years old until late August. Some may argue about where she is now and where she’s going in the fabled Country Day pecking order, but not the Girls of Summer Rankings or some pretty notable coaches.
“You know, I don’t say it that often but she’s legit, and when I say legit I mean she’s really good,” said Phillips, a two-time USA basketball gold medal winning head coach and winner of six CIF state championships.
After Paopao had a 15-point, nine-rebound, five-assist performance against Cal Sparks Gold 1 in a 57-42 Waves victory, Sparks top assistant James Anderson stopped in the “good-game” high-fiving line to say something to Waves/Country Day head coach Terri Bamford.
“I saw Candice (Wiggins) and Kelsey (Plum) and at this stage, I mean at this stage, she is the best. It’s ridiculous how good she is,” said Anderson, the former Narbonne head coach and current head coach at Long Beach St. Anthony who coached Loree Moore at Narbonne. Moore, like Wiggins and Plum, was a Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year recipient when she won in 2001 as a senior.
Paopao also had 14 points and six assists in a 50-45 loss to a big and tall Texas Elite Adidas 17U Prime team most everyone felt was the best team in the tournament.
Cal Sparks take some lumps but get some bumps too
You could say it was partially self-inflicted but after Cal Sparks club director and Gold head coach Elbert Kinnebrew shook up his elite Gold team and split it into Gold 1 for incoming seniors and Gold 2 for his underclass stars, it weakened them a little and each of the hosts top teams took some lumps but had some bright spots too.
“I didn’t have to do it but I decided to split them up,” Kinnebrew said. “I had 14 players and we weren’t always performing as well as I would have liked so I decided to give the seniors their shot and start to prepare for next year.”
In another double-digit loss to a 1 Nation Elite team with girls from the Detroit (Mich.) area, the Sparks 1 seniors fell behind early and never could recover. In the loss to the Waves, they were down big early again and then after getting it down to six in the third quarter they ran out of gas.
Mikayla Wilson, a 6-foot power forward from Etiwanda with several mid-major offers including Hawaii, Long Beach State, San Jose State and Santa Clara, had nine rebounds against 1 Nation and 11 points with eight rebounds against the Waves. Savannah Lewis, a 6-foot forward from Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, had 14 points and seven rebounds against 1 Nation and Gardena Serra guard Camille Hailey added 10 points.
The two Sparks Gold 1 girls from Bakersfield played well in the Waves loss. Independence guard Jasmin Dixon had 10 points, Ridgeview 6-foot wing Dana Degraffenreid added nine points and six rebounds. A bit of a downer was Kathryn Headspeth of Long Beach Poly going down with an apparent knee injury in the loss to 1 Nation after she was starting to play well after missing all of last season due to a knee injury.
The icing on the cake for Sparks 1 was a 57-53 win over the Cagers on Monday, and despite the fact the Cagers were without the coaching of Phillips, who left for Georgia to coach at the Nike Skills Academy, it was a big boost for the incoming senior group that finally got used to playing with each other.
Cydni Lewis, a 6-foot forward from Mater Dei (Santa Ana) who doesn’t start, led the way with a double-double 22 points and 11 rebounds. Dixon had eight points but her defense was a key.
“Cydni Lewis came off the bench and had an incredible game, and Jasmin Dixon played lock-down defense. Those were the keys,” Kinnebrew said. “It was a good win for us.”
Sparks Gold 2 was only observed in one game and that was a 60-51 loss to a Fast Girls Elite from the greater Portland (Ore.) area it had defeated before the split.
Like the Gold 1 team, it took some time for the Gold 2 team to get used to being split from the seniors. Even so, State Freshman of the Year Charisma Osborne of Los Angeles Windward looked very good and dropped in four 3-pointers en route to 26-point performance that included four rebounds, three steals and two assists. Incoming St. Anthony 6-foot-5 center Semaj Smith only had four points, but she snagged 12 rebounds and blocked six shots. Incoming Serra sophomore guard Alexis Tucker looked good at times and had six points and seven rebounds.
Cal Sparks Gold 1 and 2 has now moved on to the Blue Star Nationals in Augusta, Georgia.
The Waves arguably had two of the top players and possibly the best California players at the Cal Sparks event in Styles and Paopao, and the Cagers and Sparks Gold already mentioned looked real solid, but some other girls also shined in the games observed. They are listed alphabetically with the club team in parenthesis:
Andriana Avent, W, Sacramento, 2019 (CalSparks NorCal Black)
Jazmin Benn, 6-0, F, Agoura, 2017 (Cal Sparks Gold1)
Anna Blount, 6-1, F, Sacramento, 2019 (CalSparks NorCal Black)
Sasha Brown, G, 5-10, Sacramento, 2017 (CalSparks NorCal Black)
Taylor Caldwell, G, 5-10, Bakersfield, 2018 (Cal Sparks 2018 National)
Brooke Demetre, W, 6-1, Middle School, 2021 (Triple S Warriors)
Rachel Duru, W, 5-10, Gardena Serra, 2018 (Cal Sparks Gold 2)
Kendal Ellenbeck, F, 5-11, La Jolla Country Day, 2018 (Wiggins Waves)
Danielle Guglielmo, G, 5-10, San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 2017 (San Jose Cagers Blue)
Haley Herdman, G, 5-8, Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, 2018 (Cal Sparks 2018 National)
Stella Kailahi, W, 5-11, Atherton Menlo-Atherton, 2018 (Team Superstar 17U)
Ila Lane, C, 6-3, Woodside Priory, 2019 (Team Superstar 17U)
Maya Lawrence, G, 5-10, Sacramento, 2017 (CalSparks NorCal Black)
Zakiya Mahoney, G, 5-9, Oakland Bishop O’Dowd, 2018 (Team Superstar 17U)
Danielle Matlock, W, San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 2018 (San Jose Cagers Blue)
Krissy Miyahara, G, 5-2, San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 2018 (San Jose Cagers Blue)
Bianca Notarainni, F, 6-0, La Jolla Country Day, 2018 (Wiggins Waves)
Jadon Paopao, F, 6-0, Oceanside, 2017 (Wiggins Waves)
Suzette Quinlan, G, 5-9, Aliso Viejo Aliso Niguel, 2018 (Cal Sparks 2018 National)
Kennedi Shorts, F, 6-1, Long Beach Poly, 2018 (Cal Sparks 2018 National)
Lauren Toler, G, 5-6, Sacramento, 2018 (CalSparks NorCal Black)
Pua Tufaga, G, 5-6, La Jolla Country Day, 2010 (Wiggins Waves)
Marisa Urbano-Sedland, G, 5-6, La Jolla Country Day, 2019 (Wiggins Waves)
Jayda Villareal, G, 5-6, La Jolla Country Day, 2018 (Wiggins Waves)
Jade Williams, G, 5-7, Etiwanda, 2017 (Cal Sparks Gold 1)
Ryanne Walters, G, 5-6, Sacramento, 2019 (CalSparks NorCal Black)
Naomi Yim, G, 5-7, Norco, 2018 (Cal Sparks Gold 2)
Note: All girls mentioned in this feature are eligible for the Girls of Summer Rankings coming in August.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend