Based on how she performed in the Girls of Summer Caravan circuit during the Spring and Summer NCAA viewing periods there was little doubt Te-Hina Paopao of San Diego La Jolla Country Day was hands down the leading candidate for our annual State Freshman of the Year award. Note: Anyone wishing to see writeups and breakdowns of the top teams in the state every week for the upcoming season, sign up for our Gold Club membership. For details, CLICK HERE.
Now, after suffering an injury in open gym in September that was first thought to be just be a hamstring or other less major injury, a further examination after her knee collapsed determined Paopao has a torn ACL. She had surgery last week and will be out for the season.
“It’s a big bummer. All we can do is pray for a healthy recovery. She can still have a great career ahead of her but she’s already one of the best I’ve ever coached,” said La Jolla Country Day head coach Terri Bamford, who has seen her share of Torreys’ stars suffer major injuries. “She was like a pro out there,”
Candice Wiggins, the 2004 Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year from Country Day had her share injuries. All State selection Dominique Connors had a torn ACL and made a solid recovery, and current Country Day assistant coach Janae Fulcher is another former Torreys star that was down with a major injury in her career.
With all due respect to Wiggins and current Washington star Kelsey Plum, who had teeth knocked out and her jaw injured and had to wear a mask one season, Paopao may very well have been the best at this stage of her career.
Not only was Paopao by far and away the top freshman from California by agreement of every national analyst and every coach queried at every certified event the caravan attended in both the spring and summer, she will be among the top players from any class and will be one of the Cream of the Crop in the girls basketball rankings being released this week.
At the July Cal State Dominguez Hills event put on by the Cal Sparks, she went head to head with 2015 State Freshman of the Year and Cal Sparks Gold star Charisma Osborne of Los Angeles Windward, and more than held her own in a 54-43 victory by her Wiggins Waves over the Sparks Gold.
Now, we will have to wait to see her in a real high school game until her sophomore season provided she heals and has quality re-habilitation.
“Doctors say if you’re going to tear an ACL its better when they’re younger because they heal stronger,” said Bamford in a wistful tone. “We were playing so well this summer and we had some great expectations.”
“These torn ACL injuries are such a big part of the girls’ game,” remarked Cal-Hi Sports co-Founder and Editor Mark Tennis when informed of the injury. “Maybe she can be like Chelsea Gray and come back and win a WNBA championship.”
Gray, the 2010 Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year from Stockton St. Mary’s, injured her knee and missed a year of college at Duke but has made a great comeback.
Bamford has a solid squad and some other talented underclass players, but without Paopao means a lot more of the scoring and overall burden will fall on Cal-committed Alaysia “Birdy” Styles.
A real disappointment is we will never get to see Paopao and Birdy as a high school 1-2 punch. They would have arguably been the best duo in California this season, and a big reason the Torreys were being considered as high as No. 3 for the preseason rankings.
La Jolla Country Day is still going to be a very solid team but will have to learn how to get used to playing without its tender-aged floor general.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend