Before she went down with a knee injury last fall, La Jolla Country Day incoming phenomenal sophomore Te-Hina Paopao was poised to have what many analysts believed would be a phenomenal freshman season.
Instead, Paopao rehabbed and although at only around 50-60-percent she actually made a return for the final four games of the season with the Torreys and Paopao bowing out in the second round of the CIF Southern Regional Division I playoffs to eventual state champion Windward of Los Angeles.
The point guard standout was invited to the USA U16 trials in late May and out of 133 girls that started competition for the final 12 spots on the team Paopao was the only California girl from the Class of 2020 to make the final 37 and next to last cut.
A few of the analysts and coaches at the trials we talked to felt Paopao should have at least made the final 18 despite the fact she was still at less than 75 percent.
While in San Diego for the 31st Annual San Diego Classic won by Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) but without La Jolla Country Day in the field for the first time in a long time, the Caravan stopped at Country Day between games to see Paopao at practice with her Torreys teammates.
The reason Country Day Coach Terri Bamford said she decided not to play in the Classic was because she knew her girls would be coming off a seven-game event at UCLA, and to play another six games before heading off as Wiggins Waves for the first half of the NCAA viewing period was just too many games in a short period of time for not only Paopao but everyone else.
During our visit, Paopao was having fun at practice with the various shooting drills Bamford puts the team through. The brace on her knee didn’t seem to hinder her movement or elevation at all even though she’s still not at full strength.
“I’ve gotten used to it now,” said Paopao about the brace at a break in practice.
“The progression she has made is amazing,” Bamford remarked. “Even at only about 80 percent right now she is dominating the game.”
One has to wonder. Had Paopao been at close to 100 percent would she have made the USA U16 team?
“If I was 100 percent I think I would have made it easily,” Paopao said.
Even so, Paopao recognizes her limits physically and some of the other criteria the USA selection committee uses to pick the team that go beyond physical and basketball skills.
“I’m only nine months since the injury and I still have limitations like with lateral movement,” Paopao said.
“I have areas to work on too,” Paopao continued. “I need to work on defense a lot more, and leadership skills, being more vocal. I feel I need to be that leader and guide the team all the way to state.”
First, it’s the viewing period where Paopao can re-impress the college coaches that raved about her last summer before the injury.
The Wiggins Waves open the viewing period this week at the Run for the Roses in Louisville, Kentucky.
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