Whether or not the supposed analysts, or the pundits, prognosticators and self-proclaimed experts, want to agree that California as a state produces some of the top high school girls’ basketball talent in the nation, one need only look at the rosters of the Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun, the two teams slugging it out this week in the Best-of-5 WNBA Finals.
The Aces have two starters from the Golden State, and both are two of my all-time favorites and Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year award winners, 2010 Ms. Basketball Chelsea Gray of St. Mary’s of Stockton, who went on to Duke, and 2013 honoree Kelsey Plum of La Jolla Country Day, who played in college at Washington.
The player from California on the Sun roster is another one of my all-time favorites, reserve Dijonai Carrington of San Diego Horizon Christian, who played her college ball at Stanford and Baylor.
In looking through the rosters of the Aces and the Sun, there are no others from California who are involved in the WNBA Finals. The Aces do have an assistant coach, Natalie Nakase, who was a standout in the middle of the 2000s at Marina of Huntington Beach.
The biggest story of the WNBA playoffs is Gray, who is going for a second league title after winning in 2016 as a member of the Los Angeles Sparks. The four-time all-star was snubbed as an all-star selection this season but in the playoffs it seems whenever the Aces have needed a basket, Gray has provided a bucket.
In the series-clinching game four of the semifinals against the Seattle Storm, Gray pretty much put the team on her back down the stretch. She scored 15 of her team-high 31 points in the fourth quarter, including a three-pointer that gave the Aces the lead with a minute left. On the next possession, she drove to the free-throw line, pulled up and drained a fade away in the face of a defender to ice a 97-92 victory.
In the first game of the finals against the Sun, a 67-64 victory, Gary wasn’t team high, that was two-time league MVP A’ja Wilson with 24 points, but Chelsea was right behind her with 21 points and three assists.
Plum, who is in her fourth season in the WNBA, had a somewhat quiet outing in game one of the finals after finishing with six points, four rebounds and two assists, but a player many WNBA analysts feel is developing into one of the top guards in the league has had a solid playoffs after a very productive regular season.
Plum had 15 points and four assists in the series-clinching win over Seattle, and is averaging 17.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in the playoffs after going for 20.2 points, 5.1 assists and 2.7 rebounds during the regular season.
Carrington could have been a Ms. Basketball winner but after her high school sophomore season was almost totally wiped out by a knee injury, and a junior season in 2015 where she was a Ms. Basketball finalist in a year Katie Lou Samuelson of Mater Dei (Santa Ana) and current Los Angeles Sparks star was chosen, Carrington re-injured her knee and missed the last part of her 2016 senior season. She was still was a Ms. Basketball finalist in a year current New York Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu of Orinda Miramonte won the award. Despite missing over a season’s worth of games, Carrington finished her high school career with 2,061 points before moving on to play at Stanford and then Baylor.
Carrington comes off the bench for the Sun and in the game one loss to Las Vegas she didn’t score but in 10 minutes of action she had five rebounds and two assists.
Whether or not Carrington has something to say if Connecticut is going to come back in the series is a question mark, but if the Las Vegas Aces are going to win their first WNBA crown it’s highly likely California is going to make its mark in the form of Gray and Plum.
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