West Coast, West Up
POMONA, Calif. -- These in many ways seem like the after-the-Gold-Rush days in Southern California. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and a boatload of talent are graduating at two-time, national No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.). Esteemed coach Jeff Sink left Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.). And a treasure trove of players who have dominated the club scene and prospect rankings for so many years are migrating to the college ranks.
The next immediate generation of stars is emerging from places like Texas, Georgia and, shoot, even the state of Oregon.
Not that the old reliable Golden State is finished pumping out great players and prospects. It's just that they'll have to wear nametags for a while during this new age of discovery.
Which leads us to Alexas Williamson and Candice Agee, a couple of Southern Californians you may not have heard much about, but are about to. Thanks to those two, West Coast Premier played the inhospitable host on Sunday, winning its own tournament by taking down Cal Storm Taurasi 49-38 in the championship game.
Lest anyone think WCP concocted a paper-tiger, gimme-win of a tournament, its event quickly has become the place to congregate, outside the evaluation periods, for all the latest and greatest in California, across sneaker or any other affiliation. The talent level of the field is further swelled by invading national powers such as Boo Williams Summer League from Virginia, DFW Elite from Texas, Essence from Florida, GSB from Arizona and the Utah Flight.
It was into this kind of whirlwind that Agee and Williamson went, unblinking. It wasn't so much their overall dominance that undid the Storm. It was their impeccable timing.
To wit, with the two teams locked in mortal, defensive combat, Williamson bounded off the West Coast bench and drilled three straight 3-pointers during a 1-minute, 8-second period that provoked a 14-2, first-half WCP maelstrom. Later, with the Storm still nursing hopes of a comeback, Williamson landed another dagger from behind the arc, this time with 3:09 to play.
"I came in looking to change the game," said Williamson, a 5-foot-9 junior guard from Chino Hills, Calif., who was accustomed to being overlooked in the star-studded Mater Dei lineup. "I was just in a rhythm."
Agee hadn't been. The 6-6 post, already committed to Penn State, had injured her left hand during West Coast's 53-43 victory over GSB in the semifinals. The hand ached so much, Agee said, "it was like it had a heartbeat of its own."
That was untimely. Though the Storm was without Aly Beebe, the No. 6 prospect in the 2012 class who'd tweaked her right knee earlier in the day, its strength still is its stout front line, one good enough to subdue Boo Williams in the semis. Kendall Cooper is an emerging 2013 giant and Oderah Chidom, another 2013 post, was turning the tournament into a personal coming-out party, ending it with 17 points in the finale.
West Coast Premier, guard-dominated to start out with, probably wouldn't have stood a chance without some kind of inside contribution. And this, Agee understood clearly. Putting the pain aside, she worked the offensive glass mightily for back-to-back follow baskets near the start of the second half. Those, plus her inside defensive deterrence, put the Storm on its heels.
Agee had toiled in the WCP program for a year before landing a spot on its elite squad, so this kind of breakthrough was gratifying.
"I'm really proud to get to the top team," Agee said. "It's a challenge, but not anything I can't handle."
A new era has dawned in SoCal and its poster team, for now, is West Coast Premier. It has individual brilliance in Jordan Adams, the No. 5 prospect in 2012, who, for all her unique mix of size and skill set, shines brightest as a facilitator. Which is perfect for a gritty, mostly anonymous team that wants to goad its opponents into an uncomfortable street fight, make them reel with defense and put them out with well-timed haymakers from unexpected sources.
"If we're in that kind of (chaotic) game, I expect us to win," coach Brian Crichlow. "We're physical. We have tough kids. We have prideful kids. We have a couple kids who will just run through a wall for you, and that makes everybody else play harder."
In other words, in girls' basketball, Southern California is probably going to be ruled for a while more by the blue collars than the blue bloods.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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