From Distance

by March 30, 2011

by Clay Kallam

The girls want to win.

The guys? “The guys just want to show…,” said one female McDonald’s All American, “what they can do.”

That strategic pause was because the unnamed player was about to say “show off.” In other words, the young males want to strut their stuff, throw down a dunk, break an ankle and look just as spiffy as possible on national TV.

The girls? Unanimously, they just want to win.

When I told a table full of girls’ players who I was from California and I wanted the West to win, Alexyz Vaioletama (from national champ Mater Dei, and bound for USC) stuck her hand across the table for me to high-five.

That said, it may not be the prettiest game, for few all-star games are, and there will be turnovers galore and plenty of missed shots. The reason for the latter is basically the girls’ lack of familiarity with playing in big arenas like the United Center in Chicago. There’s no background for the baskets, the rims are tight (mandated by the NBA) and the lighting doesn’t make the baskets jump out from the backboard, so the most exciting part of the girls’ game — the three-point shot — will not be in evidence. Well, unless Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is shooting.

Mosqueda-Lewis, the consensus Player of the Year (also from Mater Dei of Santa Ana, CA), is a 6-foot wing with great form, quick feet and a sure touch. Up until eighth grade, though, Mosqueda-Lewis was a post.

“I was playing with 17 year olds,” she says, “and I realized I wasn’t going to be a post.”

So she went down to the gym with her dad, and starting shooting. And shooting. And shooting. And then shooting some more.

A thousand shots a day. Every day. A thousand shots … but there are a thousand shots and there are a thousand shots.

As one NBA scout said, “You have to make the repetitions at game speed, and not many kids are willing to do that.” In other words, it’s easy enough to shoot a thousand leisurely shots with someone passing you the ball, and you casually jack up three after three. It’s quite another thing to make every one of those thousand shots with perfect footwork, a high release and at the pace that a game requires.

Thanks to her dad, Mosqueda-Lewis did just that, and the results are obvious. With her size and strength, she can step back and drill a three, pull up for a jumper, or as she did during a critical moment in the California state championship game, drop a defender with a Michael Jordan pushoff (think Byron Russell), and then calmly step back to drain the three.

Most girls at this level, and most boys too, don’t take the time to work on their shot. After all, they can get to the rack whenever they want thanks to their athletic gifts — and their coaches are more than happy to let them. The coaches want to win, and so do the parents, so why have a girl miss some 15-footers to improve her skills when she can win game after meaningless AAU game by attacking the basket?

Well, she could get better by figuring out how to make jumpers in a game, but sadly, the way the system works, there’s no premium on players getting better. The reward is for winning, and so that’s what everyone focuses on.

That will be obvious in the girls’ McDonald’s game, as there will be missed layups due to the presence of many tall posts in the paint, and also, on the positive side, a desire to beat those other all-stars.

And for the record, the West has won seven of the nine previous girls’ games. Alexyz, the other 11 girls on the West roster and I are all hoping to make it eight.