By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
A team with plenty of local talent is helping put New Mexico on the girls basketball map.
Four area players are set to leave today for the first of three tournaments as part of the New Mexico/Texas Heat.
The Heat is a collection of players from across the two states competing in the Amateur Athletic Union’s Elite division. Coach Robert L. Sanchez said the level is not age-specific, and focuses more on talent level.
Of the 11 players listed on the Heat roster, just five of them will be seniors in the 2010-11 high school year.
“That’s really a trend in girls basketball,” Sanchez said. “Even if they’re young, if they’re talented enough to play on the elite level, you get them on there.”
Three of the girls — Shaylee Anderson and sisters Jaylyn and Jordyn Cooper — are from Texico, and eighth-grader-to-be Danni Williams is from Clovis.
Sanchez said the tournaments — one in Oregon City, Oregon, another in Seattle and a third in Nashville — are opportunities for players to get looks from college programs.
He notes that former Heat member Antiesha Brown of Clovis has committed to Texas Tech, and she’ll be joined in a year by current Heat member Amber Battle of Cibola High.
Sanchez said Battle’s action in July will be limited, as he’s trying to give players who haven’t made a college choice a chance at exposure.
The Heat’s area players should get some looks.
“They bring a lot of size,” Sanchez said of the Cooper twins, both 5-10 and both about to start their junior seasons at Texico. “Their shooting ability is really underrated, and that’s really going to show this summer. Their ability to shoot the long ball is very impressive. Defensively, they’re very smart. They bring intensity to the floor. These girls work hard.”
Shaylee Anderson, who will be a sophomore, is the one Sanchez calls, “the most underrated post player in the state of New Mexico,” and said Anderson should be able to play any of the three frontcourt positions.
The trio gives Texico, winners of three of the last four Class 2A titles, optimism for the next few seasons, even as the Wolverines suffered heavy graduation losses. Texico coach Keith Durham said it’s a comfort to know his players are taking personal steps to improve during the offseason.
“I tell the girls as long as they’re in the gym,” Durham said, “they’re going to get better.”
Williams, the youngest player on the team by two years, might be physically overmatched at the Elite level for the moment, Sanchez said. But if the 5-foot-7 lefty guard gets to 6-foot-1 — which he thinks is possible, since her brother and father are both 6-foot-4 and taller — her ballhandling and shooting will be a touch matchup.
“Danni Williams is a young player whose upside is as high as I’ve ever coached,” Sanchez said. “It will be interesting to see if her shooting ability will continue to improve.”
The Heat are playing in a Monday exhibition at Oregon State University against North Cal Elites, then play in the End of the Trails Tournament Tuesday through Friday. The team is in Seattle from Saturday to Tuesday for the MidSummer Nights’ Madness Nationals, then takes a week off before the Music City Madness tournament in Nashville July 21-25.
Although the team is young, Sanchez has high hopes.
“ I think our shooting and our basketball intelligence is high,” he said. “This may be the smartest team I’ve ever coached, and I’ve coached some good teams.”