Brandon the catalyst for GJ's fast-break offense
The system hasn’t changed. Rotate bodies in and out. Gamble some — jump the passing lanes. Fast break.
The Grand Junction High School girls basketball team is fast and tall and ready to make a run at another Southwestern League title.
Even though the Tigers lost all-state guard Jamie Derrieux, who averaged 21 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game and is now playing for the University of Northern Colorado, they return some of the area’s fastest and tallest players, and one of the top guards on the Western Slope, sophomore Sydni Brandon.
“It’s that old adage of, ‘It’s a tough climb to the top, but it’s even harder to stay there,’ ” Tigers coach Sam Provenza said. “Basically everyone’s coming to get us, so we’ll have to play harder than we have to stay at the top.’”
It’s Provenza’s 13th year as the Tigers’ head coach. And he couldn’t be having any more fun.
He gets to coach Brandon, who has grown a couple of inches from last season to 5-foot-7, and is getting stronger, while maintaining touch and displaying a unique, radar-like ability to spot players on fast breaks, in half-court sets and to out-think opponents.
“Now she’s a sophomore and she’s not just a sophomore on the basketball floor,” Provenza said. “She’s a leader on the floor. Kids don’t think of her as a sophomore. They think of her as one of us.”
Brandon is also the returning league champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.
As she showed in some preseason sprinting drills, she’s probably the fastest on the team, but not by much. Junior guard Bri Baldwin is a lock-down defender with a vapor-like burst. Junior forward and guard Elisha Jahnke also whips into passing lanes.
The list runs on.
And then you come to the Tigers’ height. Madi Marsh, at 5-10, was a high jumper in track and field. She comes off the bench.
Sarah Wilkinson is a 6-foot sophomore who often catches lobs from Brandon that come inches away from a defender’s fingers.
Same for freshman Tori Catlett, a 5-11 “great hope” inside for the Tigers.
Shafer Rubalcaba, with size and touch inside, averaged 7.2 points and 4.1 rebounds last season.
Brandon, Baldwin and Wilkinson are the returning starters from a team that went 19-5, won a league title, and lost in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs, 60-48, to Rocky Mountain.
They’re all getting used to Brandon.
“She sees players when they’re open,” Provenza said of Brandon. “Sometimes they don’t know they’re open, and she sees when they’re open. One thing we haven’t done yet is realized, ‘She’s gonna get me the ball if I’m open.’ “
They’ll learn, if only after a few turnovers.
“A lot of times,” Provenza said, “balls bounce off the sideline because they’re not quite sure they’re ready to catch it.”