Early ACL injuries kept the Oregon commit out of the limelight, but this season she’s reminding the entire country who she is.
The Oregon Ducks have been one of the top basketball teams in the country for the past couple of years. When you’re that good, you tend to have a little bit of an advantage when it comes to recruiting.
The Ducks have one of the top recruiting classes in the nation coming in next season that includes Sydney Parrish, Kylee Watson, Maddie Scherr, and Angela Dugalic.
But there’s one player who to this point, has sort of flown under the radar a little bit. That would be
of La Jolla Country Day in San Diego, CA. Part of the reason she may have been out of the spotlight for a while was because of the two ACL injuries she suffered early in her high school career.
That didn’t stop Oregon head coach Kelly Graves from extending her an offer. She was able to make a full recovery and return to the court. What is one person’s loss can be another person’s gain, and Graves is certainly glad to have her.
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“I think she flew under the radar because of her injuries, and now people are starting to stand up and take notice,” Graves said. “That kid can go. She’s really humble, a hard worker, team first, she’s really the whole package. We’re going to be loaded again at guard.”
During her recruitment, Paopao took only one official visit, and that was to Oregon. She had taken a few unofficial visits to schools like Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, San Diego, and San Diego State before that.
She announced her commitment to Oregon in early May, not too long after her visit to campus. For her, it was an easy decision to join the Ducks. She saw some similarities between their system and what she’s used to in high school.
“It was definitely the coaching staff that reeled me into that culture and that community that I wanted to be in,” Paopao told High Post Hoops. “I love their style of play and it matches the playing style we have here at Country Day so I’m really excited to be going up there.”
It’s been a long road to recovery for Paopao, but one that has seen her emerge stronger than before and develop into a complete player on the court. She’s become a true floor general and the motor that makes La Jolla Country Day go.
She’s a versatile defender capable of switching off between guards on the perimeter and bigs in the paint. During a win over Roosevelt Eastvale at the Mark Keppel Tournament over Thanksgiving, Paopao spent a considerable amount of time guarding Cal commit Michelle Oniyah in the post.
Offensively, she is capable of putting up points in a hurry with an array of offensive moves from attacking to the rim and finishing strong, to stepping into a pull-up jumper, to stopping and popping from the three-point line. She credits the adversity she went through while recovering from her ACL injuries with helping shape her into the player she is today.
“I think I’ve grown a lot. Tearing two ACLs my first two years of high school really taught me about perseverance and working through the grind and all that. But I’m just really blessed to be here,” Paopao said. “It was really tough, but I had a great support system behind me. It made it an easier process, but it was still hard at the same time.”
La Jolla Country Day head coach Terri Bamford has been along for the ride since day one, and she’s seen the tremendous work and dedication that Paopao has put into her game. She was there with her during the injuries, and she’s been her coach in the offseason with the AAU team San Diego Waves.
To her, Paopao has matured and grown into a coach’s dream player. She remembers how explosive Paopao looked in middle school before tearing her ACLs, and she sees all of that returning with no lasting effects.
“When she was in the eighth grade, she was a phenom. I see all her speed coming back, her IQ for the game,” Bamford told High Post Hoops. “She talks on defense, she’s everything that anyone would want to coach and an unbelievable player to coach, she’s a great leader.”
Bamford has coached some pretty highly-regarded players in the past including Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum, former WNBA player Candice Wiggins, and twins Maya and Malina Hood, both college stars, among others.
In total, she’s had 26 players go on to play college basketball at the Division 1 level. But she glows when speaking about Paopao.
“She knows how to win and doesn’t get rattled. She’s willing to do whatever we need. If we need her to guard a big, she can do it. If we need to guard the quickest point guard on the court, she can guard them,” Bamford said. “If her shot’s not falling, she just does everything, the hustle, the rebounding, everything she can to get herself going again.”
It’s that ability to do whatever is necessary to win that Paopao is hoping she can bring to Eugene next season. The Ducks will be losing seniors Sabrina Ionescu and Minyon Moore, and it’s possible they could lose Satou Sabally as well who is eligible to declare for the WNBA draft.
That would be three starters and guards that the Ducks are losing, seemingly allowing Paopao an opportunity to play minutes right away as a freshman. She’s capable of playing both guard positions and she does as well off the ball as she does with the ball in her hands.
Her basketball smarts are the main thing she believes can help Oregon once she gets there.
“Definitely my IQ of the game, it’s been improving every year,” Paopao said. “And my tempo on both defense and offense. But I will contribute any way I can.”
Graves for one, can’t wait until Paopao sets foot on campus. Even with the possibility of losing the trio of Ionescu, Sabally, and Moore, Oregon will still have talent at the guard positions with returners Jaz Shelly, Holly Winterburn, and Taylor Chavez, as well as the incoming recruits.
Even so, Graves has envisioned the ways in which Paopao will be able to contribute as soon as she steps foot on the court. He views her as one of the most complete players he’ll have on his roster.
“I think she’s one of those kids who can really fill up a stat sheet. She’s a good rebounder for a guard, she’s got great vision, really understands the game and can shoot it,” Graves said. “She can score at different levels, deep threes, mid-range she’s solid. She’s good getting to the rim. She’s got a high basketball IQ and a high motor.”
For now, though, Paopao is focusing on this season at La Jolla Country Day. The Torreys have gotten off to a great start this season. They’re undefeated so far and have some big tournament wins at Mark Keppel, the Sweet 16 Invitational, and most recently the Nike Tournament of Champions where they edged out reigning California Open Division state champs Sierra Canyon.
When it’s all said and done, Paopao is hoping that it’s the Torreys who will hoist a state title.
“I definitely want to win a lot of games and win CIF,” Paopao said. “That’s been a big thing, a big part of the program, to possibly win state with this team.”
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