As in fishing, basketball is rife with stories about "the one that got away." This is a story about two who got away.
The first half of the two is Washington. Back in the 7th grade, Mendiola was the only girl playing on a National Junior Basketball (NJB) boys team when she was spotted by a girls club team coach in Southern California.
The fact that Mendiola was playing with boys wasn't, for her and her older sister Gionconda, much out of the ordinary. They'd grown up playing basketball with their five brothers, after all.
"We figured if we could play with them," the older Mendiola, Gioconda, explained, "we could play against any girls."
That's not what Giuliana Mendiola's first girls club team coach thought, however. When Gioconda Mendiola decided to play club ball, she and her younger sister of course wanted to play on the same team. They'd already decided that they would play on the same teams together up to and including college.
The club coach wanted the younger team kept intact, however, and forbade Giuliana Mendiola from playing up in age. So the sisters found a team – a prominent one called Swish – that would allow them to play together. In 1997 they led Swish to the Youth Basketball of America (YBOA) national championship.
That triumph, the sisters agree, put them on the recruiting map. The same with several teammates, four of whom also play collegiate basketball.
"We developed strong bonds with our teammates," Giuliana Mendiola said. "We still keep in touch with a lot of them."
At El Toro High School (Lake Forest, Calif.), Gioconda Mendiola would lead Orange County in assists. Giuliana Mendiola would blossom into the fourth all-time leading prep scorer in California state history. They went of course as a sort of package deal to Washington, Gioconda a year before Giuliana.
They give a huge assist to their select basketball experience. The travel, mainly, they said, prepared them for the rigors of college basketball. Not only did they journey to Florida for the YBOA nationals, the Mendiolas went with Swish to play in places such as Las Vegas and even Seattle, for the big Midsummer Night's Madness viewing tournament.
"When you can travel the world just for basketball, that's exciting," Gio Mendiola said.
The most exciting part of their club experience was playing together. "That was the best part," the sisters said simultaneously. Basketball runs in their blood, after all. Their brothers weren't the only other hoopsters in the family; their mother, Alicia, played guard on a Peruvian national championship team.
All making the family ties a huge, overlooked fact that was one Southern California club coach's loss and another's gain.
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|Glenn Nelson is the co-founder and former head coach of the Dragons AAU girls basketball team in Seattle and will coach the Triple Threat 87s traveling team. Glenn also is the founder and operator of the popular girls basketball Web site, www.HoopGurlz.com.|
A native of Seattle, Glenn was a national-award-winning basketball writer and columnist for The Seattle Times for nearly two decades and has been published in books and various national magazines. He currently is the Managing Editor of TheInsiders.com (www.TheInsiders.com), an online sports network.