Girls hoops on the rise

Girls basketball has evolved over the years from the 1980s, left, to the 1990s, center, and into 2005, with many coaches saying girls are becoming more athletic, quicker and playing more of a boys style of basketball. (CNJ illustration: Eric Kluth)

By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer

Gone are the days of two-handed set shots and 24-19 games. Now is the time of crossovers, gym rats, and the Final Four on ESPN.

There is no question — the girls game is on the rise.

Clovis boys basketball coach J.D. Isler, who coached female hoops at the high school and college levels, said the girls game has gone through a massive change in the last couple decades.

“It used to be, if you had a couple of athletic girls, you were going to be pretty competitive,” Isler said. “Now, most of the team is athletic and they’ve developed their skills. The girls start playing earlier and the game has just evolved.”

Texico girls coach Keith Durham has been coaching girls basketball for 13 years.

“It is certainly more athletic now,” Durham said. “They are playing more and more like the boys everyday.”

Durham said the girls are catching up to the boys athletically, but are already miles ahead fundamentally.

“I’ve coached better shooters with girls than with the men,” Durham said. “They are just more coachable.”

Durham sites the Olympics as proof that the fundamentals of the boys game have deteriorated.

“The players overseas are fundamentally sound,” he said. “And they beat our best pros.”

A star-studded Team USA won only bronze in the 2004 Olympics.

“I agree with John Wooden when he said, ‘If you want to see fundamental basketball, go to a girls game,’” Durham said. “It depends on what you want to see. If you know anything about basketball and you know what fundamental basketball is, you’ll like the women’s game.”

Clovis girls coach Miles Watters agrees with Wooden and Durham.

“I still feel like it’s a more traditional game,” he said. “You have to run more sets and rely on your teammates more than the guys do. I honestly like watching a good women’s game as well as anything.”

Durham said girls are less athletic naturally, but it forces them to play better basketball.

“They are fundamentally sound because they have to be fundamentally sound,” Durham said. “A Dennis Rodman can jump out of the gym and play pro, the girls can’t do that.”

With the rise of women’s college hoops and the WNBA, girls growing up today have more to work for than just making the varsity squad in high school.

“It used to be that a girl wasn’t supposed to spend hours in the gym working on (her) game,” Durham said. “It’s accepted now. The Aimee Hilburns of the world are made, not born.”

Texico junior high girls coach Glynna Martin played high school hoops in the mid 1980s for San Jon. She offers a different reason for the proliferation of girls basketball.

“I think it’s the parents,” Martin said. “I don’t know if it’s just because I’m a coach, but I know I’ve pushed Faith (her daughter) more than my parents pushed me. Faith has played since the second grade. I see that the best girls players in the area usually have very supportive parents.”

Watters has seen the girls game change first-hand over the past 27 years.

“It’s just evolved into a quick paced, muscle game. Just like the men,” Watters said. “Dan (Replogle) and I coached together at Clayton some 20-odd years ago, and the girls played just as hard then as they do now. Maybe the kids have developed a jump shot and 3-point range, but our kids have played hard everywhere we’ve coached.”

Despite the pro league, the women’s Final Four on ESPN and the improvement of the high school game, as of today, the NBA is still king.

“I don’t watch (women’s basketball) too much,” said Faith Martin, a Texico sophomore. “It’s slower and less exciting.”

Despite more prominant women role models, Watters said his players still look up to the men.

“They still like (Allen) Iverson, (Mike) Bibby and people like that,” Watters said. “They still look up to the highest form of the game, which is the men.”

He turned and asked Replogle, “Do you think they look up to the women’s players in college and the WNBA?”

“You never hear them talk about it. Never,” Replogle said.