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Well-Rounded Shimoyama Fits In at North Hollywood

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Twice a week, Suzi Shimoyama of North Hollywood High shows up late for practice with the full approval of Coach Rich Allen. That might be unusual for many players, but Shimoyama is someone who takes her education as seriously as her basketball.

While her North Hollywood teammates are busy at practice, Shimoyama, who carries a 4.0 grade-point average, is starting on her college degree, taking classes at UCLA.

On the court last season, Shimoyama averaged five steals, seven assists and 14 points a game for a North Hollywood team that posted a 23-5 record and reached the City Section 4-A Division final. This season the senior point guard is expected to carry more of the scoring load because of the graduation of high school All-American Jacinda Sweet, who now plays at Arizona.

But basketball is not what drew Shimoyama to North Hollywood, despite rumors to the contrary.

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“People have the misconception that I transferred because of basketball,” Shimoyama said. “But my education comes first. I wouldn’t have come to North Hollywood if it wasn’t for the gifted program. It was an added plus that they also had a good girls’ basketball program.”

Shimoyama, of Japanese and Irish descent, was adopted by second-generation Japanese-American parents and has grown up in Northridge in an environment geared heavily toward education. Her father, Minoru Shimoyama, is a junior high school teacher. Her mother Emi teaches in an elementary school.

Suzi, who lives in the Granada Hills High attendance area, excelled as part of a gifted-students program in junior high school.

She attended Louisville High, a private school in Woodland Hills, as a freshman and started on the basketball team but transferred to North Hollywood as a sophomore when the school opened its magnet program for highly gifted students.

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Allen’s commitment to academics, as well as athletics, complements Shimoyama’s priorities. North Hollywood players are required to attend a two-hour study hall each day, complete with tutors, before beginning their two-hour basketball practice.

Shimoyama has adapted well to life at North Hollywood. Besides excelling in the classroom and on the court, she was named homecoming queen during the fall.

“Suzi is everything you would want an All-American girl to be,” said Len Locher, who coached Shimoyama for four years with the Ventura-Santa Barbara Sharks club team. “I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like Suzi.”

Unless, perhaps, it is an opponent on a team that loses to Shimoyama and North Hollywood.

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Led by the three-year starter, North Hollywood is regarded as a favorite for the City 4-A title. Shimoyama learned her first basketball lessons as a youngster, sitting in the stands at Pauley Pavilion where her family had season tickets to UCLA games.

“I started learning fundamentals right from the start,” Shimoyama said.

As studious on the court as in the classroom, Shimoyama (5-foot-9) has developed into the consummate high school point guard. She keys the Huskies’ full-court, trapping defense and, on offense, her leadership and passing skills improve the players around her.

“I’ve never coached a girl who has the knowledge of the game that Suzi has,” Allen said.

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When Shimoyama started playing basketball in a youth league as a fourth-grader, she did not expect to take her skills so far. “The first year, I couldn’t even make a free throw,” she said.

But by the time Shimoyama reached the sixth grade, she had decided that she wanted to play basketball in college. That goal became a reality when she signed a letter of intent Nov. 13 to play at Cal next year. She hopes to accomplish another goal at Cal, majoring in premed, or biology, with her sights set on becoming a doctor.

“She is one of those players who just keeps on improving,” said Cal Coach Gooch Foster, who has had her eye on Shimoyama for three years. “The thing we like about her is her leadership ability and the fact she is absolutely a top-notch student.”

TEAMS TO WATCH

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Alemany: The combination of old and new make the Indians not only a Southern Section title threat but a state Division I title contender. “You always set state as a goal, but realistically it’s an attainable goal for us,” eighth-year Coach Melissa Melton said.

The Indians (19-8 last season) have more depth than at any time during Melton’s tenure, along with tremendous quickness and improved shooting. Sarah Guziel, a 6-2 senior center who was an All-Southern Section selection last season, keys the attack along with 5-5 senior guard Rachel Corelli, an All-Southern Section player two seasons ago. A pair of six-foot juniors, Barbara Ward and Zevette Mitchell, provide more punch inside. Freshmen Samantha Wrigley (5-9) and Kelly McKay (5-8) can play either point guard or the wing.

Buena: Despite having just one returning starter--6-foot sophomore Michelle Giordano--from last year’s Southern Section Division 1-A runner-up, the Bulldogs (25-4) should be able to reload with some tall and talented youngsters.

April Buck, a 6-3 junior, and Julie Hardy, a 6-0 junior, team with Giordano to give Buena an impressive front line. The biggest concern for veteran Coach Joe Vaughan will be the development of the backcourt, with 5-4 junior Amanda Falls expected to fill a big role.

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North Hollywood: With the graduation of Sweet, Shimoyama is one of several players expected to give North Hollywood a more balanced attack.

Two seniors besides Shimoyama return: 5-10 post player Karma Goodman and wing Keke Lewis. Tricia Cosby, a vastly improved junior, gives North Hollywood a six-footer in the middle, and Nikki Hamilton is a solid junior on the wing. Sophomore Darvena Merritt is probably the Huskies’ best athlete and also will play at the wing.

Palmdale: A year of maturity could make a big difference for the talent-laden Falcons as they compete for the Southern Section I-AA title. Coach George Corisis has four starters, including preseason All-American point guard Kim Schielke (5-10), and six lettermen back from a squad that was 24-6 and won its third consecutive Golden League title.

Joining Schielke will be another athletic junior guard, 5-10 Latisha Brown. Amee Grimes, a 6-1 senior center, gives Palmdale a tough scorer inside. Grimes also gets the fast break rolling with outstanding outlet passes. Issia Lincoln, a 6-3 sophomore, should help Grimes in the middle, and 5-6 junior wing Dee Wyre is Palmdale’s best outside scoring threat.

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Thousand Oaks: Coach Chuck Brown underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery to correct a blockage problem Nov. 8, but he is already back on the sidelines. His health probably was improved when the multitalented Marion Jones, a 5-11 senior forward and returning All-Ventura County selection, transfered from Rio Mesa to Thousand Oaks two weeks ago. Jones averaged 25 points last season.

The Lancers were 28-4 last season and won the Southern Section I-A title. Senior point guard Michelle Palmisano, last season’s Ventura County player of the year, and three other starters return. The 5-10 Palmisano averaged 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals last year.

Defensive stopper Sasha Scardino, a 5-10 senior and returning All-Ventura County choice, gives Thousand Oaks another standout at forward. Juniors Samantha Clarke and Melissa Wood are back in the wing positions. The Lancers have tremendous depth with Nicole Orr, Lori Sherman, Alissa Corey and Lisa Gillette returning in reserve roles.

Ventura: The Cougars, led by the play of graduated All-Ventura County forward Cori Herman, were runner-ups for the Southern Section II-AA title last season. This season, Ventura (25-4) will build around one of the area’s best athletes, 5-7 senior Wendy Ward, and an All-Ventura County pick, 5-9 senior Denise Rea.

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Coach Glenn Gray has a good shooting squad, with 5-8 junior Becky Hantgin an outside threat and 6-1 sophomore Jesaca Lepper a solid post threat. Ventura also should be helped by outstanding 5-8 freshman Amber Brown.

Westlake: Coach Nancy Bowman hopes to find a balance between experience and youth as the Warriors seek to improve on last year’s 20-7 season. Lauren Goldstine, a six-footer who averaged 17 points and nearly 14 rebounds last season, has signed a letter of intent to play for UC Santa Barbara.

The Warriors also have Marlee Orgon, a 5-7 junior, and Shannon Sincock, a 5-10 sophomore, back as starters. Talented newcomers Pam Drucker, a 5-4 sophomore guard, and Katie Spaydle, a 5-10 freshman, also should help.


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