Things have always come easily for Michaela Ross. In the case of her chosen sport, perhaps a bit too easily.
The speed and jumping ability that made Ross an outstanding track and field performer transferred nicely to basketball, and though her skills were then undeveloped, she made the Newport Harbor girls' varsity team as a freshman.
Three years later, Ross is the Sailors' captain and one of the best players in Orange County, an athlete being wooed by a number of universities.
But Newport Harbor Coach Shannon Jakosky wonders how Ross, a 5-foot-10 forward/center, might have developed if she had to work harder to win and keep her starting spot. And Ross doesn't think she puts in enough work to be as good a player as she wants to be.
"The line between being good and being great is how much you practice, and I still have to cross that line," Ross said.
Don't be fooled into believing Ross is a slacker. Far from it. But a variety of activities have prevented her from being completely dedicated to basketball.
School work is the most obvious and Ross' 4.0 grade-point is testament to the time she dedicates to her studies. Then there was track and field, in which she was a standout sprinter, hurdler, long and high jumper and the Newport Harbor girls' MVP as a freshman, sophomore and junior. She also played a couple seasons with the junior varsity volleyball team and was a member of the tall flag team with the school's band.
Sounds like a well-rounded high school experience.
But somewhere along the line, Ross became determined to earn a scholarship to play basketball and with that in mind, decided her game needed an upgrade.
Not that the Sailors were complaining. Jakosky says Ross is one of the few high school girls who can pull up for a jump shot from a full sprint. Last season as a junior, Ross averaged 17.5 points in leading Newport Harbor to the semifinals of the Southern Section Division III-AA playoffs, before losing to eventual champion Brea-Olinda, 63-50. Ross was a first-team All-Sea View League and All-Division III selection.
Yet during the off-season--after surgery on a track-related ankle injury--Ross sought to further refine her skills. She hired Tim O'Brien, the Orange Coast College men's coach, to give her a few lessons.
O'Brien, who coached the boys' team at Estancia for five years but had no experience coaching girls, said he was impressed with Ross' skills despite his preconceptions about female basketball players.
"I thought she would be someone who could do a whole lot of nothing, but she was very skilled," O'Brien said.
"She's gotten a lot of good coaching from her high school coach. I really got a polished player, I thought, for that stage of her career. This was an extra effort to do something on her own and that shows a lot. It's the difference from one level and the next."
That is the step up Ross is striving for, but it might be a bit late. She wanted to play for Stanford, which won the NCAA Division I championship last season, but she is being pursued mostly by the second-tier Division I programs such as Pepperdine, Nevada Las Vegas, UC Irvine, Cal State Northridge and Hawaii, and by Cal Poly Pomona, the top Division II program.
That could change, depending on how Ross' senior season goes. At Newport Harbor, she is surrounded by a talented group that is expected to challenge for the Sea View League title and a sectional championship. So Ross can help herself while helping her team.
"We know that we can be unstoppable when we are together," Ross said. "We want to get to the Bren Center for the CIF final because we know we can."
1991-92 in Review
Team League Overall Tustin 8-2 21-9 University 7-3 16-9 Newport Harbor 7-3 17-9 Woodbridge 6-4 20-8 Corona del Mar 2-8 7-17 Saddleback 0-10 1-15
League MVPs--Christine Garner (Tustin) and Shari Needham (Tustin).