Don’t call Rishonda Napier a freshman. The word often congers up images of an athlete who is inexperienced, maybe naive and even a little wet behind the ears.
Although she is in her first season with the Bellarmine- Jefferson High girls’ basketball team, Napier is anything but a typical freshman.
“I don’t even consider myself a freshman,” said Napier, a 5-foot-6 point guard. “I like to call myself a ninth-grader instead.”
Although she admits she gets butterflies before every game, Napier has proven to have nerves of steel this season for the Guards. Her pin-point shooting, torrid defense and solid hall-handling abilities have made her a starter.
The play of Napier is one of the reasons Bell-Jeff has advanced to the regional finals of the CIF State Basketball Division V Championships.
She also played an integral part in helping the Guards win the CIF Southern Section Division VA championship and a Santa Fe League crown.
Napier’s exploits this season haven’t been lost on Bell-Jeff Coach Bryan Camacho
“Rishonda brings a winning attitude to our team,” Camacho said. “She is a winner in the classroom, she’s a straight-A student, and she’s a two-time national champion. She just knows how to win.
“Another great thing about her is she loves to compete. She has a quiet confidence about her and she’s a great student of the game.”
Napier proved her worth Thursday in a second-round game in the state championship. Although she was knocked out of the game for a period of time with an injured knee, she came back to help spark the Guards to a 66-59 victory against Fresno Christian.
Napier paced the Guards with 21 points — including three three-pointers — and added five steals.
“I like to consider myself a big-time player,” she said. “Whenever there’s a big game, I always want to try and do my best. I just want to give the best effort in every game.”
Napier began playing basketball at age 8. Once she got her first taste of the game, she knew what was going to dominate the rest of her life.
She has gone on to win two national championships with her travel-ball team.
“I sleep with my basketball at night. That’s how much basketball means to me,” she said. “I just love the game so much; it’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
In her first season, Napier is averaging more than 15 points a game. She has proven to be tough to guard by opponents because of her versatility. Not only can she drain the three-pointer, but she is fearless around the basket, and doesn’t think twice about driving against much-taller players.
“She just has so much confidence,” Camacho said. “She is great with the ball, she can take it inside when she wants and she also has one of the best mid-range shots. She really can do it all.”
Napier said along with the talent on the team this season, with players like Shelley and Margeaux Gupilan, Julia Tani, Elizabeth Hawthorne and fellow freshman Jasmine Smith, the Guards have something else in their favor.
She said the squad is very tight and they love and respect one another.
“I don’t even consider these girls my teammates, they’re more like my sisters,” she said. “They are like my family. Everybody loves each other and everybody’s happy for each other. It’s just awesome.”
With Napier and her team one win away from playing for a state title, the focus is bringing hope the city’s first California championship.
“Winning would be so important, not just for me but for the school and our seniors. I would like to win it for them, they deserve it.”
Add modesty and selflessness to the qualities Napier possesses. Pretty advanced for a freshman.