Maldonado magic for Eagles

Yesenia Maldonado watched the DVD her coach let her borrow last year.

The disc chronicles what might be called a magical time in Los Angeles sports history, albeit a time before the Estancia High senior was even born.

It all started with the 6-foot-9 point guard who's the subject of "Magic Johnson — Always Showtime." He was the best player for the Los Angeles Lakers in that "Showtime" era, leading them to five titles in the 1980s.

"I never realized how tall Magic was," Maldonado said. "I watched it and I saw all those crazy passes, but I saw how much a tall point guard can do. You can rebound, can shoot, can get steals, not just bring up the ball. It did inspire me."

Eagles Co-Coach Xavier Castellano wore out the same "Always Showtime" VHS cassette tape when his father, Miguel, gave it to him as a child. He said he gave her the DVD because he wanted Maldonado, the Eagles' tallest player at 5-11, to understand those advantages that come with her size.

Castellano, 30, was and is a die-hard Lakers fan. Yesenia Maldonado, not so much.

"I really don't have a favorite team in the NBA," she said before noting that she loves Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, a no-no to any fan of the purple and gold.

Yet the love for Rondo, perhaps the best pure point guard in the league, says plenty. Maldonado has come a long way in her two years as a point guard for the Eagles.

The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week averaged 11.5 points, five rebounds, 5.7 assists and 3.2 steals in the Orange Coast League this year for Estancia. The league leader in assists has stepped up for Estancia, which finished a perfect 10-0 in league to claim its first league crown in eight years.

Thursday's victory over CdM in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division IV-A playoffs was also the Eagles' first playoff win since 2003. No. 12-seeded Estancia plays at No. 5 Duarte in the second round Saturday night. Whatever happens, Maldonado can be proud of this season.

Two years ago, you couldn't have told her she'd play point guard. But with Erika Soto suffering season-ending knee injuries each time, Maldonado took the reins, the first time in a CIF playoff game against JSerra in 2009.

Initially, she found it hard to both get her teammates the ball and be an offensive threat. On the team, she's known just as 'Y,' but she probably was just wondering why she was at the "one" spot.

"When I first started, it was horrible," she said. "They would trap me, and I'd be like, 'What am I doing? Where's my backup?' I had so many questions, and I was so focused on passing the ball that I forgot how to shoot.

"My three-point shot was gone. I'd be wide open, and I wouldn't shoot it."

Castellano still saw the potential. He said he expects a lot from Maldonado, a team captain who has continued to improve throughout her high school years after making varsity as a freshman. It makes sense; Castellano was a point guard off the bench at Estancia before graduating in 1998.

"She probably thinks I'm being mean, but she runs the team as a point guard," he said. "You're only as good as your point guard. It's the hardest position and the most important position on the team. I told her, 'You're going to have to lead us,' and she took on the responsibility."

Maldonado is all about taking responsibility. She plays at the top of the Eagles' press, yet still comes in to get rebounds. She's the second-leading scorer on the team, behind fellow senior Kassie Stratton and just ahead of freshman Celia Duran after upping her scoring average from December by nearly two points.

One of the best games came in the last one of the regular season, when Maldonado had 17 points, 10 rebounds and six steals in a 51-46 victory at Costa Mesa.

Maldonado works hard on her game and she's had to as a relative late bloomer, starting in fifth grade at Wilson Elementary but taking nearly three years off before coming to Estancia. She played club last summer with Stratton on the Newport Lightning.

Sometimes, she said she'll come to the gym on weekends to shoot with her older sister. Olivia was a junior on that 2003 team and now works at Estancia as a bilingual aide.

"She was really stoked, knowing that we went undefeated [in league]," Yesenia Maldonado said. "She's like my No. 1 fan."

Then, there are the things that aren't on the stat sheet. Castellano said Maldonado was one of the senior girls who immediately accepted Duran, who was put in a tough spot joining a team with five prominent seniors who had been on varsity for at least three years.

That leadership could serve her well at the next level. Maldonado said there's a good chance she'll play at Orange Coast College next season, maybe joining Costa Mesa High senior forward Annie Sturm there.

Maldonado might miss Castellano yelling at her. She'll definitely miss the fist-bumps with the other co-coach, Judd Fryslie, before the game.

"He doesn't have to say anything," she said. "It feels like he's telling me, 'Show me what you got.' "

As a Celtics fan Fryslie approves of his player's point guard of choice, but she's coming around. After all, she still has that DVD.

"I like Magic now, too," she said.

After the jump ball starts the game, it's Showtime for Maldonado and the Eagles.


Yesenia Maldonado

Born: Feb. 3, 1993

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 5-foot-11

Sport: Basketball

Coaches: Xavier Castellano and Judd Fryslie

Favorite food: Mexican food

Favorite movie: "Avatar"

Favorite athletic moment: Beating rival Costa Mesa, 61-34, in a first-place showdown Jan. 25.

Week in review: Maldonado had 17 points, 10 rebounds and six steals in a 51-46 win at Costa Mesa on Feb. 9, helping Estancia finish 10-0 in league.

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