Dalayna Sampton and Jasmine Redmon had no idea how much basketball would influence their lives as raw but determined middle-schoolers playing for a season on the same Natomas-based AAU team.
“We were close back then and had a good time,” said Redmon, now a 5-foot-8 senior point guard at Monterey Trail High. “But trust me, as players we have come a long way since then.”
Always tall for her age, Sampton – now 6-foot-2 – remembers her dislike of having to play near the basket.
“I was head and shoulders taller than everyone growing up, so my coaches would always throw me in the middle,” said Sampton, now a senior center at Florin. “Tall kids get to rebound, smaller kids get to dribble, but I wanted to be the point guard sometimes.”
In her younger days, Redmon preferred any position but the point, often the team’s key leadership role.
“I really didn’t like it at first,” Redmon said. “I always felt it was too much pressure, too much responsibility. Now I realize how much it’s helped me be a leader.”
Although Sampton and Redmon went their separate ways after that season and enrolled at neighboring high schools in the Elk Grove Unified School District, they will soon be reunited as teammates after blossoming as athletes.
Both are headed to Hawaii in the fall on basketball scholarships.
Their friendship has been re-ignited, which is only fitting since the two players have so much in common – in personality and interests – and each has helped turn their respective high school girls’ basketball teams into winning ones.
Florin hadn’t had a winning season in years, including a winless 2008-09 squad. Since Sampton’s arrival, Florin has had three successive 20-win seasons and appears en route to a fourth. The Panthers reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship game at Sleep Train Arena last season, their first title appearance since back-to-back runner-up finishes in 1996 and 1997.
This year, No. 9 Florin is 13-7 and in third place in the Metro Conference behind Bee top-ranked McClatchy and No. 2 Sacramento. Sampton is averaging 17.5 points and 14.9 rebounds – third best in the section – as the Panthers’ four-year captain.
“She’s a phenomenal kid,” said Florin coach Larry Price, the reigning Bee Coach of the Year. “She’s got a strong inside game, a good outside game and she can handle the ball. She sets the tone on and off the court by working hard in practice and in the classroom.”
Sampton is proud of what she and her teammates have helped build at Florin.
“When I first came here, I could see the potential for the girls basketball program,” Sampton said. “Now I think we’re starting to make a breakthrough in other sports. Our boys’ soccer team just won league. I’m not going to say it’s all because of us, but we’ve had a spark.”
Sampton maintains a 4.18 grade-point average and finds time to peer-tutor teammates and classmates in algebra.
“I like to help out as much as I can,” Sampton said. “I feel fortunate that my parents installed a love of school in me.”
Redmon also has a love for math – she’s looking at engineering as a potential career – and found a challenging school environment at Monterey Trail after she moved to Elk Grove after her freshman year at Center High School.
Before Redmon arrived, Monterey Trail had struggled through four consecutive losing seasons. With Redmon starting since her sophomore year under coach Louie Corpuz and assistant Brien Tillery, the No. 15 Mustangs are 54-24 and in the running for a second Delta Valley Conference title in three years.
This season, Redmon is averaging a team-high 15.5 points and 4.6 assists, eighth best in the section.
“She’s had a major impact on our program and is a model student in the classroom,” Corpuz said. “As a point guard, she has come a long way in learning how to deal with 15 different personalities.”
Like Sampton, Redmond said it’s been rewarding being part of building a program.
Two years ago, the team lost in the first round of the Division I playoffs. Last year, the Mustangs won their first girls’ basketball playoff game in school history before losing in the second round. This year, the goal is to win at least two postseason games to reach the semifinals at Pacific in Stockton. A trip to the finals at Sleep Train Arena would be even better.
“It’s important to set the bar high,” Redmon said.
While still focused on getting their respective teams to the section finals, Sampton and Redmon are already plotting how they’re going to help Hawaii next season.
Sampton, Redmon and their families watched the Wahine play at Pacific on Dec. 15 and both talked about how they might fit into the team. Both said it was uncanny how much they are on the same page despite having not played together in years.
“When they told me that Jasmine Redmon was coming to Hawaii, too, I was enthused because I knew the type of player she is,” Sampton said. “We’re both really tenacious, we both work really hard. We’re looking forward to bringing our hard work and grit to the Islands.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.