They want to be surgeons, fitted with smocks, surgical masks and stethoscopes.
But those masks wouldn’t last. Ayanna Edwards and Najah Queenland would insist that the best-prescribed medicine for their patients include a dose of story telling and good cheer.
You see, one cannot have a conversation with the Sacramento High School basketball senior captains and pre-med hopefuls without a torrent of one-liners and ribbing. These two live to laugh.
“Oh, we’ll cure people,” Edwards joked.
For now, they’re a headache for opposing teams as perhaps the best 1-2 defensive combination in the Northern California Regional girls playoffs.
Edwards is affectionately nicknamed “Shaq” because, like the retired NBA great now part of the Kings’ ownership group, she has a personality as large as her 6-foot-4 frame. Queenland, who goes by “Naj” or “Queen,” is just as giddy, except when she’s on the floor. On the court, Shaq and Queen transform into grim-faced defensive stoppers, trumping the motto that defense wins championships.
“It’s hard to beat them because they can be so dominant,” said Sacramento coach Michele Massari, whose 23-8 Dragons visit top-seed St. Mary’s of Berkeley (26-7) in the NorCal Open Division tonight.
Queenland is a versatile 5-foot-10 guard who can handle the ball and shoot. But the Pacific-bound standout with a 4.2 GPA is known for her ability to guard every position but center. Edwards is a powerful presence inside with drop-steps that she can finish with either hand. Headed to Arizona State with a 3.8 GPA, Edwards is even more intimidating on defense, able to clog the lane, block shots and rebound. Her 21 rebounds in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title victory over McNair of Stockton last Saturday set a section record in a championship game, regardless of division.
Edwards is also an example of hard work. As a freshman, she offered a big body in the paint and not much more. She couldn’t run the floor without getting winded, and she couldn’t handle the ball in the post without turning it over or falling down. Three seasons later, she dominates, averaging 14 points and 15 rebounds. Queenland averages 17 points, six rebounds and four assists.
And like any good doctor, Queenland and Edwards insist full disclosure is paramount.
“Shaq, come here, let’s let the world know the truth,” Queenland said the other day, waving Edwards over enthusiastically. “Shaq and I have gone from being the best of friends, joined at the hip, to hating each other. Twitter wars, and back to being best friends.”
Enemies? These grinning goofs?
“It just happened,” Edwards said.
Said Queenland: “One day at practice this year, we looked at each other and said, ‘So are we friends now? Want to hug?’ We’re close again.”
Edwards and Queenland separated for two seasons, which only added to what they describe simply as teenage girl strife. After both played on the varsity squad as freshmen, Queenland transferred to St. Francis for two seasons. She said she appreciated her St. Francis experience but is glad to have come full circle.
“It took a lot of guts for Najah to come back,” said Massari. “People ask why she left, gave her a lot of grief. Others thought she wasn’t loyal, was a traitor. No, what she is is a great teammate.”
Edwards can radiate a room with her smile, but she also hurts within. Her parents divorced during her sophomore year, and as many kids do, she had a difficult time in the wake. Edwards, who no longer has regular contact with her parents, took time away from basketball before her junior season to collect herself. She lived with teammates or coaches, with whom she spent her holidays, until her life settled.
Edwards now lives with the family of Aaron Lawrence, a longtime friend and former Sac High guard. She said she is open to reuniting with her parents but is focused on finishing out the season and academic year.
“It wasn’t always easy at home,” Edwards said. “I could’ve stopped (attending school, playing), but I became a better student. I got back into basketball, spent time with friends. I didn’t want to quit anything and try to go through a job interview later and get asked, ‘Why no college? Oh, because you were sad and your parents got divorced?’ No one wants to hear that.
“I’m a trophy-child example that life isn’t always easy, isn’t perfect, but that you can always make the best of it and don’t quit.”
Queenland said she and the Dragons are moved to tears at Edwards’ drive and success.
“I’m lucky because I have a great life at home, and my mom, Bahiyah Hillary, takes great care of me,” Queenland said. “I’m so happy for Shaq. We all are. We’re a big happy family here again.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.