Monday, Dec. 5, 2011 | 1:59 a.m.
If someone told Bishop Gorman girls’ basketball coach Sheryl Krmpotich she was only allowed to choose one player in the nation to play defense, the search wouldn’t make it very far.
Krmpotich likely wouldn’t leave the school’s Summerlin campus, because she can find an elite defender there. Krmpotich regards 5-foot-10 junior forward Diamond Major as one of the best defensive players she’s ever coached.
“She can defend anyone in the country in my opinion,” Krmpotich said. “She could step in a college game right now and play defense for teams.”
Colleges might be in favor of that based on the attention they are giving her. Major is the most recruited class of 2013 basketball player in the valley.
Numerous Pac-12, Big 10 and Mountain West schools have shown interest in her, including Oregon, Nebraska and UNLV. The hype for Major’s junior season is mounting as she leads the 2011 Sun Super Seven preseason team.
She said the recognition was an honor and came after six years of hard work on the court.
“My first year playing was in sixth grade and I wasn’t really great,” Major said. “I was just a rebounder, but I began to love it. And I loved playing defense.”
In 14 years of coaching, Krmpotich can only remember three or four other players who enjoyed playing defense as much as Major. Her teammates have learned to expect a battle anytime they encounter her at practice.
Zhane Dikes, a senior guard and fellow member of the Sun Super Seven, usually matches up with Major at practice. Major and Dikes agreed they had become better players by competing against each other on a daily basis.
They weren’t always teammates. Dikes remembers playing against Major a few times on the club circuit before they teamed up in high school at Gorman.
“We’d always go at each other and bump heads as two of the best players in Vegas,” Dikes said. “Now we’re paired up and it’s great. I’m really blessed to play with someone like her. I even look up to her.”
Major was one of the Gaels’ top contributors last year, but not by design. She hurt her hip early in the season and Krmpotich would have preferred to rest her more to let it heal.
But that wasn’t an option as a couple of Gorman’s players bowed out with season-ending injuries and Krmpotich found herself with few available players. Major’s condition worsened, but she knew what she had to do for her team.
“By January and February, she was a mess,” Krmpotich said. “There’s nothing worse than a hip injury because you use that for everything in basketball. When you’re in pain, you’re not flowing fluently. She’s tough, though, and fought through it.”
Major only averaged six points per game last year, but Krmpotich expects an increase this season. They’ve spent extra time working on Major’s offensive game.
The most important step, according to Krmpotich, is for Major to learn to play more selfishly. She’d routinely pass up open looks last season to get the ball to her teammates.
“She just loves to defend more than she likes to score,” Krmpotich said. “Usually, it’s the opposite. It’s rare when you’re begging a kid to put the ball up.”
If this season proves successful, people will know Major for more than her defensive prowess in a few months. Major is prepared to showcase a well-rounded skill set.
“I’m an upperclassmen now, so everything is different,” Major said. “I have to contribute way more than I did last year. I know what I have to do.”
Here are the rest of the members of the team:
Jada Brown, junior, Centennial
About Jada: She’s an integral part of the deepest backcourt in town with the Bulldogs. Brown regularly performs her best when the stage is elevated. She scored a team-high 26 points last year in a state semifinal win against Reed. Brown followed it by leading Centennial once again in the state championship with 16 points against Liberty. “For only being a junior, she’s really smart defensively and offensively,” Centennial coach Karen Weitz said. “You can’t say the others aren’t great all-around players. They are going to have some breakout games, but Jada is going to be the consistent one who plugs away, and consistency is such a big thing.”
Jada on the upcoming season: “I really would like to get Player of the Year. I plan to repeat all of my first-team all-conference, all-division. I want to repeat all of that and win state, of course.”
Zhane Dikes, senior, Bishop Gorman
About Zhane: The University of San Francisco commit is the Gaels’ emotional leader on the court. She’s played key roles on each of the past two Bishop Gorman squads. Dikes helped the Gaels capture a state championship her sophomore season and averaged 14 points per game last year. She says she’s motivated like never before because of the way last season ended, when Gorman lost to Liberty, 58-53, in the state semifinals. “She could pretty much play (any position) for us,” Krmpotich said. “She could post because she’s so strong, can handle the ball, shoot the rock, defend and pass.”
Zhane on the upcoming season: “We’re coming ready to end with a bang this year. Everything is on the line. We’re never going to lose like that again. I’ll never let that happen again.”
Tatiana Kearn, junior, Desert Oasis
About Tatiana: The quick 5-foot-5 guard is one of the top returning scorers in the valley. She averaged 14 points per game for the Diamondbacks last year and scored 15 or more on 11 occasions. Kearn leads an experienced Desert Oasis squad looking to make an upward leap with the infusion of a few transfers this season. “She’s an awesome kid, gets great grades,” Desert Oasis coach Laurie Evans said. “She’s respectful and she’s got one of the best shots I’ve ever seen. She works hard at it and makes a lot of threes. Her offensive ability stands out.”
Tatiana on the upcoming season: “We came up quickly. It usually takes schools a couple more years than it’s taken us to get good. We have some chemistry because we’ve worked so hard for one goal that we’ve come together.”
Jasmin Kiley, senior, Palo Verde
About Jasmin: Next year just won’t feel right at Palo Verde without the 5-foot-7 Kiley. This will be the fourth straight year she’s led the Panthers. Kiley has found great success in paving the way to the playoffs in each of the past three seasons and averaging 13 points per game a year ago. “Her freshman year was my first year taking over the girls," Palo Verde coach Phil Clarke said. "So to see how far she’s come as a senior is amazing. She’s a lot different mentally and a captain now. It’s cool to see her as a senior and being a lot more vocal.”
Jasmin on the upcoming season: “For myself, I just want to get better and make it to the college level. For our team, I want to at least make it to the playoffs.”
Tamera Williams, junior, Centennial
About Tamera: Williams was one of only two local sophomores — the other was teammate Jada Brown — who were recognized with all-state honors last season. Williams made the third team after averaging 12 points, five rebounds and four steals per game. “She’s extremely athletic, one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever coached,” Centennial coach Karen Weitz said. “She won the 100-yard dash last year in track and she’s just so explosive in the open court.”
Tamera on the upcoming season: “I want to come in, day in and day out, and work hard. We need to be on the grind to want to win it all again. I’m ready.”
Breanna Workman, junior, Centennial
About Breanna: Signs pointed toward Workman exploding on the scene as a freshman, but a torn ACL put an end to that. She bounced back last year to average 11 points per game and is 100 percent entering this season. “Bre’s worked really hard in the summer and fall to step up her game tremendously,” Centennial coach Karen Weitz said. “I think she’s going to surprise a lot of people with how she plays this year.”
Breanna on the upcoming season: “If I get accolades, it doesn’t mean a lot to me. I’m very proud of myself, but I’m more focused on getting my team together to get ready for the season.”