Girls basketball: Windsor’s Barbosa blossoming into exceptional player

 

By PETER FOURNIER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

WINDSOR — Kerianne Noonan remembers the buzz surrounding Windsor High School in 2012 when 6-foot-1 Portuguese exchange student Jessica Barbosa first arrived on campus.

“We don’t see a lot height in Windsor on our team,” Noonan said.

But then entered Barbosa, who lives with relatives in Windsor. It was clear Barbosa would be a catch if Noonan and her teammates could convince her to play basketball.

See Barbosa in action here

Hayden Turrini remembers dropping little hints and introducing herself multiple times to Barbosa during school.

“You see a 6-1 girl walk onto campus, you’re going to be like, ‘We gotta get her, we gotta get her right now,’” Turrini said.

    Jessica Barbosa, second from right, stands with her teammates during Windsor varsity basketball practice in Windsor, on Feb. 4, 2014. (Photo by Alvin Jornada, The Press Democrat)

Jessica Barbosa, second from right, stands with her teammates during Windsor varsity basketball practice in Windsor, on Feb. 4, 2014. (Photo by Alvin Jornada, The Press Democrat)

Turrini said the basketball players didn’t pressure her too hard while she played soccer that fall, but made the interest clear. They told her the times of practices, they offered her rides. They put the wheels in motion for her to try the game. Then came Barbosa’s first open gym session.

“Everyone’s jaws just kind of drop, and we’re just like ‘She can touch the rim, I guess,’ ” Noonan said.

The potential was seen that day, but the transformation from single-digit averages her sophomore season to a double-double per game this season didn’t happen overnight.

She didn’t know how to play the game.

Yes, she didn’t know how to play basketball.

Noonan recalled the early days.

“She literally didn’t know the game,” Noonan said. “She didn’t know you couldn’t travel. She didn’t know you couldn’t pick up the ball and pass it and then go and get it yourself.”

Learning the actual rules, court knowledge and mentality of the game, has been a process. She played some back in Portugal, but true court time was minimal, limited to PE class and recreational games. But coach Jeff Paul said there’s no problem taking the time to teach Barbosa what she needs to know.

“Everyone recognizes what she brings,” he said. “It’s easy to help Jessica and be patient with her because she’s still learning a lot of the nuances of the game.”

Yes, she’s averaging just under 10 points and nearly 11 rebounds a game — and she’s still learning the game. Learning, as in studying and doing homework on the basic stuff.

“Her work ethic is just outstanding,” Paul said. “Her dedication to getting better is just phenomenal, and that’s been huge in terms of her growth.

“You don’t find very many players like that. A lot of high school players like the game and it’s fun; a lot of them just want to be a part of the group.

“Then there are some kids who just love everything about what they’re doing,” he said. “And they get lost in the game, so their enthusiasm just stands out among everyone. It’s contagious and it’s the best I’ve seen amongst players I’ve coached.”

Summer practice at home

Barbosa, a junior, speaks enthusiastically with a vibrant smile she can’t hide. She needed that extra boost and self-motivation when she couldn’t practice with her team during the summer because of an insurance issue, and instead practiced at home on her own with instructions from the coaching staff.

“I think that’s when she really took her time to understand the game and develop her skills because when she came back and played in the fall — she played in our club fall league — you could see the huge improvement from the year before,” he said. “And now, she’s just blossomed with practice.”

Turrini is blown away by Barbosa’s growth.

“To learn a whole game like basketball in that quick of a time is amazing,” she said.

Halfway through the North Bay League season the progression is clear. It was also clear in the team’s fall NorCal Academy club league, when Barbosa saw her first game action since summer.

Barbosa said her enthusiasm to just play again helped motivate her during the fall. It was a fun time to play, at least if you weren’t defending her. Club basketball helped take her game to the next level.

“It was major part of what I know now,” she said. “It’s also where I got to learn a little bit more about the basics and gain confidence.

“When I started playing basketball, I would watch other girls like Kerianne, Hayden and Rachel (Shroyer, graduated) and I would be like, ‘I want to play like them. I want to be as good as them.’ So I wanted to push myself and it would motivate me, so I just kept pushing.”

And those girls have no problem telling her how to do things properly.

“She’s like a sponge,” Noonan said. “She wants to soak in all this knowledge from everyone and she does.”

One area in which she needs no help: rebounding. She leads the team with more than 10 boards a game.

“Her rebounding is consistent,” Paul said. “Possession is the key to the game. So if we can limit teams to second chances or get second-shot opportunities, that’s huge.”

She’s also the team’s second-highest scorer, averaging 9.9 points a game through last week.

More chances for Noonan

Paul knows the attention focused on Barbosa gives more opportunities to Noonan.

“Kerianne truly understands that that post player, Jessica, is somebody that will really draw attention away from her,” he said. “If Kerianne can feed her the ball, and Jessica can have some impact on the offensive game, then that will leave (Noonan) open for uncontested shots, which she didn’t have last year.”

Barbosa isn’t focused on accumulating statistics.

“I want to have a good game, and not just from a scoring part,” she said. “That’s a good part of it, but it’s more like how you play.”

In particular, Barbosa wants to work on a post move — her left-handed layup.

“Last year I remember telling coach I would never be able to shoot from the left side from my left hand, and this year I do it way better than I ever did,” Barbosa said.

Warming up before last Tuesday’s game against Rancho Cotate, Barbosa practiced those left-handers. With ease, she scored on a left-handed layup in the first half.

Having to compete to win is relatively new to Barbosa.

“When you’re playing just for fun, it doesn’t really matter,” she said. “Five minutes after the game, you don’t care about the score or anything else. When you’re competitive it’s different, because you want to keep your level higher and not have any losing record.”

Her competitive nature doesn’t mean Barbosa has stopped being nice.

She asked a Rancho Cotate player if she was OK after a hard battle for the ball, even extending a hand to get her up off the floor (the player accepted help up from her teammates). She was the first one on the court to warm up before the second half, and couldn’t bring herself to tell the kids on the court that they needed to leave.

“She’s a very, very positive person, and probably the nicest person you’ll ever meet,” Noonan said. “You could push her and shove her and say horrible things to her and she’d apologize to you.”

Barbosa, who’s in Windsor’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program, had no problem sharing that she would like to play at the next level.

“Yes! In college, too? Well, that would be great if I could,” she said. “That would be a great thing if I could play basketball in college because I love sports and I don’t want to stop.”

Peter Fournier can be reached at Peter.Fournier@pressdemocrat.com.

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