CONNECTING STUDENT ATHLETES WITH COLLEGE COACHES
Because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, Brian Crichlow decided that this year, West Coast Premier would be staying far, far away from Sin City.
The reason? The last time WCP headed to the desert, Janae Sharpe went down with an injury, and Crichlow knows that his team can't afford to lose their "glue girl."
"She's quiet but deadly," Crichlow said of Sharpe, the 2011 5-foot-6 guard ranked as the No. 95 player in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hot 100. "I call her the silent assassin. She does all the dirty work."
Sharpe's gutsy play includes a little bit of everything -- making key baskets, defending the other team's best player night in and night out, or hitting a big free throw. But her specialty is taking charges.
Sharpe, who is currently out with a meniscus injury in her right knee that she suffered at the Boo Williams Invitational, has been sacrificing her body since she started playing in the fifth grade. And she has more than a few memories of hitting the ground hard.
The worst came when she was 11 and she stepped in front of a big body charging to the basket, which resulted in a busted lip and blood everywhere. But Sharpe says it didn't scare her away at all.
"I like doing it," Sharpe said of taking charges. "It gets the team pumped, it gets me hyped and it makes me play harder."
Crichlow said Sharpe's charge-taking is "contagious," and said that since she went down in April, the team has totaled only one or two charges.
"Any great memory that anybody has about Janae, it's of her sliding over and taking a charge," Crichlow said. "She sacrifices her body at crucial times. She has perfect position, gets wide and takes everything that player has to give."
Sharpe doesn't have an outstanding athletic pedigree -- her parents played basketball in high school, but of the four girls in the Sharpe family, Janae was the first to decide she'd be a serious athlete. But Crichlow said that has never deterred Sharpe, and that he admires the way she keeps at it while constantly trying to play through injuries.
Last year at the Vegas Memorial Day tournament, Sharpe was playing what Crichlow described as "the best basketball of her life" when she lunged for a steal. In what was spooky move, Sharpe's hand connected with the knee of the girl she was guarding in the most perfect way, and the bone in her shooting hand snapped in two places. Sharpe, never one to ask for a sub, continued to play.
But when tears started to stream down her cheeks, Crichlow knew something was wrong.
"She never cries," Crichlow said.
Weeks later, when Sharpe got the OK from her doctor to start playing again, she wrapped her right hand and joined her high school team, Rialto (Calif.), in a local tournament. She proceeded to drop 25 of her team's 33 points in a win.
"She doesn't care about herself," Crichlow said. "College coaches say to me, 'That No. 3, she's just a tough kid.' "
Sharpe shrugs off the compliments.
"I just do my job," she said. "I play defense and try to run the team."
But Crichlow insists that Sharpe's contribution is key to his team's success.
"Even with as much talent as we have on our team, she's always been our glue," said Crichlow, who has coached Sharpe since she was in the eighth grade. "She does all the little things that take us over the top."
A month ago at the Boo Williams Invitational in Virginia, Sharpe had just hit a nice pull-up off the glass when she felt something tweak in her knee. She could barely walk the next day. Crichlow and the WCP are hopeful she'll be back by early July for the End of the Trail Tournament in Oregon City.
In the meantime, Crichlow playfully considers skipping out on Boo next year.