The only thing freshman Marley Langi had to show her Eastside College Prep girls' basketball teammates was the willingness to work hard.
Eastside's Kayla Tahaafe, the heart and soul of the two-time defending state Division V champions, says she's doing just fine.
"We're building team chemistry and in practice she's locked in," Tahaafe said after Eastside Prep's 64-41 victory over Page (Arizona) on Thursday in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Eastside. "She's willing to listen and learn and she's fitting in."
Langi scored 18 points to lead the Panthers (5-3), who take on Whitney Young-Chicago (9-2) at 6 p.m. Friday. The Dolphins took care of Central-Fresno, 69-41.
Eastside prep coach Donovan Blythe has his deepest bench in years, with 11 suited up (and all played) on Thursday.
"All those years we had six or seven players, that was not on purpose," Blythe said. "When you come here, you have to earn the right to play. That's the school's policy: academics first. You can't slide by and be part of the team. It doesn't work that way."
Tahaafe and junior Zion Gabriel exemplify the principles of teamwork and what it means to form a bond. Three years ago, observers might have thought both guards were overachievers as they scrapped their way to the top.
These days, it's expected they'll give their best effort game after game and they make great role models for their younger teammates, which include four freshmen and two sophomores.
"Coach D talks about toughness," Tahaafe said. "We pride ourselves on being willing to push through. Coach and I have a connection. He says I'm the coach on the court and I take that seriously. I know what he wants."
Gabriel and Tahaafe also form a unique bond. When they're in synch, which is the majority of the time, the Panthers play so smoothly the artistic side of the sport becomes tangible.
Eastside Prep's second half Thursday was a great example. The Panthers went into halftime hanging onto a 31-26 edge. They outscored the Sand Devils 33-15 in the second half and played as though it was all choreographed.
"They like each other. They all want to win," Blythe said as an explanation.
Gabriel added 15 points, making three 3-pointers. Tafaahe and freshman Amira Brown each added 10 points.
It was a good day for the locals at the Classic. Sacred Heart Prep topped University, 52-36, and will play Aragon on Friday.
At Menlo, the host Knights raced past KIPP King of Oakland, 92-38, and Menlo-Atherton did a number on Capuchino, 66-37.
Menlo (7-0), which plays Eastlake of Chula Vista at 6 p.m. Friday, had six players reach double figures, led by Avery Lee and Erin Dunn, each with 19 points.
Mohini Gupta added 14 points, Ally Stuart and Mallory North each had 12 points as the Knights scored 39 points in the first quarter. Coco Layton had 11 points. Lauren Sun Mi Oh and Carolyn Rantz combined for another five points.
Menlo-Atherton (4-4) used a 23-4 run in the second quarter to run away from the Mustangs. The 3-point shot was particularly effective during the rally as Carly McLanahan, Erica Fischer and Catherine Chai each hit long-rang shots in the period.
McLanahan scored 15 of her team-high 21 points in the second half. Greer Hoyem finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Bears play St. Mary's Academy of Portland at Eastside Prep at 3 p.m. Friday.
Zoe Zaharias scored 11 points to lead a balanced attack for Sacred Heart Prep against University. Zaharias and Caroline Barclay each hit a pair of 3-pointers and Grace Battles added one.