There's Good Reason For Evina Westbrook's Swagger

Eric Lars Bakke/ESPN Images

Evina Westbrook has taken on a larger leadership role this season at South Salem. She's also picked up her scoring pace.

Evina Westbrook walks into the gym with her head held high. She's got her headphones on, and her gaze is straight ahead. She walks quietly, calmly, slowly -- there is no rush. The job she has come to do will get done in due time.

Westbrook, a 6-foot undeclared junior guard from South Salem (Oregon), has swagger. It's an attitude that stems from being tested and never backing down.

Growing up, she played exclusively against boys -- she didn't play with or against girls until eighth grade.

Last season, she won a state title at South Salem and a national championship with her AAU team, the Cal Stars. She's passed every test so far, which is why she is the No. 3 player in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2017 class.

"I'm not cocky -- just confident," the 17-year-old Westbrook said. "When I walk in the gym, I already know what I'm going to do. It's like, I already know, so I don't get afraid of anybody or nervous or anything like that."

Among the boys Westbrook grew up playing with are her brother, L.J., a 6-4 guard at Casper College (a junior college in Wyoming), and their cousin Avry Holmes, a 6-2 junior guard who starts for Clemson. L.J. has offers to play Division I ball next season.

Kelly Sopak, who coaches the San Francisco-based Cal Stars, said he first saw Westbrook play when she was in an otherwise-all-boys league in Salem.

"'E' was the most skilled and also the most poised player out there," Sopak said. "She had a swagger about her, and this was early on, in eighth grade. But it was a swagger with poise."

Gym rat

Westbrook got at least some of her basketball ability from her father, James, who is 6-4 and played college ball at Oregon State. Westbrook's mother, Eva, played high school softball.

But there was never any doubt which sport Westbrook would play -- it's always been basketball, and she rooted for the Los Angeles Lakers because that's her dad's favorite team.

Asked if she has ever had any hobbies besides basketball, Westbrook referred to Eva, the woman she was named after.

"Mom, did I ever have any hobbies?"

When no one could think of any, Westbrook concluded: "I'm just a gym rat."

She's a gym rat with a craving. Westbrook said her all-time favorite Christmas present was the one she got three years ago, when she opened an envelope and read that somebody called a milkman would be paying a weekly visit.

"It said I was getting a year's supply of chocolate milk," Westbrook said with delight.

"Every Monday morning, I would open the door, and there was a crate with two gallons of milk -- one white and one chocolate for me."

Recipe for greatness

The slogan says milk does a body good, and maybe that partially explains the run Westbrook has been on. She also has had some great teammates.

As a sophomore last season, she averaged 14.7 points, 4.0 assists and 4.3 steals on a loaded South Salem team that included Oregon Gatorade player of the year Katie McWilliams and Jordan Woodvine. McWilliams is now a freshman at Oregon State, and Woodvine, a senior, has signed to play for Boise State.

Courtesy Kenneth Smith

Evina Westbrook has won a state title with South Salem (Oregon) and a national AAU title with the Cal Stars.

On her Cal Stars team, Westbrook averaged 10.5 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, making all-tournament along with teammates Sabrina Ionescu of Miramonte (Walnut Creek, California) and Aquira DeCosta from Saint Mary's (Stockton, California).

Ionescu is the No. 4 senior prospect, and DeCosta is the No. 1 sophomore.

Having grown up playing with her cousin, brother and other top athletes, Westbrook knows how to get her teammates involved.

"Her ability to move the ball up the floor in transition is uncanny," Sopak said of Westbrook. "It sounds simple, but the way she advances the ball with precision and strength -- you have to watch her play three or four games to discover there's something different about her.

"The way she distributes is unique. She sees it quick -- her ability to catch, look, see, pass."

Nick McWilliams, who is Katie's father and the coach at South Salem, said Westbrook was "instrumental" in helping their team win state last season.

"I think everyone has known for a while that Evina was going to be a great player," McWilliams said. "She's very skilled."

With Katie McWilliams now in college, Westbrook has more responsibility this season and had increased her scoring to 22.2 points through South Salem's first six games. She's also was averaging 6.0 rebounds, 5.2 steals and 3.8 assists. South Salem made its debut in the espnW 25 Power Rankings on Wednesday.

Against Jesuit (Portland, Oregon), South Salem trailed by one point when Westbrook hit a game-winning layup with 2.6 seconds left. And against Lewis & Clark (Spokane, Washington), Westbrook scored 27 points, including two game-winning free throws with five seconds left. South Salem trailed by 23 points in the third quarter of that game.

What's next?

Westbrook is so passionate about her sport that when she isn't playing on Saturdays, she can be found helping coach a team of third- and fourth-graders in Portland.

The team is called the ICP Little Ladies, and the first part of the name stands for Inner City Players.

"She gives up time from her weekend to coach those girls in Portland," Eva said. "It's about an hour drive for her, but she does it because she's a gym rat by choice."

When I walk in the gym, I already know what I'm going to do. It's like, I already know, so I don't get afraid of anybody or nervous or anything like that.
Evina Westbrook

Westbrook, who had a 3.0 GPA as a sophomore -- "I want to improve that to 3.7 this year," she said -- has numerous scholarship offers.

Sopak said her suitors include Duke, South Carolina, Louisville, Southern Cal, UCLA, Oklahoma, Oregon State and Oregon.

But something else that's different about Westbrook is that she is handling the recruiting process mostly by herself.

"A lot of kids, I have to constantly remind them to return coaches' phone calls," Sopak said. "But Evina's been phenomenal. She has the ability to communicate and have a dialogue with the coaches -- very mature."

Westbrook, who, by the way, is interested in studying communications, said she hopes to have a list of finalists by this summer.

But she already knows what she wants in a college, and location isn't important to her.

"It can be East Coast or I can stay closer to home," she said. "I just want to pick a school where I want to be for four years. I want to have a great college experience with my education and the people I meet. I want to have a great relationship with my coaches."

Last Saturday, Westbrook went to Oregon State, where she saw the Beavers fall 53-50 to Tennessee in front of 8,223 fans, the second-largest crowd in program history.

Westbrook knows several players on both of those teams -- including McWilliams on the Beavers and three Tennessee standouts who played high school ball in Oregon -- but she said that familiarity will not be a factor in making her college choice.

"I want to play with people who want to win like I do," Westbrook said. "Knowing people is not a big part of this because I'm always interested in meeting new people.

"And if I end up playing against girls I know, I'm going to want to beat them even more."

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