Angels help the rebuilding process

NEW ORLEANS -- Nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina dismantled much of greater New Orleans, the city is still in the rebuilding process.

On the south side of Lake Pontchartrain, many residents have still not returned. Schools remain closed. The French Quarter shows signs of a slow rebuild - an abandoned storefront here, a torn-up street there.

Two months before Katrina hit, the Orleans parish had nearly half a million residents. The numbers dipped sharply and today have stabilized at around 311,000 people. Those who have returned are hopeful for a completely rebuilt future.

"The initial surge of trying to help bring the city back and do things around here was great," said Kenner Angels coach Denis Aidoo. "I know they're trying to make progress, but it's just definitely seemed to be really slow. We've never been a really well-to-do city and it's just been really tough for the recovery process because there's just so many people without the money to do it."

Aidoo is helping to rebuild his own little community of New Orleans. As coach of the young players on the program's 2012 team at the July Basketball on the Bayou tournament, he works with the girls who have come back after time spent with family in Baton Rouge, La., Houston or other outposts. The Angels' 2012 team played up in the 2011 division at the Basketball on the Bayou event.

"We have fallen onto some tough times post-Katrina," said Aidoo about the Angels' program, which has a storied history. "However, we are poised to reestablish this first-class AAU program to national prominence once again."

In a nine-year span from 1992 to 2001, the Kenner Angels won eight AAU national championships in various age groups and one Junior Olympics title. Aidoo's sister, Tiffany, now a junior guard at Tulane, spent nine years in the program. Shondra Johnson, Jamie Thomatis, Detrina White, Roneeka and Doneeka Hodges and Brooke Lassiter Stoehr are among its alumni. Its championship coaches include Alan Frey, Stephen Dares and Forrest "Bucky" Lanning.

Aidoo has been coaching with the Kenner Angels for five years now and has seen the teams shift as families have left the city in response to Katrina.

"We moved to Texas for Katrina," said Emani White, a 2012 guard from New Orleans. "We moved back after, but it was a full school year later. Our house was flooded and we had to redo the whole thing."

White, a 5-foot-2 point guard from Archbishop Chapelle High School, is one of the newer additions to the Angels program. She just played her first summer with them. But most of the girls on the Kenner Angels 2012 team have been together since they were in sixth grade. In the summer of 2005 when Katrina hit, most of the players evacuated the city with their families.

"We evacuated to Covington, but the house we were in, the trees came through the roof," said Elise Hadden, a 2012 forward from St. Mary's Dominican High School. "Then we went to Baton Rouge with my cousins. But we had three families and a lot of cats and stuff, so we moved to another house.

"I know I started school here again in September, so we were gone maybe like a month."

Post-Katrina, Aidoo said basketball helped keep the teammates together.

"It definitely helped them to keep their mind off everything and keep them in good spirits," he said. "They were just all, I think, really excited and happy that the team stayed together."

As for New Orleans, some officials say the rebuilding process may take a couple of generations. For some neighborhoods, teams like the Kenner Angels may play a role in reshaping community.

"I want to be here," White said. "I know I'll probably have to move for college, but I'll come back here. I love everything about New Orleans. I've been here since I was a little girl."

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Mindi Rice is a National High School / ESPN HoopGurlz staff writer. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune and a barista at Starbucks, and grew up in Seattle, where she attended Roosevelt High School before graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism. She can be reached at mindi@hoopgurlz.com.