CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Jeff Sink is as meticulous in his game preparation as some high-school coaches are in their self promotion. The Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.) coach plans and plans, then plans some more. He says it's because he's not a smart enough coach to leave anything to chance, but it's really one of the traits that makes him among the nation's best.
Still, a coach like Sink can be thrown off his game a number of ways at an event like the Nike Tournament of Champions, the most prestigious and pressure-packed in all of high-school sports. None, however, are quite as nightmarish as the scenario that greeted Sink and his Ladycats during Saturday's opening round.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, of the things that I would hate to happen, this would be a 10," Sink said.
Call it a negative 10, actually. It occurred late in the second quarter of Brea's first-round victory, when a St. Mary's of Ontario player went careening into the Ladycats' marvelous starting point guard, Alexis Riley-Perry, sending her to the floor, where she howled in pain after suffering a traumatic left-shoulder injury. After being tended to by Brea assistant Nancy Smith and on-site trainer Marisa Medrano for several minutes, Riley-Perry was treated by Chandler Fire Department medics, who wheeled her out of the Hamilton High School gym in a gurney.
The Ladycats composed themselves enough to deliver a 54-18 thrashing of the Canadians, but Riley-Perry's injury was a jarring sight, even to an arch-rival.
"You yank the starting point guard off any team, it hurts," said a sympathetic Kevin Kiernan, coach of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), which is ranked No. 1 in the Powerade Fab 50 to Brea's No. 2. "If we lost Jordan Adams, it would be devastating to us. Alexis is a great kid and I really feel for her. You don't want bad things to happen to anyone."
If this was the agony of victory, it wasn't contained to Brea Olinda. It was rather catching among the favorites in the Joe Smith Division, the tournament's highest. Even Kiernan's Monarchs trailed several times to young and unheralded Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) before dropping the hammer in the second half for a 65-39 victory.
No. 10 Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) also trailed in the first quarter before overcoming No. 15 Mt. Lebanon (Pittsburgh, Pa.) 67-45, local favorites No. 7 St. Mary's (Phoenix, Ariz.) was dumped by No. 14 Monarch 64-53, No. 20 Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) was upset by No. 43 St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) 74-68, No. 10 Memphis Central (Memphis, Tenn.) was an underwhelming 67-53 winner over unranked Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, Calif.), and No. 3 Bolingbrook (Bolingbrook, Ill.) struggled throughout a 59-48 victory over regionally ranked Santa Monica (Santa Monica, Calif.).
Only No. 25 Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.) sailed through its 64-51 victory over No. 42 Highlands Ranch with minimum panic.
Brea Olinda wasn't sounding any alarms, but it would not have been faulted for being tempted. After all, just Friday it learned that top reserve Amber Van Duedekom, their leading scorer at 14.3 points a game, suffered a torn anterior-cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee during a 60-53 victory over Poly on Dec. 4. The Ladycats' star post, Justine Hartman, a UCLA signee, missed all of last season with an ACL tear, and had her playing time limited for precautionary measures during her team's first eight games.
The most star-crossed Ladycat, hands down, is Riley-Perry, who has suffered torn ACLs in both knees and injuries to both shoulders during her career at Brea. She had a spectacular run at last year's TOC, leading Brea to the brink of a title matchup against Mater Dei, even without Hartman. Colleges have been scared off by the senior's pile of physical ailments and Sink calls her "the best unsigned point guard in the country."
Kiernan lauded the tank-like Riley-Perry's toughness and healing powers, pointing out that, despite her ACL injury last spring, she has not been using a knee brace this season.
"I've seen her come back from devastating injury after devastating injury," Kiernan said. "I wouldn't be surprised if she came back again (this week)."
It would the stuff of miracles. Even if Riley-Perry were to return, because of Van Duedekom's season-ending injury, the Ladycat seniors are guaranteed of going through their Brea careers without the team ever going through a season intact. Sink thinks this could have been the best team of his long and success-packed career at Brea, but no one will ever know for sure.
"I'm pretty sure we're going to be OK," said Hartman, the No. 7 prospect in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100 for the class of 2011. "Everything happens for a reason. We just have to get it done with what we have. People are going to have to step up.
"If we do come out on top, it's a better story to tell."
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girl's club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.