Basketball Wilson

PREVIEW: Wilson Faces Eisenhower For CIF-SS Championship

Wilson High is not a basketball school.

It has one of the finest high school athletic traditions of any institution in the country, with dozens of Olympians, and more than 60 CIF-SS championships. But those championships have come in water polo, golf, baseball, track and field, and others. Only two CIF-SS hoops titles have been won by Bruin teams–one by the girls in 2000 and one by the boys almost a century ago. 

This year’s Wilson girls’ basketball team has been working hard for 12 months to change that narrative. Not since the Mike Wilder/Joel Bitonio-led boys’ basketball team made a Division 1 run more than a decade ago has a team at the school done more to make Wilson a “basketball school.” The Bruins will face Eisenhower at 2 p.m. today for the CIF-SS Division 3A championship, hoping to make history and change a school’s culture.

“Everyone on campus is really invested in it, we’re like, ‘Oh shoot, let’s go!’,” said star guard Ashley Hawkins, who is averaging 20 points per game this season. “More teachers are like, ‘Okay, Wilson basketball!’ Our Spanish teacher came to a game and now he can’t stop talking about everyone going to the games and supporting us. It’s cool that they’re realizing basketball and especially girls’ basketball deserve support.”

They key for Wilson to bring home the gold plaque today is stopping freshman Sa’lah Hemingway, a 6-foot-1 post and offensive rebounding machine who drives Eisenhower’s offense. Wilson head coach Erin Carey spent plenty of time this week going over gameplans for containing Hemingway, just as Eisenhower surely spent a ton of time on Hawkins’ film.

The difference for Wilson, the top seed in Division 3A, is a roster full of players who can step up and contribute, as Samiya Terry did in a 30-point performance earlier this playoffs, and as Sydney Ross, Arielle Hines, and others have done throughout the playoff run.

After three easy playoff wins that saw the Bruins double up their opponents, Carey had to snap her team back into business mode for the semifinals, a much tighter game against West Covina.

“Thankfully with our league we get that balance, a few easy games and then a few really tough ones,” she said. 

As good as Hawkins has been this season, no one person is more responsible for changing the expectations around the Bruins’ girls’ basketball team than Carey. A high school and collegiate hooper, it was never her dream to get into coaching. She said after graduation she got a job in the aerospace industry, got married, and bought a house.

A few years ago she came to Wilson as an assistant, looking to volunteer and spend more time around the game that helped get her through college. Within a year, the head coaching spot was vacant and she was basically told it was her job.

“At that point it had been coach after coach after coach and the girls had had so many transitions that I couldn’t even think of leaving them,” she said. “I’ve known this year would be a good year for a few seasons now.”

Carey’s dedication to the team as a walk-on coach is admirable. She’s up at 4 a.m. every day and starts work at 5:45 a.m. to allow her to get to Wilson for a 4 to 6 p.m. practice. “Then I eat dinner, shower, and go back and do it all over again,” she said.

Carey is well-versed in the athletic history of Wilson and has been happy to help carry the banner for her sport.

“The biggest thing I wanted was to come into a school like Wilson and help turn an underdog into a winner,” she said. “It’s great that the school and the administration here is behind our kids and rooting for them now.”

In other words: sounds like Wilson High might just be a basketball school after all.

Feature: Wilson’s Ashley Hawkins Has Big Game, Personality

Q & A With Wilson Girls’ Basketball Senior Samiya Terry

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.