The plan was a bit askew, and given Simone Westbrook’s abilities, potentially dangerous for her future.
For reasons neither she nor her now-former school would comment on, Simone didn’t go out for the Desert Vista girls basketball team.
The junior guard was going to sit out this season, work on individual drills and competitions, then continue playing club basketball and perhaps play high school ball again as a senior next year.
A junior season without high school hoops could have had a detrimental impact after verbally committing to Arizona State, but that changed a few weeks ago when a job moved the Westbrooks to Chandler and she enrolled at the school before this semester.
Westbrook’s return to the high school hardwood — she sat out the requisite 10 days after transferring and played her first game for Chandler in Tuesday night’s win against Desert Vista — figures to pay immediate dividends for the Wolves in their pursuit of a state championship.
Even after the family moved a few weeks ago and Chandler did its background check to ensure it was legal, Westbrook was “pretty 50-50” about whether she would play for Chandler this season.
The Wolves, No. 3 in power points entering Friday night’s game against Mesa, long ago believed they could compete for a state championship with their size up front, guard play and frenetic tempo. Even adding someone such as Westbrook — who averaged 16.5 points, 3.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game for the Thunder as a sophomore — team chemistry and roles were paramount.
A no-holds-barred meeting between the Westbrooks, Chandler athletic director Dave Shapiro and coach Zon Thompson laid down the law.
“This has been the hardest year trying to put people in right places and figure out every kid’s role, and now we were going to have to make more adjustments,” Thompson said. “We made it clear we weren’t going to compromise anyone’s role for any individual. It’s about the team and nothing but.
“When that was hashed, made clear (to the family) and she came on, it was players asking what their new role is. That initiative and care has been so pleasing.”
Simone’s older brother, Lawrence, played at Chandler for a couple years and set scoring records at the school (he went to prep school his senior year, then played for the University of Minnesota), but Simone sounded more interested in continued team success than hoisting shots.
“Me coming in will push us more,” she said.
She already was friends with and played club ball with more than half of the Chandler roster, but the family was living in Maricopa so she open-enrolled at Desert Vista as a freshman, then played two seasons under Thunder coach Rachel Proudfoot.
Her ability to play both guard spots adds a dynamic player to Chandler’s backcourt, and further complicates rotations and playing time.
Once cleared to participate with the team, she practiced for those 10 days leading into Tuesday. Wearing her familiar No. 20 jersey, she had six points, two assists and three steals coming off the bench against her former school.
“I was still hesitant on whether or not to try and get into playing shape for half a season or continue training and doing individual training,” she said. “I’d rather play than not, and we have every potential to win state.”
Intelligent and well-spoken, Westbroook knows she’s in a juxtaposition of entering the fold halfway through the season, being the new girl in Chandler with expectations of playing well and vocal leadership.
Even though the family expedited what was an inevitable move to Chandler before the 2011-12 school year anyway, the immediate verdict for this season’s mid-season shuffle will be unveiled in the next six weeks.
“I wanted to prove people wrong,” Westbrook said. “Many people said I was going to get lazy in that year off. I have the mindset off the floor and on that I have to get better every day.”