Spring Valley girls basketball coach Billy Hemberger thinks Essence Booker would make a great assistant coach some day.
But Hemberger prefers having the standout junior guard on the court, not sitting next to him on the bench.
Booker, who missed the past five games with a minor knee injury, returned Tuesday and scored 16 points in the Grizzlies’ 59-20 victory over Durango.
She is expected to be at full strength when No. 5 Spring Valley (10-6, 4-1) plays host to No. 4 Desert Oasis (11-5, 4-1) in a key Southwest League game at 5 p.m. Thursday.
“Anybody that has a player of her caliber is going to be excited to have her on the floor,” Hemberger said Monday. “A player like her, she’s one of those freakish athletes that has always been on the court. So her sitting back and getting it almost taken away from her for a little bit, it kind of helps her appreciate the game a little bit more and look at it with a different perspective.”
Booker, who leads the team in scoring at 14.0 points per game, was injured during the Gator Winter Classic last month. After scoring a season-high 24 points in a win over Las Vegas on Dec. 27, Booker woke up in pain the next day, Hemberger said.
“There was absolutely nothing that happened in the middle of the game that made me come out to see if she was OK. She didn’t ask for a sub or any of that,” Hemberger said. “We’ve been playing it cautious and everything.”
Hemberger said Booker was diagnosed with a strained knee and missed the final three games of the tournament, along with last week’s league games against Sierra Vista and Clark.
The Grizzlies went 3-2 without Booker, who is drawing recruiting interest from Hawaii, Long Beach State, New Mexico State, Southern Utah, UC Davis, UNLV and UNR, among others.
“What it’s done, it’s really given an opportunity for some players to step in, and I’ve seen some really good things from some of them,” Hemberger said. “I feel like as a team, we’ve gotten a lot better not being able to rely on Essence being on the floor.
”Now looking forward, everybody’s getting healthy — knock on wood — and things hopefully are starting to click and spiral in the right direction.”
MICKEY D’S NOMINEES
Ten area basketball players were announced Tuesday as nominees for the McDonald’s All-American games, including three from Centennial’s nationally ranked girls team.
Jayden Eggleston, Samantha Thomas and Pam Wilmore of Centennial were joined by Liberty’s Celine Quintino as nominees for the girls game.
Centennial’s Troy Brown Jr., Chuck O’Bannon and Christian Popoola of Bishop Gorman and Findlay Prep’s Lamine Diane, Justin Roberts and P.J. Washington are on the selection list for the boys game.
The McDonald’s games are scheduled for March 29 in Chicago.
WALTER NEARS MILESTONE
Faith Lutheran boys basketball coach Bret Walter earned his 299th career victory Monday and will shoot for No. 300 when the Crusaders (11-6, 4-1 Northwest) play host to Legacy at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Walter is 299-225 in his 20th season at Faith Lutheran, including five state titles (Class 2A and 3A) from 2003 to 2008.