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Less weight reveals soph has more game

01/15/2015, 8:06pm PST
By Terry Monahan, Special to the U-T

Mission Hills standout has improved foot speed, stamina and ability to play defense

Mission Hills sophomore Khayla Rooks comes from a basketball family.

— Freshman year at Mission Hills High could not have gone better for Khayla Rooks.

Her initial season on the varsity girls basketball team included an Avocado East League title and the first section Division I championship in school history.

Rooks, the second leading scorer on the Grizzlies, was chosen first-team all-league and second-team All-CIF San Diego Section.

Not bad for a girl who used to entertain fans shooting baskets at halftime of older brother Kameron’s home games.

“Last year was a fun season,” she said, sitting on the stairs in the gym during a morning shootaround.

As fulfilling as it was, though, Rooks felt a change was needed before the 6-foot sophomore center could entertain achieving her lofty goals.

It was not her game that needed to change. It was her.

So she set out to do just that. Now more than 25 pounds lighter, Rooks is an even more menacing player for opponents. The weight loss, which started last summer, has improved her foot speed, stamina and ability to play defense.

“Her motor has gotten much better,” Mission Hills coach Chris Kroesch said. “She still needs consistency, as most sophomores do, but she’s now twice the player she was last year, and she was pretty good last year.”

Rooks, still just 15, did not consult a nutritionist about her basketball makeover. She and her mom — Susie O’Brien, a section Co-Player of the Year while attending San Marcos in 1988-89 — went about instituting a new diet for the sharpshooter.

Fewer stops for fast food, no soda and no candy. Only an occasional dessert is allowed.

“Mom wanted to go on the diet with me,” Rooks said. “She’s making more homemade meals now instead of slipping back into my old eating habits.”

Rooks, who averaged 14.6 points last season, eats more salads even though she admitted she hated vegetables, except for broccoli, before now.

“I thought about this for a couple of years, but I wasn’t sure I could give up all those things I loved,” said Rooks, who is down from 200-plus pounds to 180. “I wanted to eat healthy, but I’d see something I really liked and it was all over.

“I don’t get sidetracked now. I really like hearing someone say I look better because I know I’m also healthier.”

There is no denying Rooks, who is second on the team with a 16.5 average and tops in rebounding with a 9.8 average, has been a gym rat her whole life. Not only was her mom a hoops star, dad Sean Rooks played at Arizona and had a 10-year career in the NBA. He’s currently an assistant for player development with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Kameron Rooks is redshirting this season at Cal after tearing his ACL over the summer.

Basketball is in her genes.

“I’ve been in gyms my whole life,” Rooks said. “I played softball, volleyball and even soccer, but none of them compared to basketball.

“I had a choice to make when I got to Mission Hills — play soccer or basketball. That was a no-brainer. Took me a second to choose basketball.

“Any chance to go to a gym, I’ll take it. My brother’s games were fun, especially shooting at halftime. I wish dad would let me shoot at halftime of 76ers games.”

Rooks fondly recalls pickup games in the family’s backyard at their old home. Dad and Khayla, who talk about nothing but basketball in the car, would play Kameron and a friend.

“Dad would always hold them both off so I could get off a shot,” she said, laughing. “No one has ever had to drag me to anything involving basketball. Just say the word and I’m there.”

So are the Grizzlies. With the team’s slimmed down scorer leading the way, Mission Hills is ranked No. 3 in the county with a 12-5 record and No. 16 in the state, according to Cal-Hi Sports.

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