Genes issued order: hoops

Basketball: When it came time to pick a sport, Seton Keough's Jackie Valderas looked into her heart and at her family.

January 13, 2002|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

For Jackie Valderas, basketball isn't just part of her life, it's part of her family.

Seton Keough's 6-foot All-Metro center doesn't remember specifics about basketball in her early years, just that the sport was always there.

Her mother and father played the sport. So did all of her aunts. And all of her uncles.

Basketball runs in both sides of the family, so much so that she should soon become the fourth member of her clan to score 1,000 career points in high school.

Her father, Mark, and uncle Robert Valderas, each scored 1,000 points at Cardinal Gibbons and went on to play professional basketball in Puerto Rico. Her aunt, Meghann Donovan Harjer, scored 1,000 as an All-Metro player at Seton Keough.

Her mother, Sue (Donovan) Valderas, also played at Archbishop Keough, but was not a big scorer.

With 16 points in Friday night's victory over McDonogh, Valderas boosted her career total to 963, putting her on pace to top 1,000 within the next 10 days.

She honed some of her skills around the hoop at her grandmother Donovan's house. Even Christmas gatherings featured basketball games.

"We would all bundle up and go outside," Valderas said. "Everybody was dressed in nice clothes and we would be out there fouling each other. My aunts and uncles would just be beating me up."

Despite the family fervor, Valderas said she was never pushed into the game. Until eighth grade, she played more softball than basketball, but then came Amateur Athletic Union and summer-league basketball.

"I finally decided if I had to choose, it would be basketball, because that's my true love," she said.

At 8, she started playing organized basketball, advancing to Catholic Youth Organization and AAU ball. Watching Harjer's games at Seton Keough and taking her aunt's advice also prepared Valderas for the strict system and the intensity of Seton Keough coach Jim Stromberg.

"When she played for Strom, I could give her some pointers," said Harjer, who, at 23, is less than six years older than her niece.

Stromberg, who left for St. Paul's after Valderas' sophomore season, remembers her competitive nature and how she blossomed as a sophomore while surrounded by All-Metro guards.

"Against John Carroll, it came down to Keisha [Blackwell] in the paint, and she dished the ball to Jackie for a 4-foot jumper and we won by one," Stromberg said. "Jackie didn't hesitate a bit. She shot it with a couple seconds left on the clock.

"As a sophomore, that's a big shot to take when you have all these other kids, all of them money players."

Over the past three years, Valderas has evolved into one of the area's top post players. She's averaged 11.3 points and 10.3 rebounds this season for the No. 3 Gators.

Valderas' multidimensional offensive game makes her tough for opponents to handle.

"What really hurts most teams is that she can step 15-16 feet from the basket," said Roland Park coach Scott Buckley. "She's a really good shooter. Her size and being able to step away from the basket like that causes all kinds of matchup problems."

Her versatility showed in a 1 1/2 -minute stretch of Friday night's 42-31 victory over No. 17 McDonogh. She scored six points - all in different ways.

First, she dropped a 16-footer. Then she got position inside and rolled in a layup. Then, she showed how well she runs the court, breaking ahead of the defense and taking a long pass from Kristen McLaughlin for a layup.

If Gators coach Jackie Boswell has one complaint about Valderas, it's that she so unselfish. Still, she remains coachable and driven to excel.

"I've never coached a kid who has worked as hard as she does," said Boswell, who was an assistant to Stromberg when Valderas arrived.

That work ethic is evident in the classroom, where Valderas carries a 4.2 weighted grade-point average and ranks No. 1 in her class. While she'd like to play in college - with her dad's alma mater, Loyola, ranking as a top possibility, she also is weighing academic scholarships.

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