The question isn’t about Desiree Harding’s basketball talent.
Don’t kid yourself — the Fresno High four-year starting point guard would not only play for the Clovis Wests, Edisons and Hanfords of Central Section girls basketball lore, she’d make an impact.
The question isn’t about how she has become the second-leading scorer in school history.
The question isn’t about how the Warriors have won 73 games in her career — the latest, 59-27 as a top seed over No. 8 Exeter in the Division III playoffs Thursday — after winning 11 total in three previous seasons.
The question really is this: How did Fresno keep her? In an era of transient prep hoops — often shamelessly in the high-profile programs of Southern California — how did the Warriors keep her out of the clutches of the local heavy hitters?
Bottom line: How did they keep her from transferring after she had established herself in the Northern California AAU circuit playing for the Fresno PAL club team coming out of then-Fresno High feeder Wawona Middle School?
Warriors coach Dan Avila declines to comment, other than to say: “Yes, there were always rumors she was going somewhere.”
Yet she didn’t, despite no fewer than three courtships from schools in the city, she says.
Yet she didn’t, despite the Warriors going 4-21, 4-16 and 3-17 before her freshman year.
“I didn’t want to be like everyone else and be on a star team,” she says following a 25-point performance against Exeter. “I wanted to build with a group of girls, develop as a team and hopefully carry on after that.”
That’s exactly what happened: “And I’m proud — tremendously.”
Hannah Tsutsui, Vernisha Sessions and Tiffany Smith also joined the varsity as freshmen with Harding, along with Avila, reversing the woes of a program that has gone 13-14, 17-12, 20-9 and now 23-4 since.
The Warriors, seeking their first section girls basketball title in school history, according to historian Bob Barnett, will remain home to play fifth-seeded Sanger in Tuesday’s semifinals. Win that one and Fresno will have a Selland Arena ticket for the D-III championship at 2 p.m. March 7.
“I just want to get a ring,” Harding says. “That’s it — that’s what I’m striving for.”
The results of the school’s International Baccalaureate program, the only one of its kind in Fresno Unified, is also evident in the fact that Harding has signed a basketball scholarship with Fresno Pacific and that Tsutsui has been accepted at Cal on an academic ride.
“I’d like to turn around that program, also,” says the 5-foot-8 Harding, whose considerable skill set features virtually a dinosauer in today’s game from preps to college to the NBA — the midrange jumper.
She made three consecutive of those shots, thrusting Fresno into command for good in the first quarter.
Her 1,559 career points, according to Barnett, are second only in Warriors annals to Janae Hubbard’s 1,852 (1993-96).
“That’s the best part of her game, to dribble and pull up for that jumper, and not too many girls have that,” Avila says. “Everybody gets away from that because it’s all about 3s and layups. She could play for anybody — she could play for Clovis West — because she’s a scorer. She’s just as talented as their kids.”