If Japhera McEachin wasn’t the starting point guard for the Todd Beamer High School girls basketball team, coach Corey Alexander would love to see her play football.
“She’d be like Marshawn Lynch,” he said.
Teammate Darion Brown could see her on a soccer field.
“She’s rough — and she’s really fast,” Brown said.
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McEachin would prefer to stick to basketball.
Especially this year now that she’s Beamer’s go-to backcourt player after three years of waiting her turn behind the Titans’ trove of NCAA Division I products. She is one of two returning starters from last year’s 4A state semifinal team.
Last season’s loss to eventual state champion Central Valley appeared to be an end of an era for Beamer. It is the only 4A school to reach the state semifinals in the Tacoma Dome each of the past two seasons.
Yet judging by Beamer’s success thus far, so little has really changed.
“I tell these girls all of the time that we are just as good as those teams before if everybody comes to play,” Alexander said. “From day one they’ve come to work hard, every day.”
For McEachin, the end of last season was the start of an opportunity.
She earned her way into the starting lineup last year after being a role player off the bench as a freshman and sophomore. McEachin moved from off guard to point guard, took over as the team’s vocal leader and is second behind junior post Makenzie Bond in scoring, averaging 12.5 points as Beamer has started 11-2.
“For me, I’m always like, ‘Whatever the coach needs, I’ll do it,’ ” McEachin said. “I know I was playing with great players who were going to make me better. That’s why this year has been really easy for me because I’ve been prepared.”
Beamer graduated its top three scorers from last year — point guard and 2014-15 TNT All-Area player of the year Bria Rice to the University of Arizona; last year’s TNT All-Area player of the year Nia Alexander to the University of San Francisco; and Makenna Woodfolk to Hawaii.
As a sophomore, McEachin came off the bench behind Quinessa Caylao-Do, who is now playing at Colorado.
“(McEachin) was a player who could have gone anywhere else and been a starter all four years and probably averaged a double-double,” Alexander said.
She’s 5-foot-4 but plays much bigger.
McEachin is the youngest of seven siblings, and most all of them played basketball, as did her father. Her three older sisters, Chamel, Ashanti and Jasmine, all played for Federal Way, and Ashanti went on to play a year at Virginia State.
But it was her brother, Jordan, who she said most influenced her game.
“He was the roughest on me. He would never let me play with him and his friends,” McEachin said. “He would always say I was too small, and that pushed me to want to be better.
“I grew up with people who told me I couldn’t do things, which only made me want to prove that I could.”
Alexander remembers when McEachin first showed up to the Beamer gymnasium and how she out-hustled everybody.
“She was a firecracker,” Alexander said. “If Japhera was 6-2, she would be a beast because she likes that contact and physical play. But as the years have gone on, she’s learned to play that point guard role, slow it down and make sure everybody is in the right spots.”
That’s helped with her college recruitment, too. Recruiters have been able to see McEachin expand her game, whereas last year she didn’t bring the ball up the floor because she didn’t need to.
McEachin would like to play college basketball, she said, but she would also like to study nursing. McEachin is currently enrolled in Running Start, a program that allows high school juniors and seniors to take college courses and get high school and college credits.
“I didn’t get much playing time early on, but I just stuck with it and focused on being a teammate and a team-player first,” McEachin said. “I think that really helped me.
“There’s always those thoughts that you could be playing more playing somewhere else. But it was about thinking about the greater good and what’s to come instead of just the present.”
That meant she got to experience two trips to the Tacoma Dome. Beamer’s four consecutive trips to the state tournament are the only four appearances in the school’s 14-year history.
But last year’s team was far more run-and-gun than this year’s group. Last season, Beamer beat teams with stellar guard play and athleticism, while this year it beats them with physicality and size.
Makenzie Bond, who is 6-1, is averaging 13.4 points, and 6-foot-2 Darion Brown is averaging 11.9 points.
“We don’t have as many scoring guards as we did last year,” Alexander said. “But we have the best bigs, to me, in the state.”
So Alexander slowed the offense down from its high-octane pace last year.
“I think the hardest thing we had to process was the transition,” Brown said. “Coach was telling us all the time last year to run, run, run. This is a much different team.
“But we feel we can be just as good.”
And they’re enjoying the opportunity to prove that.
“Last year I could depend on Nia and Bria, but in practices they slowly molded me into the player I am today,” McEachin said. “So I wasn’t scared to step up.
“You do miss those players, but at the same time, you know they aren’t going to be here, so you have to step up.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677