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Whitney Branham: Face of survival

Posted: January 12, 2014 10:53 p.m.
Updated: January 12, 2014 10:53 p.m.
West Ranch senior Whitney Branham is in her fourth year as a starter on the Wildcats varsity girls basketball team. She is one of the premier players in the SCV. West Ranch senior Whitney Branham is in her fourth year as a starter on the Wildcats varsity girls basketball team. She is one of the premier players in the SCV.
West Ranch senior Whitney Branham is in her fourth year as a starter on the Wildcats varsity girls basketball team. She is one of the premier players in the SCV.

You’re going to have to play all 32 minutes of each game.

You’re going to have to play alongside girls not at your talent or ability level.

Teams will key on you but you have to score for us to win.

At the same time, you’re going to have to not only be our top producer, but a mentor to all the girls around you.

West Ranch senior guard Whitney Branham’s answer?

A resolute YES.

Those are the tasks at hand for arguably the best returning player in the Foothill League girls basketball ranks.

The four-year varsity starter, a returning All-Santa Clarita Valley and All-Foothill League first-teamer, carries a load different than most athletes.

And there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that she can do all the above and be successful at everything.

“Of course,” says West Ranch first-year head coach Allison Moore on her point guard’s ability to handle that load. “Whitney’s biggest challenge she has this year is getting teammates motivated and understanding how to play the game of basketball period. She’s always been a basketball player and has never had to be taught to be aggressive or have passion or pride for sport. To teach her teammates that, it’s extremely difficult.”

Branham has a desire that’s unteachable, says Moore.

Asking her to play 32 minutes per game seems like asking a lot of a girl who is constantly giving her all.

Watching Branham is like watching survival.

She tucks and slips to get through traffic. She shoots and follows. She drives and crashes to draw fouls. She bumps through screens to defend.

Anything for a positive result.

“My dad always put into me that you have to give 100-percent effort,” Branham says. “You never know who’s watching. Everything I’ve done in life is 100 percent. I just love the game so much. I want to put my everything into what I love.”

Branham’s father, Richard, was a prep star at Cleveland High in Reseda who went on to play at Cal from 1988 to 1993 — the final year alongside Jason Kidd.

Richard says his coaches would describe him as a junkyard dog — someone who would do all the dirty work and anything it would take to win.

He joked that maybe with his daughter it’s in the family DNA.

“I told her to always meet the challenge of who’s playing. Big, tall, stronger, bigger, don’t back down from anybody,” Richard says. “If you play hard and aggressive, everything will work out.”

For her personally, it has.

She has already signed a letter of intent to play for Chico State.

However, Branham says she wants to win a Foothill League title and surpass the second round of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.

In order to do that, those around her have to get better.

And that’s her responsibility — or at least she’s making it hers.

“She inspires us all,” says West Ranch sophomore guard and first-year varsity player Jami Wyman. “She helps us when we don’t understand. If we’re frustrated, she calms us down. ... She has a lot of patience. I know it gets frustrating when we can’t get open or we’re hidden behind taller players. But nothing seems to bother her.”

Branham has taken a special liking to Wyman and her twin sister, Jill, another guard on the team, knowing that they’re the future.

Yes, Branham admits there have been frustrations. But she realizes that she was in the same position as a younger player. And she realizes the challenge is good for her future.

“I’m just so looking forward to college,” the 4.5 GPA-student (another indication of her drive) says. “That won’t be a cakewalk. There will be times I want to break down, but have to keep going through and always be positive.”

Others take notice of her abilities and qualities.

“She’s a terrific player, a great competitor. She tries to do everything,” says Canyon High head coach Chuck Johns. “When I watch her play I don’t see a kid take defensive plays off. She takes care of the ball. To have a kid that scores as much as she does, some take poor shots. She takes good shots. She works to get to the free-throw line. She has the desire and wants to win and have a team be successful.”

The YES girl’s reward, she says, won’t be wins necessarily.

It will be if her teammates give their all like her.

It appears like it it’s already happening.

“We admire her. We look up to her as someone to strive to be like,” Wyman says. “The intensity she puts in, everyone tries and matches that, tries to become that type of player.”


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