The big fish in a small pond proved she could swim in an ocean of sharks Wednesday.
Manteca High senior Loretta Kakala was the top player for the West girls team during the 40th McDonald’s All-American Games held at United Center in Chicago, tallying 11 points, six rebounds and two steals in just 15 minutes of play.
The East won in overtime 80-74 and was spearheaded by IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) star Rellah Boothe’s 18 points, nine boards and two blocks. Boothe was named MVP.
“It was an intro of what to expect for next year,” Kakala said from the arena after the game via a phone interview. The 6-foot-3 center has signed with Louisville, and future teammate Dana Evans of West Side Leadership Academy (Gary, Ind.) played for the East.
“Height-wise, I’m not the only big person here — there are guards who are close to my height. Adjusting to that was tough, but I have to get used to it quick.”
She didn’t appear to have any trouble at the start. Kakala helped the West build a 34-26 halftime lead and finished 5 for 6 from the field and 1 for 2 on free throws.
Nervous leading up the game, Kakala received words of comfort and encouragement from her father Roy, who called from back home. Manteca head coach Ryan Bono joined Kakala on the trip. They’ll return home today.
“It was a really cool and amazing experience,” Kakala said. “It’s definitely one of the biggest stages I’ve ever played on and the intensity was high. I just did whatever I could to help the team.”
Kakala and Bono arrived Sunday and it was straight to business. Players took photos, received their game gear and got fitted for dresses. First practices were held Monday and they visited the Ronald McDonald House after. A formal banquet and ring ceremony was held Tuesday night.
“It was quite busy,” Kakala said.
Kakala led Manteca to a 17-11 and the Valley Oak League championship this past season. She was also named All-VOL Most Valuable Player, averaging 14.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. Kakala is the first Manteca Unified student to earn an invitation to the McDonald’s All-American Games but not the first Mantecan; former St. Mary’s star Chelsea Gray was part of the 2010 event.
“I’ve been telling her this whole week that the city, her coaches and teammates are so proud of her,” Bono said. “She represented Manteca well. At the Ronald McDonald House she had a great time playing piano with the kids. She’s just a great example of what a McDonald’s All-American is.”