Karla Salmi learned how to play basketball the hard way. From age 9, she played hour after hour with her older brother and his friends, fighting to get a shot off at the backboard attached to the roof of their garage.
The first time she played organized basketball against opponents her own age, in sixth grade at a club run by San Diego State basketball Coach Smokey Gaines, Salmi was well ahead of the competition. The games against her brother had forced her to play aggressively and taught her how to defend taller players.
"When I played with the Smokey Gaines club, it was actually pretty easy for me," Salmi said.
Salmi, a senior, has maintained that edge at Crawford High School. And her consistency is a major reason Crawford is 16-2. The Times' Player of the Week, Salmi averages 20.1 points a game and scored 20 in each of Crawford's victories last week over Lincoln and San Diego. She added another 20 Tuesday in a 69-32 victory over Hoover.
"We think she's probably going to score 20 points every game--it's the others we have to worry about," Crawford Coach Jeff Olivero said.
Olivero said her greatest asset is her passing ability, though at times this can be too much of a good thing.
"She's used to playing with guys, so she has a tendency of passing the ball harder than girls are used to catching it," Olivero said.
"I have (scoring 20 or more points) in the back of mind, but it's not something I go out to do."
Salmi also plays volleyball (her favorite sport) in the fall and softball in the spring. She was named the City Central League's Player of the Year in volleyball last season. She was chosen second-team all-league in basketball last season.
Four years ago, Salmi was diagnosed as having diabetes. She must take precautions to keep from becoming exhausted or dehydrated while competing, particularly in basketball because of all the running.
"I've been playing sports all my life and I've only had diabetes for the last four years," she said. "Usually before a game, I'll just have something to eat or drink some juice and I'm fine."
As she enters the last half of her senior year, Salmi is being watched closely by college recruiters for her basketball and volleyball skills. She said she would prefer to remain in California, though not at San Diego State.
"I live right around the corner from SDSU," she said. "I pass it every day. I see the traffic and the people. . . . I think I'd be more comfortable in other surroundings, hopefully away from home."