Laura Oki has basketball on the brain.
Of course, it's hard not to fall victim to the syndrome if you visit Marshall High, where the girls coaches' offices--located directly beneath the basketball playing floor--are filled with staccato bursts of basketball meeting hardwood.
Oki's case, however, is more acute.
Not long after she was taught that two plus two equals four, Oki figured out that 2-1-2 equaled a zone defense. This occurred while Oki ran the show as the point guard for a fourth-grade team that participated in the highly competitive leagues and tournaments sponsored by the Asian Youth Organization.
Today, at 17, Oki watches televised basketball games incessantly, memorizing the moves of Detroit Piston guards Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. She regularly practices three-point baskets on the outdoor court her father just updated at home and translates all of those experiences into 23 points a game for Marshall, the defending City Section 3-A Division champion.
Amid the din from above, Oki sat in the corner of the Marshall coaches' office before practice earlier this week and took a shot at explaining why she was selected 3-A Player of the Year last season.
She dismissed the fact that she shoots, dribbles and defends as well as anyone in the division.
"The most important thing is the mind," Oki said with a smile. "Knowing the game itself beats a lot of people."
Oki and her teammates were 17-2 last season en route to the 3-A championship--Marshall's first in girls' basketball. The Barristers fell to Southern Section-power Morningside in the first round of the state playoffs.
With the 5-foot-3 Oki and several key players back from that team, Marshall is favored to win its third consecutive Northern League title and second consecutive 3-A championship.
The Barristers, who meet Hollywood in a league game on Friday, are 9-2 and ranked third in the City by The Times, behind only defending 4-A champion Washington and Van Nuys.
"We have a great chance (to repeat) as long as we stay healthy," said Marshall Coach Wendy Triplett, who has no players taller than 5-8. "All my kids look like they're beat to death when the game is over.
"They're tough, no question."
They are also no strangers.
Oki, a senior, and guard Melissa Tong have been playing together since the fifth grade. Guard Renee Domaloan and Oki go back as far as the sixth grade while forward Tina Chimarios and guard Lisa Khuu have been Oki's teammates since the eighth grade.
"It's obvious from the way they play," Wilson Coach Simone Chait said. "They have a lot of good players."
Indeed, Khuu and Chimarios, both of whom were nominated for Player of the Year last season, are averaging 17 and 11 points, respectively, for the Barristers. Chimarios also averages a team-high 12 rebounds.
But "the glue" of the team, says Triplett and other coaches, is Oki.
"She has instinct that you don't see in a lot of girls at this level," Chait said. "She controls the ball going down the court and knows when--and when not--to do something."
Oki was a starter for the Barristers in her first year at Marshall as a sophomore. She played off-guard and averaged 13 points for a team that won the league title but lost in the first round of the City playoffs.
"I was timid when I first got here," Oki said. "Last season, I was more confident."
Oki's self-assuredness translated into 17.2 points per game as she split time between the off-guard and the point.
This season, with the graduation of point guard Denise Wong, Triplett has asked Oki to assume a greater leadership role as well carry more of the scoring load.
Oki has responded by improving her shooting, especially from three-point range.
Two weeks ago in the Bell-Jeff tournament, Oki scored a career-high 31 points--including five three-point baskets--in a victory over Glendale.
She eclipsed that mark a few days later when, working against a box-and-one defensive scheme, she poured in eight three-point baskets while scoring 36 points in a close loss to Southern Section-power Palos Verdes.
Oki is hoping her basketball skills, coupled with her 3.8 grade-point average, will garner the attention of Division I college basketball coaches. She would like to attend UCLA, but realizes that 5-3 guards, regardless of talent, might not be at the top of the Bruins' recruiting list.
"I've been playing basketball for a long time," Oki said. "I'd just like the chance to see how much more I can improve."