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Roosevelt Ace Honed Skills on Blacktop

January 09, 1994|ENRIQUE LAVIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Denise Caudillo wears her name well.

In Spanish, caudillo means "leader." And in Roosevelt High School basketball terminology, Denise means "the boss."

The 5-foot-7 guard, who led the City Section last season with a 23.1-point average, helped the Lady Riders win the Eastern League 4-A Division title after moving up from 3-A.

"At times I'm a good leader," said the 17-year-old senior, who was the Eastern League's Most Valuable Player last season. "Sometimes I feel it's individual effort, but it always comes back to teamwork. We have great players on our team."

Caudillo fronts the team with an aggressive style she picked up on the blacktop in parks, where she usually took on the boys. Under her leadership, the Lady Riders are seeking to dethrone Crenshaw, the City Section Division 4-A defending champions.

"She's a great dribbler and a rough-and-tough girl who's not afraid to shoot from the outside or drive her way right to the basket," said Coach Lorenzo Garcia, who has guided the Lady Riders to four league titles and one City Section 3-A Division championship during the past five years.

Caudillo has steadily built an impressive resume, and co-captains the team with senior Leona Jacobs.

In her first season on the squad, Caudillo was part of the team that went on to become the 1991-92 City Section's Division 3-A runner-up. She was an All-City 3-A first-team choice that season. And besides being named 1992-93 Eastern League MVP as a junior, Caudillo has been a two-time City Times selection.

"She's one of the reasons our team is so successful," said Garcia. "She's in the running for an All-City (selection) this year."

When she was in the sixth grade, Caudillo was drawn to the sport by kids shooting hoops on the playgrounds. Encouraged by friends and family to develop her basketball skills, Caudillo joined her junior high school team while some of her friends had to watch from the sidelines.

"Some parents don't let kids play, and that's common in a Latino household," she said of her family's support. "Some Latino families don't pay attention to their kids and then the kids get into gangs and stuff like that."

The only "stuff" Caudillo has is right.

When it's girl-on-girl, her hard-driving style breaks loose and Caudillo can shoot the lights out. "When I'm really into my game, I play real aggressive and physical. I always try to go into the baseline (under the basket)."

With 97 wins in five years coaching, Garcia is counting on Caudillo, who has averaged 18.5 points in eight contests this season, to boost him to his 100th victory. With three other shooters averaging in the double digits, the century mark shouldn't be that difficult to reach. Jacobs follows Caudillo with 15 points a game while juniors Zenobia Tyson-Hunt and Edna Alvarez are at the captains' heels with 14 and 10 points, respectively.

Roosevelt has only lost one game this season, having come out as runner-up in the Washington Holiday Classic.

Although the Lady Riders lost to Washington a month ago, Caudillo has put things in perspective. "The competition is what I like best about the game . . . and I'm a good loser," she said after the 70-62 loss, in which she scored a team high 17 points. "I see it as just a tournament and I know in the long run we'll meet Washington again."

Yet she's not as certain as to where she'll take her scoring abilities after high school. She said she doesn't have a No. 1 college choice. However, Garcia said, several top basketball universities have expressed interest in the athlete, including Cal State Long Beach and Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Los Angeles.

Her success on the court has brought her somewhat of a mini-celebrity status at Roosevelt. And she enjoys it. "But I don't let it get to my head. It just feels good to see a Latina do something good."

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