Christina Marinacci heard the comparisons before she ever dribbled a basketball for Santa Ana Foothill High: She was going to be the next Kristen Mann.
As she played, and scored like Mann, the comparisons continued: She was going to be the next Jeanette Pohlen.
Marinacci is a 6-foot-2 junior guard who shares Mann's competitiveness and Pohlen's skill set, but who she really wants to be is herself.
"It really is such a great honor to be compared to such great players," Marinacci said. "I couldn't ask for anything more, but when I come out of this, I hope to have my own identity."
Marinacci is not so much the embodiment of them -- Mann is a Foothill graduate now in the WNBA, and Pohlen was The Times' player of the year at Brea Olinda last season and is now playing at Stanford -- as she is prototypical of the next generation of high school player.
"It's what you see in the women's game now," said Brea Olinda Coach Jeff Sink. "She represents the trend -- really great size with high basketball IQ and great skill.
"You've seen it in the men's game, the 6-6 guard who can play all five positions, and now you're seeing that in the girls' game too -- girls over 6 feet with great guard skills."
There is reason for Sink to know so much about one of Foothill's two tallest players. His Ladycats (19-3), ranked No. 6 in the Southland by The Times, must try top stop the No. 19 Knights (18-3) on Friday at Santa Ana Mater Dei High as part of the Nike Extravaganza.
Marinacci has felt the pressure and nervousness that come with such lofty comparisons. After all, Mann had been one of Foothill's best-ever athletes, male or female.
As a player, she was physical, playing with her back to the basket and using her guard-like skills only when necessary. In her sophomore season, Mann led Foothill to the 1999 Southern Section Division II-AA final.
Marinacci is more of a finesse player who works from the outside in, said Knights Coach Bill Seibert, who was an assistant during the Mann years.
"Her freshman year, I think she felt a lot of pressure because everyone was comparing this 14-year-old girl to a woman in the WNBA," Seibert said of Marinacci, who jumps center.
Too quick to be guarded by a post player from the perimeter and too tall and strong for normal-sized guards to handle inside, Marinacci exploited the matchup problems to average 17.8 points and 8.1 rebounds during her freshman season and 25.9 points and 11 rebounds as a sophomore.
She is averaging 21.5 points and 11.7 rebounds this season.
"I'm not averaging as much, but we're winning," she said. "I'd rather be winning all our games than me average so-and-so points."
Foothill was a solid 18-11 the season before Marinacci arrived; over the last three seasons, it is 65-16.
Marinacci's father, Mike, played for Foothill in 1981, but his daughter is getting the Pacific 10 recruiting interest that he never did. She began playing National Junior Basketball in fifth grade.
"I really feel I have a true passion for basketball," she said. "I'm really competitive and leave it out on the court, no matter what."
A pivotal moment in Marinacci's development came near the end of her freshman season. Foothill needed a victory over Irvine Woodbridge to gain a share of the Sea View League title.
"That game was the biggest game where I was looked to to score . . . and being looked to to carry the team," she said. "Late in the fourth quarter, I stepped it up. . . .
"The crowd was unbelievable. That's what I play for, because it was so exhilarating to make a shot and have the crowd cheer you. It made me appreciate the game and believe that I can pull through at critical times, that I can carry the team."
Her team has been on her shoulders ever since, just like . . . well, you know who.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
What: Boys' and girls' two-day basketball showcase.
Where: Santa Ana Mater Dei High
When: Friday and Saturday.
Friday's girls' session: 4:30 p.m. -- Huntington Beach Ocean View vs. Garden Grove La Quinta; 6 -- Santa Margarita vs. Las Vegas Durango; 7:30 -- Santa Ana Foothill vs. Brea Olinda; 9 -- Manhattan Beach Mira Costa vs. Mater Dei.
Saturday's boys' morning session: 8:30 a.m. -- Anaheim Servite vs. Ocean View; 10 -- Cerritos Gahr vs. Corona del Mar; 11:30 -- Los Alamitos vs. Anaheim Canyon; 1 p.m. -- San Juan Capistrano Serra vs. Ontario Colony; 2:30 -- Orange Lutheran vs. Brea Olinda.
Saturday's boys' evening session: 4:30 p.m. -- Compton Dominguez vs. Santa Margarita; 6 -- Westchester vs. Concord De La Salle; 7:30 -- Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick vs. Los Angeles Fairfax; 9 -- Chicago Farragut vs. Mater Dei.
Admission: $10 general admission for girls' session and boys' morning session. $22 reserved and $12 general admission for boys' evening session. Tickets available at Mater Dei's ticket window.
Source: Mater Dei