Basketball has taken South Salem High’s Evina Westbrook throughout the country and overseas.
So when Westbrook opened her warm-up jacket to reveal an orange University of Tennessee t-shirt Thursday during a signing ceremony at The Hoop, it came as no great surprise.
With several hundred people in attendance, including family, friends, coaches and classmates, Westbrook signed a national letter of intent with Tennessee, one of the storied programs in women’s college basketball.
She had narrowed her choices to Tennessee, Oregon State, Notre Dame, Maryland and USC.
“I’ve always kind of been the type to go away from home, just go grow up and do my own thing. My parents have known that,” said Westbrook, a 6-foot senior guard. “I’m really excited for the next chapter in my life.”
But first things first.
Westbrook, who was the Oregon girls basketball player of the year last season after averaging 19.5 points per game, will try to lead South Salem to a third consecutive Class 6A state championship.
“I have to look at what’s in front of me right now and it’s high school,” Westbrook said. “I take it one step at a time.”
Westbrook is the most acclaimed high school basketball player to come out of the Salem area.
She is rated as the No. 1 girls high school guard in the country by ESPN, and the No. 2 player overall behind wing Megan Walker (Richmond, Virginia), who signed with UConn, the four-time defending national champions.
Last summer Westbrook played on USA Women’s U18 National Team that won a world championship in Chile, and she won a second straight national championship playing for the Cal Stars AAU team.
Tennessee won eight national championships under legendary coach Pat Summitt, who retired after the 2011-12 season due to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. She died in June.
“The history is obviously phenomenal there,” Westbrook said. “I have to take into consideration who I’m gonna be playing with. That’s a big thing at every school.”
The Volunteers have three Oregonians on their roster – senior guard Jordan Reynolds (Central Catholic High, Portland), junior center Mercedes Russell (Springfield High) and junior guard/forward Jaime Nared (Westview High, Portland).
Had Westbrook chosen to play at OSU, she would have been reunited with former South Salem teammate Katie McWilliams, now a sophomore guard with the Beavers. OSU advanced to the Final Four last season.
“It was definitely tough,” Westbrook said of her college decision. “But at the same time I have to do what’s right for me. (Oregon State) coach Scott (Rueck) always said he always would be supporting me, always be a fan, and if I ever need him. It’s all about love.”
Westbrook certainly had plenty of love from the people at her signing ceremony and that included a surprise visit from older brother L.J., a junior guard at Prairie View A&M, which plays at OSU on Friday. The entire Prairie View team was in attendance.
Westbrook’s parents, James and Eva, plan on attending many of their daughter’s college games at Tennessee.
“It’s a big accomplishment for her and it’s where she wants to be. She made the decision on her own,” James Westbrook said. “We stood by her and let her make the decision. It’s gonna be a great school for her.”
South Salem girl’s coach Nick McWilliams, whose daughter Katie was on the Saxons’ 2015 state championship team, called Westbrook “one of the greatest players to play in our town and our state.”
“Katie told her all along, ‘go where you feel is best for you,’” McWilliams said.
It was fitting that Westbrook’s signing ceremony took place at The Hoop, a basketball facility she’s been a fixture at since the third grade.
Hoop owner Price Johnson said “there will never be another Evina Westbrook.”
“I’ve been thinking about having this day here since I was little,” Westbrook said. “For this to be here and have my dreams come true is amazing.”
ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6726 or Twitter.com/ghorowitz