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Best friends team up at Merced College
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Keyasha Brothern and Quantelle Daniels weren't always friends.

"We met through basketball tryouts at Blaker-Kinser Jr. High," Brothern said.

Brothern and Daniels starred on the eighth and seventh grade girls teams, respectively, during the 1999-2000 school year. They watched each other play.

At Ceres High School, they were teammates for three years at the varsity level.

This year, Brothern and Daniels are playing together at Merced College. They spent the past season apart.

"I think we can definitely have a strong impact on the team," Brothern said. "We both love to be out there. We're very competitive."

Added Merced coach Allen Huddleston: "They play at such a high level and are used to winning."

Brothern and Daniels amassed 59 victories at Ceres High. They guided the Bulldogs to the playoffs every season.

"It was a crazy journey," Brothern said. "You learn a lot about each other off the court."

Added Daniels: "It was a good experience."

Brothern graduated from Ceres High in 2003. The four-year starter averaged 18.2 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game during her senior year. She also shot 40 percent (41-for-103) from 3-point range.

Ceres finished second in the Central California Conference at 10-3, secured a berth in the playoffs and went 22-7 overall.

Brothern had 24 points, including four 3-pointers, in a 68-52 loss to No. 1 seed Vacaville in the Division II semifinal playoff game at the University of Pacific.

This past season, Brothern helped lead the Central Arizona College women's basketball team to a third-place finish at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I National Championships in Kansas. The Vaqueras won three of four games and finished the year with a 33-3 record.

Brothern averaged 7.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

Then she decided to move back to California.

Brothern didn't enjoy playing for legendary coach Lin Laursen, who has won more than 800 games, captured two national championships and claimed 24 conference titles at the junior-college level.

At Ceres High, Brothern did everything.

She was the No. 1 option. She scored from just about everywhere. She rarely rested.

At Central Arizona, Brothern was a role player.

She was relegated to the post (power forward). She had trouble adjusting.

Brothern also missed her family, mother Gwen, father John and brother Johnathan.

"It just really wasn't working out for me as far as fitting into her system," she said. "I don't want to say she took away my creative freedom. It just felt like she wanted to keep me in a box. It was confining."

Brothern considered staying in Arizona. But didn't want to after being scolded by coach Laursen. Brothern said she went into the player-coach meeting with an open mind.

"I talked to her before I made a concrete decision," Brothern said. "At that moment, I knew I wasn't coming back."

Brothern phoned Huddleston.

"It was an easy choice," Brothern said. "I wanted to play for coach Huddleston. I almost went to Merced after high school."

Added Huddleston: "We really thought we had her. (When she left for Arizona) I told her she would always have a home at Merced."

Daniels graduated from Ceres High in 2004.

During her senior year, she averaged 12 points, four rebounds and three assist per game in leading the Bulldogs to a second-place finish in the CCC at 10-3 and 21-8 overall record. Ceres also advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Daniels, a four-year varsity player, had 19 points, including 17 in the second half, during Ceres' 55-52 win over Tokay in the opening round of the playoffs.

After graduating from high school, Daniels enrolled in a summer program at Cal State Stanislaus in an effort to prepare for her freshman year in college.

She wanted to play for the Warriors' basketball team.

She made a verbal commitment to Stanislaus' head coach, who failed to return phone calls as the school year and season approached.

"I didn't decide to go here until the weekend before school started," Daniels said.

"I made the right decision."

Huddleston agreed.

"I thought she was going to Stanislaus State so we didn't make a push for her," he said.

"Having her here now is a blessing."

Daniels was named Merced's starting point guard after teammate Tonesha Jackson suffered a knee injury. Daniels is averaging 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals per game.

"Quantelle stepped into that starting role and did an outstanding job for us," Huddleston said. "She accepted the challenge."

Brothern has been sidelined with a sore back for the past month. She suffered the injury when she was undercut by an opponent in Arizona last year.

Brothern didn't seek treatment afterwards and has had recurring problems, including muscle spasms and shooting pains down her back and legs, ever since.

"I've never had an injury like this before," Brothern said. "It's frustrating."

Added Huddleston: "I wish Keyasha could play. We've been missing her."

Brothern played in just three of Merced's first 11 games.

"She demands so much attention," Huddleston said. "It makes it easier when her teammates are playing with her.

"She's tried to talk me into letting her play."

Brothern's last appearance, which occurred against Cosumnes River in Sacramento on Nov. 18, lasted just five minutes.

"She couldn't move," Huddleston said. "She couldn't stand up.

"We want to make sure she's healthy and ready to play. She has a future after Merced College."

Coaches from a handful of Division I colleges have expressed interest in Brothern.

"She's an extremely talented player," Huddleston said. "She's one of the most athletic players I have ever seen."

Brothern said she will continue to work with a trainer and hopes to return to the lineup before the start of the league season, which gets underway in January.

"We don't know if we're going to get her back this year," Huddleston said. "It would make a big difference for us."

Added Brothern: "My mom is hoping I get back on the court very soon."

Gwen rooted for Keyasha at the Merced College Tournament at the beginning of the season. Keyasha's father, brother, aunt and cousin also cheered.

"My mom was real excited," Brothern said. "That was the first time she'd seen me play since my senior year."

When Brothern and Daniels are not in uniform, they enjoy spending time together. They live in an apartment, which is located five minutes away from campus, with two other basketball players. Brothern and Daniels share a room.

"We do homework, watch TV, go shopping, hang out with our other teammates and visit family," Daniels said.

"We're best friends."

Added Brothern: "It carries over to the court." - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier