Jordan Wilson, a Malibu High Sharks boys’ basketball player of four seasons, has played basketball with Hannah Kaloper for some time.
The two live in the same neighborhood, so hooping with one another along with Stefan Colburn and Nate Folkerts, also Sharks basketball players, is a common occurrence. The two teenagers know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so Wilson, a 2021 Malibu graduate, knows his 15-year-old neighbor can play.
The 6-foot-3 Wilson described his 5-foot-5 friend and neighbor in text messages.
“Her type of play is purely hardworking,” Wilson wrote. “She doesn’t care that we might be bigger than her, she believes she deserves to play with us, which she does. She doesn’t back down at all.”
So, Wilson didn’t pick up his dribble when Kaloper, a freshman this past school year, joined the boys’ basketball team early in the bunch’s COVID-delayed season in April.
“I honestly wasn’t too shocked because she seemed like one of the best players available at our school to join,” he said.
Kaloper joined the boys’ basketball roster around the Sharks’ second or third game because the girls’ basketball squad didn’t have enough roster members to put a team on the hardwood. Kaloper, a basketball player since she was in sixth grade, still wanted a chance to dribble. So, several people, including Sharks girls’ basketball coach Andy Meyer, asked boys’ basketball coach Richard Harris if Kaloper could join the boys’ bunch. Meyer told Harris that Kaloper was a hard worker, who loved to play basketball.
The sport has no gender, said Harris, so he felt Kaloper joining his group would be as smooth as a finger roll layup.
“If she can hoop, she can play for me,” he recalled saying.
Kaloper, who also plays for a girls’ travel basketball club in Agoura Hills, loves basketball and desired any opportunity to play.
“Once I become passionate and focused on something, I work hard and nothing stops me,” she said. “Even though there wasn’t a girls’ season, I was still dedicated to playing basketball and working hard at it. I would practice, practice, practice even though there wasn’t a girls season.”
So, the guard was given a jersey adorned with the number one, laced up her sneakers and became possibly the first ever girls’ basketball player on the Malibu boys’ basketball team.
Kaloper was a bit intimated when she walked in the gym for her first practice with the boys’ bunch—even though she has played neighborhood basketball with members of the opposite sex for years—but she was focused trying her best.
“I trust in my skill and hard work,” said Kaloper, who described herself as an aggressive team player.
The boys’ coach said as soon as the ninth grader joined the team it was apparent she was right where she belonged. Harris said the newest Shark held her own in practices.
“She can hoop,” he said. “She did all the drills and was capable of doing anything I suggested. I’d throw her in drills and competitions, and she would be right in the middle of it. It went from me thinking, ‘She is a really good worker’ to, ‘She could play for me all four years.’ She is passionate, dedicated and 100 percent invested in basketball. She works as hard or harder than guys I have coached.”
Harris said Kaloper set a standard of practicing hard.
“She was a freshman,” he said. “A freshman girl playing varsity boys’ basketball—a competitive basketball team that had an amazing season.”
Malibu finished the regular season with a 7-5 record and a Citrus Coast League title. The team defeated The Webb School in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Boys Basketball Championships-Division 5A tournament before falling to Faith Baptist in the next round. The Sharks were defeated by Crawford in the opening round of the Division 6-AA tournament.
Perimeter players Dean Furlong and Noah Weaver were named to an All-CIF first team. Furlong was named the team MVP while Weaver received the coach’s award. Both players were named to the Citrus Coast League’s first team, and guard Arman Santizo was named to the second team. Wilson, a forward, and Hunter Bercu, another forward, received honorable mention status.
Harris, who has coached the Sharks for five seasons, said the team’s cohesiveness made the 2021 Sharks a special group.
“This is the best team I have ever coached,” he said. “I’ve coached for 17 years and I’ve never had a team that had the chemistry they had. The attitudes, the personalities, the parents with no complaints, the players with no complaints. The players supported each other. Everyone wanted to see the other person do well—genuinely.”
Wilson agreed with his coach.
“This was 100 percent the best team in Malibu basketball history because we went undefeated in league and made it further than any other team had before us,” he said.
The forward said his favorite moment of the season was the last home game.
“All season we couldn’t really have fans at our games, but this was one of the first ones where the gym could be somewhat crowded,” Wilson said.
Kaloper didn’t score any points for the Sharks this season, but she did play in a few games. Her teammates treated her no different than any other player, Harris said. They cheered for when she got in games and challenged her in practice. Kaloper said she was truly part of the team.
“All credit to the coaches and to the guys,” she said. “They are very special people to make that happen.”
Kaloper won’t forget when the entire student section at a home game chanted her name.
“That makes Malibu High School such a special place,” she said.
The player noted the way little girls looked at her with awe after games was also touching.
“They absorbed everything about my existence,” she said. “Being able to pep talk them and pour into the girls’ basketball community through just being a strong member of it was incredible.”
Harris said Kaloper’s presence on the roster added several attributes to the Sharks.
“She had a lot of awareness,” he said. “Sometimes I would ask the team a question and the guys would be reluctant to talk or give responses they think I want to hear. After we won a game, I asked the group what could have done better and she made a comment on rebounding. She said it seemed like the other team knew where the rebounds were going to go but our team just reacted after they saw where the ball was going. Most people don’t pick up on that. It’s awareness that is going to translate to success in life.”
Harris said Kaloper could join the boys’ team again next season if the school doesn’t have a girls’ team. She would be an effective player for the boys, but if she plays on a girls’ Sharks squad, her basketball ceiling is high.
“I think she will be the best girls’ player who ever played at Malibu if given the right opportunities,” Harris said. “She has it—all the factors are there for her to really change the game in Malibu.”
Kaloper said playing on either team would be a great experience.
“I hope that Malibu will be able to have a girls’ basketball team, but I have loved every minute of being on the boys’ team and love the people with my whole heart,” she said. “I’m so grateful to them. I’d make the best out of whatever team I play on.”