Toledo's top 5 best girls basketball players

·8 min read

May 16—The departure of Notre Dame basketball star Grace VanSlooten, who will transfer to play her senior high school season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., rekindled some thought about just where the Eagles' versatile 6-foot-2 forward would rank among Toledo's best girls basketball players.

The answer is ... in the top five, for now. That is projecting a productive final prep season in a high-profile environment, an almost can't-miss successful college basketball future, and perhaps even a professional career down the road.

Here is a look at The Blade's all-time top five girls basketball players, weighing their prep exploits along with their post-high school achievements.

No. 1: Natasha Howard, Waite (2006-2010)

Toledo's most accomplished girls basketball player in history, the 6-3 Howard has excelled in high school, college, and professionally as a three-time WNBA champion, five-year playoff finalist, and 2019 All-Star.

While at Waite, Howard was the first four-time first team All-Blade player, and only Toledo girl named as Ohio's Ms. Basketball. She got that honor as a senior in 2009-10, when she led the Indians to the Division I state final. Able to play any position from guard to center, Howard had 1,733 career points. She was named first team All-City League four times, received Division I All-Ohio honors in 2008 and 2010, and was chosen second team All-Ohio in 2009.

In addition to Ms. Basketball in 2010, Howard was named a first team Parade magazine All-American, and played in the prestigious McDonald's All-American game.

In four seasons at Florida State University (2010-2014), Howard finished second on the Seminoles' career scoring list with 1,811 points, was No. 1 in rebounding with 1,047, and third in blocked shots with 186. She was twice named first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference, averaging 20.5 points and 9.3 rebounds as a senior.

Howard was the No. 5 overall pick of the 2014 WNBA draft, and has played 200 games in six seasons, averaging 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds. She reached the WNBA finals with the Indiana Fever in 2015 and with Minnesota Lynx in 2016, then won a WNBA title with Minnesota in 2017. She added WNBA championships with the Seattle Storm in 2018 and 2020.

In 2019, Howard averaged 18.1 points and 8.2 rebounds in earning All-WNBA honors, and was also named to the league's all-defense team. She is set to begin her eighth WNBA season, now with the New York Liberty, after finishing play overseas in the Italian League's championship series.

No. 2: Zia Cooke, Rogers (2015-2019)

The most talented guard in Toledo girls high school history, the 5-9 Cooke led Rogers to Division II state championships in 2018 and 2019, Toledo's only back-to-back state titles, boys or girls.

Cooke, who received numerous college scholarship offers before playing in her first prep game with the Rams, lived up to that promise.

She averaged 21.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists as a senior, closing her career with a City League record 2,197 points. While in high school, Cooke also played in the summer on USA Basketball squads that won back-to-back FIBA World Cup gold medals in 2017 and 2018.

She was twice named first team All-Ohio in Division II, and was a prep All-American. Following her senior season, Cooke played in the McDonald's and Jordan Brand All-American games.

Rated as the nation's No. 7 overall player in her class, she accepted a scholarship from national power South Carolina. As a freshman, Cooke started all 33 games and averaged 12.0 points per game for the top-ranked, 32-1 Gamecocks before the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the NCAA tournament.

This past season, she led South Carolina to a 26-5 overall record, scoring a team-best 15.9 points per game. The Gamecocks advanced to the final four of the NCAA tournament, falling to eventual champion Stanford, 66-65, in the national semifinals. Cooke was the leading score in that game with 25 points.

No. 3: Frani Washington, Woodward (1973-76)

Although she played in the early years of girls basketball, the 5-6 guard laid the groundwork for all great Toledo players that would follow, and was a true pioneer with her performance.

In the 1975-76 season, the first in which the Ohio High School Athletic Association held a state tournament for girls basketball, Washington led Woodward to an 18-2 overall record and to the state's first Class AAA (big school) state championship.

She led the Polar Bears to wins over Bowling Green (49-43) and Medina (50-45) in the regionals at Norwalk, then posted identical 27-point (10 field goals, 7 free throws) scoring lines in Woodward's victories over Struthers (57-56) in the state semifinals and Columbus Watterson (63-59) in the first AAA championship game.

Washington moved on to the next level to play at Ohio State University, where she became the Buckeyes' first women's player to earn first team All-America honors in 1979.

In that 1978-79 season, she averaged an OSU record 23.7 points per game, 7.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 2.7 steals per game. She scored a program-record 39 points in a Buckeyes loss at Tennessee, a mark that stood for 16 years. Washington totaled 30 or more points five times that season, and had 20 or more 21 times in 30 games for the 19-11 Buckeyes.

No. 4: Ericka Haney, Central Catholic (1994-1998)

A true all-around star athlete for the Irish, Haney excelled at volleyball, basketball, and track and field for Central Catholic. In basketball, she starred on teams that went 87-12 in her career. She finished with 1,353 points and 1,124 rebounds for career averages of 13.6 and 11.4, respectively.

In 1997-98 as a senior, Haney led the Irish to a 25-2 finish, a state semifinal appearance, and was named first team All-Ohio.

Haney also was a key member of Central's 1995 D-I state final-four volleyball team as a sophomore before giving up that sport to focus more on basketball.

Track and field may have been her best prep sport, as she won City League titles four times in the 200-meter dash and 100 hurdles, and added CL titles in the 400 and high jump her final two years. She was state runner-up in the 200 and 100 hurdles in 1998.

Haney played four seasons (984 career points) at the University of Notre Dame on teams that went 107-22 overall. She was a starter (11.0 points, 5.7 rebounds per game) in 2000-01, when the Fighting Irish finished 34-2 and won the program's first NCAA title.

Haney spent 10-plus years as a college assistant coach, including at Ohio State, and this past season returned to Central Catholic to teach and take over as girls head basketball coach.

No. 5: Grace VanSlooten, Notre Dame (2018-21)

Even though the Toledo portion of VanSlooten's career ended after three seasons, she showed enough in that time to garner a spot on this all-time top-five list.

As a freshman in 2018-19, VanSlooten was the second-leading scorer and top rebounder on a 23-6 Notre Dame team that reached the Division I state semifinals, and topped the Eagles with 15 points and seven rebounds in a 52-42 state semifinal loss to top-ranked Pickerington Central. She was named second team All-Ohio.

In 2019-20, VanSlooten averaged 16.2 points while leading a 23-3 Eagles team back to the D-I state semifinals before the coronavirus pandemic canceled the remainder of Ohio's winter sports tournaments. She was named first team All-Ohio.

As a junior this past season, VanSlooten led Notre Dame through a challenging journey that included three separate 14-day coronavirus quarantines. She averaged 20.9 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists to lead the Eagles (16-2) to a third straight D-I final four appearance.

VanSlooten had 20 points and eight rebounds in a 59-50 loss to eventual unbeaten state champion Cincinnati Mt. Notre Dame, which was riding a 72-game winning streak at season's end, and was the No. 2 ranked prep team in the nation. She was named first team All-Ohio for the second time, and was a finalist for Ohio's Ms. Basketball award.

VanSlooten is ranked as Ohio's No. 2 player in the Class of 2022 by ESPN, which also rates her as the nation's No. 16 junior. She leaves Notre Dame having scored 1,094 points and grabbed 635 rebounds.

With 50-plus Division-I college scholarship offers, VanSlooten last month stated that her top 10 college choices consists of national runner-up Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, and UCLA.

First Published May 15, 2021, 6:56pm

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