The Dallas Morning News
Focus on basketball built stellar career
Awkward as freshman, Coppell star finishes as state’s top player
If Julianna “Jules” LaMendola had found success in volleyball at an early age, she might have never tried basketball. As it was, in sixth grade LaMendola found a sport that would allow her to become the best player in Texas and one of the top recruits in the nation.
“I have a twin [sister]. Her name is Skye. She was really good at volleyball, so we both tried out for volleyball,” LaMendola said. “I wasn’t that good at it, so I tried out for basketball. We played both sports at the time, but I just had an inkling for basketball and I took it and ran with it and fell in love with the sport.”
Now the Coppell superstar has signed with Indiana, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
LaMendola capped an illustrious career by leading Coppell to the state tournament for the first time in school history while averaging 17.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals and drawing 32 charges for a 38-4 team. After Coppell nearly upset eventual state champion San Antonio Clark in the Class 6A state semifinals — a game that state No. 1-ranked Clark won 49-48 on a miraculous 3-pointer with one second left — LaMendola was named the state’s girls basketball player of the year by both Gatorade and MaxPreps.
“It’s awesome to get this award,” LaMendola said. “There are plenty of girls out there that you could argue that deserve it as well. To be chosen is quite an honor. I knew I was a finalist, but I never thought it was going to be me.”
LaMendola is now a polished four-star recruit with extraordinary footwork and an “alpha personality” who is rated the fourth-best player in Texas and No. 52 in the nation in the Class of 2023 by ESPN’s HoopGurlz. But the 6-1 senior guard had a rough freshman year, and not just because she missed a lot of the season with an ankle injury.
“We used to joke around with her, because her freshman year she was getting called for travels all the time,” Coppell coach Ryan Murphy said. “She was just running with the ball and not even dribbling. She came in as someone who had good size and potential because of it, but she was very raw. Her footwork has come so far. It is really incredible.”
Playing AAU basketball for a ProSkills team that included area stars such as North Carolina State signee Maddie Cox of Flower Mound, Colorado signee Jadyn Atchison of Cedar Hill and TCU signee Victoria Flores of Duncanville helped LaMendola develop into a player who hopes to play professionally when she is done with college.
The reason she is perhaps the most versatile player in the Dallas area — one who can play almost all five positions, break down a defender one-on-one with deft ball handling and crafty moves, dominate inside with a powerful post game or beat an opponent with an adept outside shot — is that she has only one hobby.
“I play basketball,” she said. “I think my work ethic really helped me get to where I am,” LaMendola added. “I faced a lot of adversity, but every time I was knocked down, I got back up. I was in the gym almost every day, just trying to get better. I would go before school and lift or train with my trainer, and then I would train after school and shoot.”
Her favorite athletes are a pair of Hall of Famers — Michael Jordan and the late Kobe Bryant — who combined to win 11 NBA championships. Like both, LaMendola has the clutch gene, especially from the free throw line.
She scored seven of her game-high 25 points in overtime — all from the free throw line — to beat Allen in the first round of the playoffs. She made two free throws with 6.4 seconds remaining to clinch a win over South Grand Prairie in the regional quarterfinals. Then she went 10 for 12 from the free throw line and made two game-clinching free throws with 0.3 seconds left against Little Elm in the regional final.
Murphy thinks the best is still to come.
“We all thought she had Power Five potential,” he said. “Now making it to Texas Gatorade Player of the Year and being recruited as one of the top commits for a top-five program, I don’t know that any of us envisioned that. It just goes to show how much work she has put in. What is scary is her ceiling. She is still nowhere near it. What she can be at Indiana ... the sky is the limit.”
Others considered: Amarachi Kimpson, Little Elm; Jacy Abii, Frisco Liberty; Camryn Tade, Southlake Carroll