By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

There are top girls basketball players, barely in their teens, showing up on the radar of major college recruiters.

More difficult is the road for standouts without the size or speed to draw notice.

Petaluma High great and 2008-09 Empire player of the year Mia Greco raised her game — earning all-state honors in leading Santa Rosa to the California junior college title — to attract attention. This season, Greco will suit up at guard for St. Mary’s of the Division I West Coast Conference.

“We don’t have a lot of junior college players. That doesn’t mean we don’t go sniffing around,” said St. Mary’s coach Paul Thomas. “We really liked what we saw in her. I just think she’s going to be a great addition to St. Mary’s basketball.”

Never a superstar and clearly comfortable making players around her better, Greco gained the quickness and decisiveness needed to compete at the highest college level.

“I wanted to play on. It depends on basically working hard and just improving,” Greco said.

What role Greco plays for St. Mary’s will depend on how she fits in with two other point guards on the Gaels.

“She’s got tremendous leadership skills,” Thomas said. “Her recognition on the floor, her ability to have all of her team involved, stands out. She can shoot the ball well. She can pass the ball well.”

At SRJC, she was a slashing scorer who drew fouls inside and could find open teammates in a flash.

“You have to be fearless,” Greco said.

Greatest among Greco’s improvements in two years at Santa Rosa was a stronger inside game, leading to more free throws, and sharper shooting from deep outside.

Greco is sure of her decisions, whether to stop and pop a shot or feed players down low. Greco leads with her play, not her voice.

“Confidence comes from leadership. You don’t have to be vocal,” she said.

The player who would eventually gain notice from major college coaches began to emerge during Santa Rosa’s run to the state junior college championship game in 2010. Greco was among the Bear Cubs’ leading playmakers and scorers down the stretch.

Playing last summer in the San Francisco Pro-Am League, featuring high scoring, ultra-competitive games, challenged Greco to play at an even higher level.

“I was able to get quicker and be more aggressive,” she said.

What followed was Santa Rosa’s remarkable march to the state junior college title this spring. Greco was the floor leader who shared the scoring load.

Greco earned first-team California Community College Athletic Association honors, in addition to the tournament MVP award.

Along the way, Greco drew attention from Long Beach State, Northern Arizona and Alaska Anchorage.

But she was set on attending St. Mary’s despite not being recruited. Greco had contacted the coaches. A top East Bay prep coach convinced St. Mary’s to watch her play.

“I like the fact that St. Mary’s is small. I really liked the campus,” Greco said.

Planning to major in health sciences, Greco would like to become a nurse.

The basketball court, not the patient floor, remains her workspace for now.

Another fast and furious summer in the San Francisco Pro-Am League has Greco raising her game to compete for minutes at St. Mary’s.

Bay City is Greco’s team. After winning two playoff contests, Bay City is in the championship series against defending champion Mission Recreation Center, with the first game today at San Francisco’s venerable Kezar Pavilion.

“The competition is really good. It’s basically what I’m going to be facing next year,” Greco said.

St. Mary’s placed her in the league. Thomas is encouraged by her work.

“She’s still going to have to work on her game, and we know she’s doing that,” Thomas said. “One of the biggest things is just playing against people who are bigger, stronger, faster.”

Coming out of junior college, Greco’s window to gain good minutes is tight because she has only two years left.

“I know she will do very, very well,” Thomas said. “She’s tough as nails.”

Always a mentally strong player, Greco has honed the skills needed to compete in major college basketball. Still, it is not about her.

“I think I can be an important part of the team,” she said.

For more coverage of Empire high school and college athletics, please visit pdpreps.com. You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com