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Defending state champion Baldwin is loaded again

Baldwin's Jenna Annecchiarico, Donetta Johnson and Aziah Hudson

Baldwin's Jenna Annecchiarico, Donetta Johnson and Aziah Hudson signed national letters of intent on Nov. 13, 2017, to play Division I college basketball. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

In today’s age of basketball seeking Super teams or a Big 3 throughout the professional and collegiate levels, there’s no need to look any further than the Baldwin girls basketball team to find something similar on Long Island.

With three Division I commitments in senior guards Aziah Hudson (Old Dominion), Jenna Annecchiarico (Eastern Michigan) and Donnetta Johnson (Georgia), plus senior forward Destiny Samuels, a transfer from Long Island Lutheran still deciding between Division I offers, Baldwin enters this season with firepower all over the court after defeating then four-time defending state Class AA champion Ossining, 73-45, to win its first state title in program history last season.

“We’re very excited, we’re very hungry for the season,” said Hudson, a returning Newsday All-Long Island selection along with Annecchiarico. “There are a lot of expectations for us since last year winning upstate, so we just need to meet our goals from last year.”

Johnson, who missed all of last season with knee problems, will bolster a Bruins team that isn’t taking anything for granted.

“I just can’t wait,” she said. “It’s going to be a long journey, it’s not going to be easy. We’re going to have to put in more work than we did last year because of the high expectations we have and that chip on our shoulders.”

Johnson injured herself before last season at a tournament in Atlanta, Georgia, but rehabilitation, starting the day after surgery, has helped put her back on the court.

“It was an emotional process but it was a fun process at the same time,” she said. “Because now you’re seeing yourself at a different stage than before it happened.”

The Bruins guards have plenty of experience with each other — even though Johnson has yet to appear in a game for Baldwin — because they’ve played on the same travel team and competed in national tournaments.

Because of that, the three guards have built a tremendous chemistry and knowledge about one another’s game, leading to some interesting comparisons.

Annecchiarico and Hudson compared Johnson to James Harden — both lefthanders — one of the players Johnson studies the most. Annecchiarico has been compared to Russell Westbrook by teammates, due to her defensive tenacity and scoring ability. Johnson said Hudson is like Saniya Chong — Connecticut’s starting point guard last season and a current WNBA player — because of her tremendous speed.

The Division I talents aren’t thinking about college too much, though. All three think the schools they picked were the best fit, but until next fall, their goals remain high-school oriented.

“Three people have committed but that hasn’t stopped us from completing our mission,” Hudson said. “Just because we’re committed doesn’t mean the time is over and everything we’re striving for is over, so we’re still acting like we’re not committed and trying to meet our expectations toward the end.”

The expectation of another state championship prompted Annecchiarico to state: “This is the year.”

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