They always talked about the possibility in jest. Maybe they were traveling home from another tournament dominated by the Spokane Stars and somebody would remind the others of...

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They always talked about the possibility in jest. Maybe they were traveling home from another tournament dominated by the Spokane Stars and somebody would remind the others of their running joke.



Wouldn’t it be cool if their partnerships didn’t end when high school did? If they could play college basketball together, bonds and teammate titles still intact?



Then it happened, even though none of them actually expected it to. And it happened at Arizona State, a rising Pac-10 team that faces Washington at 7 tonight at Edmundson Pavilion.



“When we were in high school, we talked about playing together,” Emily Westerberg said. “It was kind of a joke, and here we are. It’s a surreal kind of deal.”



The seeds were planted on the basketball courts in and around Spokane and sprouted when Westerberg, then a junior at Central Valley, and Spokane Stars teammate Aubree Johnson, from Post Falls, Idaho, took an unofficial visit that spring to ASU.



Both had scholarship offers from Washington, but both signed with the Sun Devils. Then Central Valley and Spokane Stars teammate Reagan Pariseau signed with ASU before this season. And next year, Briann January (Lewis and Clark, Spokane Stars) and Kirsten Thompson (Monroe) join the local exodus to Tempe, Ariz.



With Pariseau and January playing guard, Westerberg and Johnson slotted at forward and Thompson manning the interior, coach Charli Turner Thorne could turn to an all-Pacific Northwest starting five. As is, Westerberg, Johnson and Pariseau play integral roles for a 9-2 Sun Devils team Turner Thorne said “could very well be the best team I’ve ever had. And next year, we very well could be even better.”



Coaches call all the Washington players “Spokies,” a nod to their Eastern Washington hometown. Not surprisingly, a coach with Pacific Northwest roots culled the players together.



Turner Thorne completed her graduate-assistant work with the Huskies before becoming an assistant coach at Santa Clara. Even then, she mined Washington, Oregon and Idaho for talent.



“I was always impressed with the quality of people and the quality of players,” Turner Thorne said. “The Northwest has a lot of talent, more talent than people give it credit for.”



The Sun Devils beat two ranked teams — Georgia on the road and traditional powerhouse Connecticut at home. And who knew, back when the Spokies were still in Spokane, that their running joke would be realized, that they would lead an ASU resurgence?



“After the Connecticut game, there were a ton of students, a lot of football players there,” Johnson said. “They ran out on the court. The team didn’t really celebrate with them. We have new confidence. We knew we should have won that game.”



Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com