CINCINNATI, Ohio – The opening of the July evaluation period has evolved into a triple header that has most of the top programs making a trip to Ohio, Texas or Oregon to kick things off. Over the past nine years the USJN Premier Invitational has established itself as one of the fastest growing events on the summer club basketball recruiting circuit. This year’s edition brought together 180 teams from 14 different states and Canada to metropolitan Cincinnati to tip off 20 days of NCAA certified basketball.
The National division featured 48 teams and saw the MoKan Eclipse 17 Red team roll through the field in an impressive championship run. The talented squad from the Kansas City area won all eight of their games by an eye catching margin of 27.8 points per game including a 20 point win over the Indiana Flight in the title game. More impressive yet was their defensive effort that saw them hold their opponents to a combined scoring average of 44.7 points per outing and forcing way too many turnovers to count. While the Flight had a successful run to the final, it was the game that didn’t occur that left folks wondering. The Cornhusker Shooting Stars Bison easily won their five pool games and first round bracket match up by an average of 26.6 points per game before departing early for travel reasons.
Other bracket winners were as follows.
Spiece Gym Rats Silver 65
Ohio DB Hoops 48
15U winners – (Two Brackets)
NC Lady Storm and WBA Prestige Blue
Michigan Monarchs 44
Indiana Lady Legit 37
Ohio TNBA 13 40
Illinois Pizazz Black 23
See complete results and information on all USJN events at www.usjn.com
With so many talented teams on hand it stands to reason that there would be plenty of standout individuals in the house as well. Here are just a few who got their summer off to an impressive start.
This year’s Michigan Crossover team may well have one of the deeper rosters they’ve brought to the gym in some time. While Hayes, Doss and Sweeney may be the first names that come to mind you better keep a close eye on Shakeya Graves as well. An explosive 5-9 athlete, she’s no secret to college recruiters, but it’s a safe bet that there’s much more potential in place than a lot of folks know. This left hander is constantly in attack mode and the individual skills in place put her in a position to be a threat on the break or on the entry pass to the wing in a halfcourt set. Her first step is both quick and lengthy leaving a lot of defenders only hoping to recover. The ballhandling is there to adapt and adjust when rotations come her way as well as a high release pull up jumper. Her decision making has evolved over the last few years and she’s playing with much more consistency. There are still some rough edges to smooth out but Graves looks to be one of those athletes who could really hit her stride down the road at the next level.
Look around any gym Alexandria Harris happens to be in and she’s going to catch your eye. At 6-2 and possessing a physically strong build, she’s the forward coaches love to work with. Playing with TNBA out of Ohio, she continues to show all the potential and possibilities that have had recruiters looking her way the past couple of years. Now entering her senior season she appears ready to provide the consistency and high impact play that will translate into top tier Division I basketball in the near future. Her skills appear more refined while her decisions are much better read and made based on what she sees rather than her previous impulse attack. There appears to be a much more aggressive approach at creating her own opportunities with solid cuts and a wide, low post up that defenders can only dream about getting around. Harris has the speed to get out on the break but you hope first and foremost she’s the trigger with a strong effort on the defensive boards. On the defensive end she still tends to defend after the catch rather than taking away options but more advanced and mature competition will force her to make that change or take a seat on the bench.
One smooth and consistent backcourt performer last weekend was Jazmine Harris of the WBA prestige Teal Squad. Not quite the 6-0 stature listed on the roster she still brought a good combination of size and athleticism. With the ball in her hands she has the skills to create off the drive or to advance it effectively in transition situations. Several times she kept defenders guessing with her use of both hands as she attacked the rim. In traffic she was adept at slashing through and around defenders leading to some simple and clean looks at the rim. Her solid physical strength also put her in a position to rebound effectively from the perimeter and she pulled plenty of boards each time out. The perimeter form appears sound though she didn’t take that many with penetration offering up better options. The previous mentioned size and physical strength puts her in a position to be an impact defender. Her lateral footspeed makes her an opposing ballhandlers worst nightmare. As well as she’s playing she’s got the potential to really come into her own at the next level.
Another solid performer on a deep roster is Nebraska bound point guard Hannah Tvrdy of the Cornhusker Shooting Stars Bison. Tvrdy’s decision to continue her career in Lincoln has the interesting twist of her mother having played there from 1983 to 1987. Right now she’s playing alongside high profile standouts Chatrice White, fellow Nebraska commit Jessica Shepard and currently injured Iowa verbal Alexa Kastanek. Playing point guard with a group like that carries the burden of distributing the ball and making good decisions both in transition and halfcourt sets. The 5-9 ballhandler looks to run at opportunity but is equally comfortable executing against man or zone in a more controlled possession. A floor leader also has to communicate and convey her coach’s wishes and playing for ultra-intense Dan Lesoing can’t help but prepare her for anything Connie Yori may have to offer down the road. Last week’s performance saw Tvrdy creating more off the drive and delivering some solid assists as defenders rotated her way. The pull up and floater came through for her a time or two as well.
Athletic and attacking, Kindell Fincher makes a defender’s life miserable for 32 minutes. Playing with Lady Legit out of Indiana, this “absolutely not 5-11” as listed guard is ultra-quick and explosive on the catch. Her ballhandling is a good mix of change of speed and direction as well as a flat out speed attack. There’s no hesitation about taking it into traffic and she does a good job of splitting or ducking around helpside that has come her way. Fincher found her way to the line multiple times and took more than her fair share of contact on the way to the rim. While her perimeter shot looked solid, she had trouble finding consistency in the two games we caught. That threat will be essential to keep defenders closing out and allowing her to penetrate and do what she does best. Her on ball defense was quick and assertive but she came out of her stance on the weakside making her slow to rotate. Lots of tools and potential will pay off for her with the right focus.
The 2014 class in the state of Ohio is loaded. Mitchell, Waterman, Westbeld, Rice and Brackemyre are on everyone’s radar but, depending on what you’re looking for, there are plenty of other Buckeye State residents to check out. Imani Partlow of the Cincinnati Finest 17 Black squad doesn’t give you a choice. She makes plays and forces you to take another look. A somewhat undersized forward at 5-10, she’s physically strong and is more than willing to put it to use. Around the rim she’s patient and reads her options effectively. Her shot fake got her some nice looks at the rim and one tip play was impressive for anyone taking the floor. She goes up strong and seems consistent and simple in her attack. Partlow is a coach’s dream when it comes to the rebounding department. She clears space and pursues on both ends of the floor coming up with more than her share. That quality alone should have a few folks taking a much closer look. There were a few points that she seemed to tire with an up tempo pace but it may have been the multiple game schedule taking a toll.
Another multi-talented Ohio resident in the 2014 class is a DB Hoops wing / forward Laina Snyder. This 6-0 inside-out threat has an extensive skill set that allows her to make plays on both ends of the floor. Add to that a relentless approach to her play and you’re going to see some serious productivity. Though just entering her junior year next fall, she plays with a maturity and confidence usually reserved for players with a little more time under their belts. Snyder is comfortable working from the elbows or setting up shop on the block and working the low key. On the catch high or low she’s patient and reads her options. Her physical strength is an asset around the rim but also serves her well on the drive as she keeps defenders at bay on her way to the hoop. The passing skills are sound as well and allowed her to provide her teammates with some easy looks when their match ups looked to help on the drive. Ultimately her long term potential still has the jury out as to what level she might play on. None the less it’s a safe bet that there’s lots of basketball in high school and colligate future.
Sophomore to be Sophie Cunningham has already established her place on the Missouri basketball scene. In fact she’s already made her college decision intending to follow her older sister Lindsey to the University of Missouri. At 6-0 the MoKan Eclipse standout has the tools to play either the wing or in the off guard spot. On the catch her focus is simply to attack. Whether it’s off the drive, off the pass of off the jumper, you can bet she won’t be simply holding and waiting for a cutter. Cunningham’s aggressive approach actually starts at the other end with the jump and effort that goes into her running the lanes. She’s running the floor as if there was a winning lottery ticket at the other end and the effort often leads to some clean and easy looks. She a consistent shooter with range out to the arch but is always looking to improve her looks or find a teammate with a better one. The vision is there to see the floor and she quick and capable in the passing department. Like the rest of her talented teammates, Cunningham has embraced defense like young girls have embraced Justin Bieber. She and the rest of the Eclipse set the tone in every outing with a constant and aggressive press that resulted in turnover after turnover. Her size makes her formidable in trapping scenarios and the effort she puts into it pays dividends time and again.
There are lots of players who play point guard and then there are the players who are point guards. Haley Gorecki is one of the later and a talented one at that. Being one of the few players who just may be taller than her listed height (5-9), the Illinois Elite floor leader combines good size and sound fundamental skills with that instinctual quality that sets a true point guard apart from the crowd. In transition she’s seeing the floor and making good choices both in her passing as well as when to push and when to pull it out. In the halfcourt she can attack and create not only her own looks but also improve her passing options. She’s got a good stroke and was comfortable spotting up or pulling up off the drive. On the defensive end her footspeed is solid but at this point she’s short on the physical strength. Her length will help offset that shortcoming until Mother Nature and the weight room takes hold. Gorecki has plenty of folks watching and the list is only going to get longer as time goes by.
Kym Royster of the Dayton Lady Hoopstars continues to advance her game and provide college coaches a reason to take a look at the 6-0 forward that missed a large majority of her freshman year due to injury. Utilizing an athletic build and strong lower body she’s developing a more and more reliable attack. She’s putting the ball on the floor more from the high post or short corners and although she’s very upright she finds her way to the paint. Royster can get off the floor and mixes it up efficiently with bigs who bring a little more size to the fight. Down the road there will have to be more perimeter skills and polish to her game but there are moments and flashes that tell you the potential is in place. It will be an important summer for her.
If you’re going to follow in the club basketball footsteps of Ariel Massengale or Morgan Tuck you better be ready to produce in a big way. Faith Suggs, a 6-0 wing / guard with the Illinois Dream Team did just that last week in Cincinnati. Showing plenty of versatility in her game she combines size, skills and athleticism to make an impact on the break or in the halfcourt. The ability is there to create off the dribble getting to the rim or elevating for a soft pull up from the 10 foot range. The tools are there as well to take a smaller defender down low and exploit her size and vertical for some easy looks around the basket. On the other end of the floor her agility makes her size all the more intimidating as she has the capability to match up at virtually every position other than the post. She’s quick, active and more than willing to put the effort out there to get a stop or go after a loose ball. Suggs is just scratching the surface of what looks to be unlimited potential. It should be fun to see what she does with it.
Anytime the folks from “A” Game make the trip down from Ontario, Canada you know there’s going to be some players worth taking note of. This time around was no different and Eternati Willock was one that offered up some moments that had some coaches talking. At 6-2 she’s got a lean and athletic build that allows her to work both at the forward and wing spots. All of her movement, both in the half and full court, is graceful and fluid. There’s some ballhandling in place that lets her take it off the wing or from the high post and also enabled her to bring it in transition a couple of times. Without the ball she has the speed to get out and run the floor with the guards. Her vertical lets her finish in traffic and she called on a floater a time or two as well. The defensive end will need some attention but the size and physical tools are there if she’ll embrace the role. Physical strength is a liability at this point but she still has three years of high school (or four since Canada is home!) to advance the physical nature of her game.
It’s hard to watch the Spiece Gym Rats Silver team and pick a standout from among their talented roster. When all else fails look at the youngest player. In this case that would be 6-2 forward Darby Foresman. With four years of high school ball still in front of her she’s already exhibiting a diverse game with both interior and perimeter possibilities. Her size is legitimate and it comes with an impressive wingspan and good footspeed. She’s a factor in the transition game either with a quick outlet or simply getting out and running the lanes. On the catch she can spot up effectively but the capacity is there to take it to the hole as well. Her pull up is reliable but she’s also comfortable navigating traffic near the rim. The tools are there defensively and she’s active both on the ball and rotating from the weakside. Foresman and her teammates are a young squad worth checking out and keeping a close watch on.
Mark Lewis is a national evaluator and photographer for Blue Star Basketball as well as the lead columnist for Blue Star Media. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 Division I assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and Washington State. Lewis also serves as a member of the prestigious McDonald’s All-American selection committee.