BOURBONNAIS, Ill. --- Linnae Harper has a fondness for gold.
The Chicago senior, ranked eighth on Blue Star’s Class of 2013 list, earned her second gold medal in as many years this summer when she helped the USA’s U17 team capture the world championship in Amsterdam. A year ago, she was a member of the U16 team that took home a gold from the world championships.
But now Harper has turned her attention to pursuits closer to home. Perhaps most important: Selecting her college home.
Harper has taken official visits to Ohio State and Miami (Fla.). Her next stop is Tennessee. She’ll round out her visits with trips to UCLA and Kentucky. Not surprisingly, four of those five schools were represented at Sunday’s Blue Star Jamboree at the Hidden Cove Sportsplex, where Harper competed alongside her teammates from Mac Irvin’s Lady Fire.
Step 2 on her “to-do” list: Helping her talented, young team mesh into a cohesive unit. Many of the Lady Fire will play this winter for the Chicago Whitney Young team that captured Illinois’ Class 4A state championship in March to cap an undefeated season.
Harper averaged 19 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two steals last season, so the Dolphins needn’t worry about her. It’s developing the rest of the club around her – like 2014 posts Khaalia Hillsman and Amber McLin (No. 45 by Blue Star) – that will make the difference for Whitney Young.
“Khaalia has been playing tremendously well, being strong in the paint and adapting to different situations,” said Harper, who spent much of Sunday’s event feeding the ball into the Fire’s post players. “She’s getting really good, and we’re getting her mentally and physically ready because we have a hard schedule this year.”
Harper has tuned up for the season against strong competition. In the world championships, she led all players in steals with more than 4 per game and was named to the five-player all-tourney team.
“It was nice. Just to get another opportunity to represent the country was wonderful,” Harper said. “I had fun. Playing with all the other players that I played with last year, I had a great time. I think this year we had more depth. We were very versatile. And the competition was much better than last year.”
Harper is listed at 5-foot-7, but her all-around game translates to several positions on the floor. As her numbers attest, she’s a strong rebounder with a knack for positioning, and she’s a capable scorer anywhere on the floor. But she’s likely to be in the backcourt as her career progresses, and that’s where she ended up with the USA U17 squad.
“Coming into trials, they asked what position (I) wanted to play and knowing that I’m short, I had to pick something that would be easiest for me. So I chose the point guard position, and I just had to compete to the end and hope that I got picked, and I did,” Harper said. “I just took advantage of every opportunity to play hard.
“I think in college I’ll be in the backcourt. At my height, I still want to be strong. I’m going to get my body physical ready, so I can be ready for anything that happens in a game when I get in college.”
AGUNBOWALE SHINES IN TWO SPORTS
Regardless of the color of the ball, Class of 2015 guard Arike Ogunbowale knows what to do with it.
Ogunbowale enjoys success in soccer and basketball – often at the same time. On Saturday, she played for her high school team in soccer’s prestigious State Cup, grabbed her basketball shoes and headed off to catch the final game of the day for her Wisconsin Playground Elite hoops squad in the USJN Battle of the Programs. On Sunday, she competed for the Playground Elite in the Blue Star Jamboree in Bourbonnais.
“I’ve been playing soccer for as long as I’ve been playing basketball,” Ogunbowale said. “Probably, I like basketball more now. I would choose to go to college for basketball. But I still love soccer.”
That’s probably a wise choice. Ogunbowale is quickly making a name for herself, zooming to No. 34 on Blue Star’s list of sophomores. As Blue Star Media’s Prentice Beverly wrote this summer, Ogunbowale “has a killer crossover step-back shot, a sweet midrange jumper, an effective floater in the lane (and) all highlighted by the fact that (she) loves to attack.”
College coaches are noticing, too.
“It just makes me want to work harder,” she said of the attention. “They’re looking for you, so you have to play your best.”