Champaign, IL – This past weekends USJN Mid America Challenge lived up to its name and hype with 188 teams competing from eight surrounding states. Taking place on the University of Illinois’s campus and surrounding gymnasiums, the event did not disappoint. While there was tremendous talent across the board, many of whom have already made verbal commitments, I’m going to highlight some of the younger kids who stood out with their talent and high level of play.
The 2015 class has a lot of solid guard play in it, but one individual of deceiving stature is 5-4 Darby Maggard (Larwill, Ind. – Spiece Indy Gym Rats 17U). This kid is a true competitor and winner in all regards. Running the point for a team that is loaded with talent, Maggard has the ability to create for both herself and her teammates despite her limited height. She has a great basketball IQ and is the epitome of a fundamental point guard. There’s no fear about coming down and pulling up for a deep 3 or give a hesitation dribble to blow by her defenders and finishing with contact or even dish to the open teammate. On defense she’s just as tenacious and scrappy doing whatever is needed to will her team to a victory.
Another backcourt player who really took the reigns for her team this weekend was 5-7 Teniya Page (Chicago, Ill. – Defenders Black 17U). This combo guard out of Marian Catholic was at her best when attacking the rim and creating. She has good handles and a great understanding of the game. Page is extremely athletic and has an explosive first step that keeps defenders on their heels. She can knock down the 3 or just as easily give a shot fake and attack the rim with contact. There’s a great college body and plenty of hustle on both ends of the floor. All over the glass for a guard, she’s not afraid to grab a board and push in transition with her head always up. A competitor and a leader, she’s at the forefront of her class.
The 2016’s were led by 5-11 Chante Stonewall (Normal, Ill. – Illionois Rush 17U) who most people would already consider a college ready prospect that sits atop her graduating class. She is a tremendous athlete with a strong frame and body to go with it. Stonewall can play inside our out and has the ability to finish at both spots. When playing on the inside, she loves to post up smaller defenders plus you can also look for her to square up and face the rim. There’s also a great feel in place as well as an understanding of when the double team is coming. She can pass out of almost any situation. When playing on the wing, she’s not afraid to hit the deep three or attack the rim. Her court vision and understanding of the game allows her to find her open teammates or knock down the pull up jumper. Defensively she’s a great presence inside because of her long wingspan. With extreme athleticism, the promising prospect is always getting her hands in the passing lanes or blocking shots.
At 6’3 Darby Foresman (South Bend, Ind. – Spiece Indy Gym Rats 17U) is a major college prospect. Her incredible wingspan, athleticism and ability to run the floor catch your eye immediately; but it's her game that makes you stay and watch. Playing the both the guard and forward spot for her AAU team, she can knock down the 15 foot jumper and at the same time also put it on the floor. She passes well out of the high post and can finish on both sides at the rim. Foresman’s reach makes her a strong rebounder and a defensive presence in the paint. Once the range on her shot becomes more consistent, look for her to be another top prospect in the 2016 class.
My favorite team in the 2017 class was Indiana-Skylar Diggins Elite. It was not just the name that caught my attention; it was the fundamental skill sets of these young players on the team. The team was lead by their point guard, 5-7 Daily Sullivan (South Bend, Ind.). This girl is a true team leader with a great understanding of the game. Daily has a high basketball IQ and knows where all her teammates need to be at all times. She has good handles, is a great passer, communicates well with her teammates, and already has the ability to dictate the tempo of game. Her crossover and ability to change speeds allows her to get by defenders who get caught on their heels and create space for herself. She has three point range, but with maturity look for her shot to become more consistent. On the defensive end she is just as smart and plays with a great understanding of positioning.
One of Daily’s favorite finds is her frontcourt teammate 6’2 Taylor Boyd (Cicero, Ind.). Taylor has a great body and frame, and gets up and down the court with decent athleticism. She has a soft touch around the rim plus a good understanding of the game. Boyd has no problem finishing on both sides with smaller defenders draped on her arms. Defensively, like the rest of her teammates, she has a good understanding and is a solid presence inside. As her game matures look for her to develop more post moves.
Another young standout who’s going to be fun to watch for years to come is 6-0 Jnaya Walker (Naperville, Ill. – Bolingbrook Panthers 14U). At first glance you might think that Walker is going to play on the inside. This 6 footer will shock you when you watch her handle the ball and run the show for her teammates. Playing a combo guard for a very young and talented Bolingbrook team, most everything goes through this freshman to be. She has a great body, long arms and is extremely athletic. The ability to create for herself and her teammates is already in place. Walker grabs boards over top of defenders with ease and can put it on the floor and push in transition. When playing at the wing, she has the diversity to knock down the 3, shot fake and attack the rim, or pull up over top of defenders. There’s no fear about posting up smaller defenders and a strong drop step move to call on. As her body and her game keep maturing, look for her to become more consistent with her outside shooting which will make her almost impossible to defend.