DISTRICT HEIGHTS, Md. – When it comes to the NCAA Summer Evaluation period if you’re looking for the gold standard you don’t need many words. In fact, you don’t need any words at all. Simply say D.C. and folks know you’re talking about the longest running and most respected event on the summer circuit.
The USJN National Championships in metropolitan Washington, D. C. have been around since Ronald Reagan handed the keys over to George H. W. Bush. That’s 1989 and for those of you doing the math, 24 consecutive years as the main stage for basketball in July. The 2012 edition maintained and even added to the successful tradition of the past with 240 participating teams representing 29 different states as well as two provinces in Canada. Utilizing four separate facilities and 24 courts, five divisions competed in pool play before moving on to playoff brackets and Wednesday’s championship games. Over 700 college recruiters roamed the sidelines throughout the event evaluating talent they’ve known, babysitting prospects they’re hoping to sign and window shopping for young players and new names to add to their data base.
Wednesday morning’s Diamond Division semifinal pairings offered up plenty of evidence as to why a record number of recruiters were on hand once again this summer. One game featured Sports City U, who earlier this summer took top honors at the Blue Star Nationals in Las Vegas; taking on recent Battle in the Boro champs the Georgia Metros. One court away in the other semi the Arizona Warriors, whose roster is essentially this past year’s scholastic national champions from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, was facing the talented and always challenging Fairfax Stars.
If that’s not enough, add in the fact that between all four rosters there were four committed players to the Big 10, two each for the to the Pac-12 and ACC and one for the SEC, Big East, Big 12 and Ivy League respectively. A sheer lack of space limits listing all of the top underclass prospects in the semis but if names like Rice, Waterman, Westbeld, Campbell, Cohen and Oliver aren’t enough to tell you there was some quality basketball on tap then your standard might just be a tad on the high side. College coaches were laying claim to prime seating real estate over an hour prior to the games and nobody on hand other the losing teams left disappointed. Ultimately Sports City U took home the title in dominate fashion finishing the event undefeated and sporting a winning margin of 26.9 points once again demonstrating the value of depth and defense.
Division Winners were as follows
Diamond – Sports City U over the Arizona Warriors
Platinum – Pure Sweat Elite over Philadelphia Belles Costello
Gold – Boo Williams Summer League Domond over Boo Williams Maryland
Silver – Maryland Grizzlies over Rochester Revolution
Bronze – Virginia Vogues Priester over Bay State Magic Elite
See complete bracket and pool results at http://www.usjn.com/xtm_tournament_schedule.php?which=162
As always plenty of talent was on hand so we thought we would share with you some of the standouts that made “D.C.” the place to be.
Taking it to Another Level
Well known players don’t often make the biggest strides in their games or create new conversations about the direction of their futures. A few folks in D.C. provided evidence that just because you’re already on the radar doesn’t mean you can’t have the folks in the college section taking a closer look.
Folks knew about Lynee’ Belton (2014 – Clinton, Md.) quite a few years ago and the progress over that time has been steady and consistent. What really catches your eye now is the maturity in her game and the confidence with which she plays. The 6-3 post from Boo Williams Maryland is active and aggressive both with and without the ball. There’s no hesitancy about playing physical or mixing things up around the rim. Not many bigs have the feet that Belton plays with and it makes her an imposing presence in helpside rotations. She can trigger the break with her contributions on the boards or get out and run the floor with the guards while opposing posts give chase.
Some players seem to making big strides from event to event. As impressed as we were with Dekeiya Cohen (2014 – Charleston, S.C.) in the Battle in the Boro, the 6-0 athletic forward continued to step it up even more in D.C. There’s a temptation to use a baseball term with the Metro’s standout and refer to her as a utility player. She dynamic and efficient in the paint but can work away from the rim. Her first step and one dribble drive leaves most defenders standing and to say that she elevates on her shot is an understatement. Touch and consistency will have to come along for the 6-0 Cohen to keep folks honest but at the rate she’s improving it shouldn’t take long.
Talented 5-9 Alexa Middleton (2014 – Murfreeesboro, Tenn.) continues to be the defining player for the position of combo guard. Playing this event with the Tennessee Flight 15 Silver squad she worked at the point, at the shooting guard spot and even put some time in up in the high post. What’s even better is that she was productive at virtually every position. To say that her play is assertive would be selling her short. With the ball in her hands she’s constantly looking to attack both in transition and out of a halfcourt set. Her vision is sharp and she’s more than willing to share the ball if a teammate has a better opportunity. Middleton has shown the ability to adapt to different teams and line ups while still remaining consistent in what she brings to the table. She’s always been physical in her play but it’s now more measured and used effectively at both ends.
How does a top 10 player and USA Basketball team member keep advancing her game? It’s not always just in the skills or game itself. Taya Reimer (2013 – Indianapolis, Ind.) has always had the skills and game and she’s always played with an aggressiveness and assertiveness that her peers should embrace. Even now as she finishes her last summer on the club circuit with the Midwest Elite and gets ready for another go round with USA Basketball she’s playing with a focus that takes her to another level and puts her in a position to be the go to player. At times in the past she was content to take what came her way but now seems more intent on creating the options she wants and exploiting the weaknesses she can find in her opponent. Additionally she appears to be sporting a leaner and stronger look making her all the more effective.
Jade Johnson-Walker (2013 – Maplewood, N.J.) may not have the national profile that some other forwards bring to the table but her game offers plenty. Physically strong, she has no hesitation about using it on either end of the floor. Her screens can rattle the teeth of defenders and she’s not hesitant about throwing her body into a crowd to come up with a loose ball or board. She also is active and cuts aggressively both through the paint and to the ball. On the catch she has some ball skills that allow her to get to the rim or improve high-low or outlet passes. If your game turns blue collar this is the forward you want on your side.
Sydney Wiese (2013 – Phoenix, Ariz.) has had “statement” performances a couple times in the last six months. Her December scoring explosion at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Chandler, Ariz. established that she belonged among the elite in the class and now after D.C. she has the recruiters talking once again. Of course, in addition to her on court performance it could be the addition of a couple of extra inches in height since the TOC that makes the GSB guard a difficult match up for defenders and an attractive prospect at almost any level. The added size makes the ballhandling skills Wiese brings to the floor all the more effective and has opponents lunging and scrambling to recover again and again. The touch and range are top tier and continue to force tight close outs on the catch anywhere inside halfcourt. One of the concerns that has always been there has been her lean build. She’s not ready for body building competitions yet but muscle definition is becoming obvious and providing her an additional element in handling physical defenders.
Danielle Adams May Have Set a New Standard
Not so long ago basketball players were almost always stereotyped as long and lanky athletes. Adams, the former Texas A & M All American and current WNBA star, has proven that there are times where skills reign supreme. There were several young ladies on hand that demonstrated that their skills and instincts allow them to be very effective even while playing with more physical size than most of their opponents. Chantel Osahor (2013 – Phoenix, Ariz.) is one of the most talented passers you’re going to find in scholastic or club basketball. Time and again she racked up some impressive assists from the trail spot in transition with some deft reads and pin point deliveries. The 6-2 future Washington Husky isn’t going to win any speed races but it’s hard to argue with her productivity. Often the ultimate compliment in the gym for a player is when your competitors are talking about your game and plenty were having conversations about 5-11 Nekia Jones (2013 – Beaumont, Texas) of the Texas Preps Elite. With impressive ball skills as well as a very deceiving first step she created both shots and passes in dramatic fashion while leaving a defender lunging or standing in her wake. The explosiveness of her first step or the sharp change of speed and direction are something some smaller guards only dream of. Another forward who offered up some eye catching play with her individual skills was 6-0 La’karis Salter (2014 – Tallahassee, Fla.) of the Orlando Comets. Salter can catch it on the wing, elbow or block and attack with some sharp, strong moves that will get her deep in the paint or in a position to deliver on a short mid-range jumper. The quickness of her attack is challenging for defenders of any size and her willingness to use her body to protect the ball makes it difficult to recover or provide help. Recent Maryland commit Brionna Jones (2013 - Havre De Grace, Md.) has begun addressing her conditioning but still has the size that might have leave some unsuspecting opponent underestimating the threat she can be. The 6-3 Jones posts up strong and uses her size effectively on the block to create her own looks. What we’ve seen more of from her this summer is an effort to mix things up and create a physical game as well as a willingness to get on the floor after a loose ball. Big girls with big games!
A Few Quickhitters
Jamie Cherry (2014 – Cove City, N.C.) While the size is slow in coming the maturity in her game is growing at a rapid rate. The fluidity in the North Carolina commit’s play goes hand in hand with the ability to play at speed. Her passing off penetration is sharp and well-read while the floater is a consistent weapon.
Raven James (2016 – Upper Marlboro, Md.) If you don’t know this ultra-quick point guard yet, you better soon. The line is already forming and her individual skills are getting sharper each time out.
Victoria Jankoska (2013 – Freeland, Mich.) The Michigan Crossover has plenty of standout backcourt talent but if this 5-9 combo continues to play as she did in D.C. things may get competitive. Deceptive speed and textbook skills combine with good range to make her a versatile threat on the break or in the halfcourt.
Alexandria Louin (2014 – Doylestown, Pa.) It’s tough to stand out on a very talented team like the Philadelphia Belles Costello but this 5-11 wing offered up several moments that make you want to keep watching. Good size goes with some, smart and effective ballhandling and passing.
Molly Reagan (2015 – Braintree, Mass.) Physically strong, young post. Mechanical and methodical at this point but there’s plenty of promise for this 6-2 textbook big from the New England Crusaders.
Sofia Roma (2014 – Rego Park, N.Y.) Exodus is a very different team this year but this versatile 6-2 forward brings an impressive inside-out game to the floor that’s reminiscent of teams and players past. Effective both on the block and with a mid-range game she’s already got some of the qualities the college folks are looking for. Worth a very close look.
Jaylen Williams (2015 – North Easton, Mass.) A 6-3 forward post who’s going to get more than her share of looks. At 6-3 and blessed with great agility she has the tools to be effective down low or up in the high post. Lots of tools.
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.