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USJN's Summer Final - Midwest‏

WAUKEGAN, Ill. – The spotlight brought on by hundreds of peering eyes during the Division I July evaluation period has been known to affect a team or two.

On Sunday, during the opening day of USJN’s ninth annual Summer Final Midwest, the Illinois Lady Lightning 17 Platinum squad showed it might be more adept at handling the glare of that spotlight, which included nearly 200 college coaches taking in the 169-team tournament.

The Lightning ripped Dayton Metro 16 in their first game of Pool A play, displaying the talent and teamwork that will make them among the favorites in a deep division.

“When we move the basketball,” coach Michael Seberger said, “that’s how good we are. But we have a tendency to just ‘want ours,’ and that’s been the sum of July. We’ve had this type of game several times, and we’ve had the game where we can only put up 24 points – because we don’t share the basketball.”

The reason: Those sets of eyes, which are accompanied by a colorful shirt that bears the logo of a college basketball program.

“That’s a thing that kids have a hard time understanding – college coaches aren’t looking at how many points you score,” Seberger said. “They’re looking at deflections, does she make the extra pass, does she set a screen to help her teammate get open? They think it’s all about putting up points.”

“It’s nerve wracking,” guard Kateri Stone said. “You want to impress the coaches but you have to play team ball. It’s a little overwhelming.”

Seberger used an example from earlier this year, when the Lightning lost to a team by 10 points, only to fall to the same squad by 60 when they met again in July.

“It does (get better) at times, but we’re young,” Seberger said. “We’ll be like a seesaw because we’re young. We have seven talented guards in the 2014 class.”

Seberger’s roster includes 6-foot-4 Notre Dame commitment Diamond Thompson (Class of 2013), who is one of several Lombard (Ill.) Montini High School stars. There’s also Stone (6-0), an all-state selection last season as a sophomore, and 6-4 Wisconsin commitment Malayna Johnson (2013), whose sister Michala recently left Connecticut and will join the Badgers’ program.

Know your ABC's

Dee Latt took it as a major compliment that her Wisconsin ABC Knights 17 squad was placed in Pool A of the USJN’s ninth annual Summer Final Midwest.

“It’s a great test for this young team,” Latt said.

The Knights lived up to their billing.

They didn’t win Pool A – that distinction was earned in convincing fashion by the Midwest Elite 17 Platinum team – but they managed to win two of their first three games. That’s more than respectable considering the Knights’ roster includes one Class of 2013 player and has representatives in every class down to 2017.

“We’re having a real good summer so far,” Latt said. “Every tournament, we’re getting better at coming together.

“At our last USJN tournament (two weeks ago in Chicagoland), for whatever reason, everything clicked. We got so much exposure and had a lot of colleges calling about our kids, and we probably secured a sponsor for our team next year.”

The Knights’ trademark is their scrappy nature and determination. During an April tournament, Latt said, one of their opponents couldn’t take it anymore.

“They just quit because they were discouraged. We’re that feisty,” Latt said. “They just left.”

The Knights’ list of talented players is headed by their youngest – Class of 2017’s Sidney Cooks (6-3, Kenosha, Wis.).

“She’s unbelievable,” Latt said. “Great size, but very athletic and smart, and a hard worker. She’s got the whole package. She gets better every time she steps on the floor.”

No Rest For Delzotto

Sammie Delzotto, a 2013 from Eagan, Minn., is arguably the Minnesota Suns’ top player in her class. That carries enough weight. But this week she took on even a greater role as her Suns’ 16 team was low on numbers.

After the Suns’ first game of the tournament on Sunday, their seven-player roster was reduced by one, leaving just six to carry on through the rest of the event.

“Everyone couldn’t make it this time,” Delzotto said, “It’s hard.”

Still, Delzotto has a way of making it look easy. She’s a 5-foot-11 guard who can play any of three positions. She plays the point for her high school team, often plays there for the Suns but figures to be an off-guard in college.

Delzotto has three offers so far: Minnesota State-Mankato, University of Sioux Falls and Grand Valley State.

Making themselves at Home

No team traveled farther to compete this week than Dan Allen’s Cardinal Elite 15 squad, which motored some 750 miles from Alexandria, Va.

“We wanted to give our girls a different look out of the Midwest,” said Allen, who grew up in Chicago. “A different style of ball. And different colleges are here.”

Allen said Cardinal Elite will travel to any tournament that can be reached with a one-day drive.

“We went out and bought a 15-passenger van. I talked my wife into it,” he said. “At a moment’s notice, we’re able to go.”

Allen, who owns a military background, has a distinctive coaching style. His program stresses leadership and discipline, even to the point that the players eschew teen staples like soft drinks. The Cardinal Elite practice twice a week but the team works out six days a week, using the Tabata training methods.

“I listened when Brenda Frese told me, ‘The single biggest thing you can do is make your girls mentally tough,’” Allen said. “It’s all based on the military principles of leadership.”

That’s not to suggest the coach won’t let his players enjoy their time on the road. The players were scheduled to visit the beach and Navy Pier while in Chicago.

“They asked if they could stay extra days here,” Allen said.

They got their work accomplished on the court, too, winning all four of their games in Pool R.

Final Results / College’s That Attended / Pool All Stars for this event can be found at (http://www.usjn.com/xtm_post_event.php?which=165 )

Tony Bleill

Tony Bleill covered the Illinois women’s basketball team for 14 seasons for the Champaign News-Gazette. He was 1 of 40 voters in The Associated Press Top 25 poll during that period as well. He resides in Illinois with his wife and three daughters.

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