Kissimmee, Fla.—With the NCAA providing the “Reader’s Digest” version of a summer evaluation period this year, the first several days were jammed packed with top tier and high caliber tournaments. You could make stops in a multitude of states and find plenty of talent to serve up as your first course in a summer buffet of basketball. One of the top offerings out of the gate was the AAU National Showcases at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida.
Championships were up for grabs in five different age groups over a three day period. Three younger age groups (8th, 9th and 10th grade) were joined by two separate 11th grade division dubbed appropriately silver and gold. The high profile Gold Showcase featured 24 teams from 17 different states and Canada while the Silver had a field of 48 competitors representing 19 states.
Team Carolina edged the Alabama Southern Starz 56 – 55 in a nail biter to claim top honors in the 8th grade championship. Bragging rights in the 9th grade Showcase belong to the Georgia Pistols Team Elite as they took down the Minnesota Stars 60 – 46. The 10th grade final pitted high profile 2016 prospect Anna Wilson and her Boo Williams – Richmond squad taking on equally renowned 2015 standout Stephanie Watts and her CBC teammates from North Carolina. Wilson and the BWSL bunch took the home the hardware by way of a 57 – 50 final margin. The Silver Showcase featured an all North Carolina championship battle between the Lady Phoenix and the Mid-State Magic with the Phoenix claiming the top spot by way of a 55 – 42 performance.
For complete pool and bracket results, please follow the link to AAU Girls Basketball below.
The Gold Showcase championship game provided a glimpse of a match up we just might see again before the month is out in Augusta at Nike Nationals. All Ohio overcame a slow start, some cold shooting and a resurgent Minnesota North Tartan team to finally claim the crystal ball and gold medals they’ve come so close to winning the past two years. Makayla Waterman rolled left across the middle on a sideline entry pass to drop in a jump hook that sealed the 45 -44 win as Kenisha Bell’s 24 footer at the buzzer drew glass and rim but no net for North Tartan.
All Ohio rolled into the championship game by way of an easy 67 – 46 win over the New Jersey Demons. North Tartan punched their ticket in a hard fought 53 – 50 win over the Midwest Elite in what might have been one of the event’s most competitive games. Point guard Gabrielle Ortiz, wing Kortney Dunbar and versatile soring Kysre Gondrezick led the charge for Coach Ralph Gesualdo but came up just short in their bid for the finals.
All Ohio was led throughout the tournament by dynamic 2014 guard Kelsey Mitchell. While the championship game saw her cool off a bit (largely due to some scrappy and persistent North Tartan defense) Mitchell essentially put on a show that had everyone in the HP Fieldhouse talking throughout the event. Katherine Westbeld continues to prove that top tier prospects can continue to advance their games as she’s demonstrating one of the most complete skill sets from the small forward position in the country. Waterman, Westbeld’s high school teammate at Kettering Fairmont, is playing some of her best basketball to date and is providing the physical play that proves she’s more than ready for the next level. As if that’s not enough, JB Bethea has the services of lean, agile, athletic and talented post Alexa Hart giving him one of the deeper interior games on the club circuit this summer.
North Tartan has not had their typical success this spring but may be hitting their stride at just the right time. Attacking guard Kenisha Bell is getting to the rim in traffic converting or going to the line time and again. Cayla McMorris has finally reemerged as a presence at both ends of the floor providing some critical play in both pool and bracket competition. Physical guard T’Aire Starks continues to knock the rust off her game since returning to the floor in March (ACL) and shows promise of being back on track before the summer is out. Post Chase Coley is gradually embracing physical play that could combine with her mobility to make her a challenge for opposing bigs. North Tartan got plenty of contributions from other players like Tonoia Wade, Ta’Kendra Elbert and Alexis Alexander as well.
The championship game saw both teams come out of the gate cold with All Ohio not getting their second field goal until six minutes into the game. Waterman hit a three at the buzzer that cut the North Tartan lead to just 20 – 18 at the half.
The folks from Ohio opened the second period with a 12 – 2 run and claiming a 30 – 22 edge. North Tartan responded and extended a lead of their own to as much as eight before All Ohio was able to knot things back up at 42 apiece with 2:52 to go in the contest.
Chase Coley’s midrange jumper gave North Tartan a two point edge that was followed by back to back turnovers by both squads. Kelsey Mitchell found herself at the line for All Ohio with just 1:00 remaining and connected on the first of two to cut the lead to 44 – 43.
All Ohio regained possession by way of a held ball with: 35 seconds remaining leading to a missed Mitchell three point attempt. However North Tartan gave up the offensive board giving All Ohio another chance. Bethea called time out setting up a baseline play that was tipped out of bounds giving All Ohio one more opportunity from the sideline with just 6.6 seconds on the clock. Waterman took the entry across the middle going left and dropped in the game winner with 3.7 remaining. Bell pushed the ball and got a decent look following a North Tartan timeout but couldn’t find the mark giving All Ohio their first Showcase title.
Check back with Blue Star Media later in the week for detailed evaluations some of the standouts from Kissimmee.
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 logged 25 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. He resides with his wife Carol near Houston, Texas.