CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Coach Mike Elles’ Wisconsin Lakers 17U White team needed some heavy-hitting competition. Naturally, he turned to USJN.
The Lakers were scheduled to play in a tournament in Wisconsin over the weekend but elected instead to compete in USJN’s 10th annual Mid America Challenge, which featured 164 teams and more than 40 college coaches and multiple national scouting services in attendance. For full results, colleges in attendance, & Pool-All Stars – Click Here
It turned out to be a wise move, as Elles’ squad won the title among Pools A-H in impressive fashion.
“We came in at the last minute because we were going to play up in Wisconsin,” Elles explained. “We were told we would get some competition up there but we didn’t feel we were. I saw some of the teams that would be down here, so we came down here. It’s always good competition at USJN events.”
The Lakers didn’t take the easy way out. They faced a gauntlet of challenges over two days and passed all tests. They went 3-0 in pool play Saturday, with a 12-point average margin of victory, including a 14-point victory against the Mac Irvin Fire 17U.
In Sunday’s bracket play, the Lakers beat the Hoosiers Elite 16U by 19 points, then posted a three-point overtime win against the Illinois Defenders 17U. In the Pool A-H finale, they pulled away for a 53-46 victory against the Illinois Wolverines 16U Elite.
“We had a pretty good event,” Elles said. “We’re missing a key player, Morgan Blumer, so it was a pretty good event for our kids.”
The lopsided wins were impressive, but it was the overtime victory that displayed the Lakers’ heart. Cassidy Mihalko (Franklin, Wis.) sank two free throws with 21.9 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, and then Katie Nord’s three-pointer with 1:34 to go in overtime gave the Lakers the lead for good.
Mihalko and Nord were only two of the Lakers’ weapons. They have plenty.
“That’s one of the strengths of our team,” Elles said. “We’re very quick and we’ve got a lot of kids that can score. Ten of our 11 kids averaged double digits for their high school teams, so we’ve got a lot of kids that can put it in the hole and that’s the whole key to the game.”
One of those players is point guard Brenna Gaspervich, who stands out for more reasons than just her pink – or is it salmon? – colored Nike shoes.
“I got them during school but my (high school) coach said no,” Gaspervich said. “So I’m wearing them now.”
Gaspervich stands 5-foot-4 but moves well, makes good decisions and can score in a variety of ways. In a halfcourt situation, the Lakers spread the floor and utilize their perimeter shooters effectively, moving the ball to an open shooter when the defense reacts. That’s especially effective against some of the pressure-oriented teams that Lakers face at USJN events.
“I think the competition was good, but the last USJN (event, the Windy City) helped us by playing against that kind of competition,” Gaspervich said. The Lakers tied for first in pool play before finishing third in the brackets that weekend in Chicago.
The Lakers also showed off their balance in the final, breaking open a close game early in the second half. Gaspervich scored on a rebound and Olivia Braun (Racine, Wis.) hit back-to-back three-pointers for a 44-27 lead with 12 minutes to play.
Elles said the Lakers will play in two USJN/Blue Star events in July -- the Premier Invitational in Cincinnati and the Midwest Summer Final in Chicago.
The next USJN events are May 26-27: the Big Apple Challenge in North Jersey, N.J., and the Memorial Day Challenge in Toledo, Ohio.
Illini Gain Two Commitments
Sources confirmed to Blue Star Media that Kennedy Cattenhead (Illinois Dream Team) has made an oral commitment to play for new coach Matt Bollant at Illinois. Cattenhead, ranked 184th by Blue Star, comes from coach Anthony Smith’s powerhouse Bolingbrook, Ill., program. Cattenhead and the Raiders lost to eventualy state champ Whitney Young in four overtimes in the super-sectional in March. Cattenhead is a 5-9 guard from the Class of 2013.
Bollant also picked up a commitment on Thursday from the Midwest Elite’s Jacqueline Grant, ranked 154th by Blue Star. Grant is a 6-3 forward from the Class of 2013 who averaged 13 points a game at Maine South last winter. Her 6-foot-9 father, Josh, had a stint in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors.