FRANKLIN, Tenn. – OK, so the Battle in the Boro isn’t actually in the Boro anymore and the “Fracas in Franklin” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. That doesn’t mean that Tom Insell and National Exposure Basketball didn’t produce one of the summer’s premier events once again. Forced to move locations after the NCAA legislated Division I campuses out of the mix, Insell and company headed to Franklin and played host to 340 teams from 32 states, D.C and Canada. Utilizing 15 locations with 34 floors, players, parents, fans and recruiters all enjoyed the opportunity to see some of the best basketball on the summer club circuit for the 8th consecutive year. According to Insell, over 500 different colligate programs were represented from Division I, II, II, NAIA and junior college.
Pool competition began the 13th leading ultimately to bracket play and championship games on the 16th. Competition was held in six separate divisions highlighted by the Showcase line up. The resurgent Georgia Metros took home top honors in the Showcase with a hard fought 59 – 51 win over the Tennessee Flight in Monday’s final. Things were tied up at 19 midway through the first period before the Flight went cold and suffered through almost four minutes without a single field goal. Despite the frosty shooting for Flight, they trailed the Metros just 33 – 29 at the break. Led by tournament MVP Allisha Gray as well as some dynamic play from both Amber Campbell and Dekeyia Cohen the Metros extended their lead to as much as 11 during the second period holding off multiple Flight runs. In the end the Metros ability to convert turnovers into points and their presence on the offence glass spelled the difference and sent the hardware south to Georgia. Gray and Campbell finished with 16 each for the champions will Kaela Davis had 15 and Nina Davis 10 for the runner up.
Other Division winner were
Showtime – Duncanville Pantherettes
Premier – Kentucky Blast 11th grade
Showcase 15 – Indiana Elite (Bailey)
Premier 14 – A Game 9th
Elite 13 - FBC Southeast (Coach Mo)
The Battle in the Boro All Tournament Team as selected by a committee led by Bob Corwin was as follows
Amber Campbell – Georgia Metros
Jordin Canada – Cal Sparks
Dekeiya Cohen – Georgia Metros
Kaela Davis – Tennessee Flight
Nina Davis – Tennessee Flight
Diamond DeShields – AOT Rebels
China Dow – Kentucky Premier
Katelynn Flaherty – Epiphanny Prince Elite Demons
Allisha Gray – Georgia Metros – MVP
Linnae Harper – Mac Irvin Lady Fire Godfather
Dejza James – Cal Sparks NorCal
Brooke McCarty – Cy-Fair Nike Elite
Reigyne Moncrief – Miami Suns Team Fowles
Adrienne Motley – Boo Williams
Alexis Peterson – Sports City U
Tyler Scaife – Cy-Fair Nike Elite
Shatori Walker – Western PA Bruins
You know with that much talent on hand we’re going to take a look at some of the top performers. This write up is a little top heavy with seniors who are making their final July an impressive one. Here are just a few who had the large crowd of coaches and fans on hand talking.
While it seems like we’ve been watching and talking about Kaela Davis forever, she continues to provide just a little more each time out that makes you want to see her in action again. The 6-2 multi positional player from Suwannee, Ga. and the Tennessee Flight is playing with a new maturity in her game. The confidence is there to want the ball in critical situations and a skill set is as diverse and refined as you’ll find. On the drive the difficult read for defenders is whether or not she’s going to the rim or going pull up on a high flying pull up. The elevation Davis uses on her jumper makes it almost impossible to contest and her touch is allowing a lot of balls to settle softly in the net. Defensively she’s got the tools to not only defend #1 through #4 but the physical approach to do so with the same impact that she has offensively. She’s the defender you order off the “menu” if you’re interested in applying pressure baseline to baseline. All that being said there’s still some maturing that will have to come in the intangibles for her to truly be the complete player she can be. Reaction to weak officiating or plays that don’t produce the results she was hoping for are visible not just to observers but to opportunistic opponents as well. Davis will always be a leader on any team she’s on but it will have to be more than just her game that puts her in that position. Wearing your emotions on your sleeve doesn’t work well in your play and often it can carry over to your interaction with your teammates as well.
As long as we’re talking about players that we’ve been watching forever lets include Makayla Epps in the mix. This 5-7 point guard has been playing effectively on her high school varsity squad since 7th grade (thank you Kentucky and the KHSAA rules!) and with top tier club teams over the same period of time. The Lebanon, Ky. Native has provided what looks like a staircase graph in terms of the advancement of her game. She’ll make big strides and then plateau for a while, more improvements followed by another plateau and so on. What has to be exciting now for Coach Jeff Walz and the folks at Louisville to whom she’s already given a verbal commitment, is that Epps is once again on that upward climb in the performance department and playing some of the best basketball of her career. With the ball in her hands it’s hard not to use the words “command of the floor” when you see her directing traffic. Her play is steady and in control and the depth of her experience really shows in her decision making. Her own offensive output sees her exploiting overplaying defenders and showing no hesitancy in taking it to the rim herself. If defenders rotate her way she can deliver some sharp passing or finish herself with contact. The perimeter shooting consistency isn’t quite where it will have to be down the road and will need to come along to keep smart defenders honest and tight in their closeouts. Epps is one of those guards that has a quick first step or two but isn’t going to London with the US 4 X 100 relay team. That step or two allows her to be a solid on ball defender but she’ll need to anticipate and read a little more effectively from the weakside.
Allisha Gray has had some ups and downs in her play over the last couple of months. Don’t mistake that for playing poorly, she hasn’t. The USA Basketball trials saw her struggle a bit with her shot but still make the U18 squad. I may be an eternal optimist but I often think players can refine other aspects of their games when their strengths aren’t hitting on all cylinders (a little car talk). That’s what this North Carolina bound guard seems to have done. Her MVP performance in Franklin not only helped lead her Metro teammates to the title it demonstrated a depth to her versatility and evidence to the challenge that she can be for opposing defenders. The 6-0 guard connected from the perimeter time and again but was just as effective at getting to the rim or putting the final touches on the break. She seems to be looking to mix up her attack more and not just settling for the looks from the wing that come her way. Off the drive she’s handling contact well and using her body to protect the ball and still finishing or getting to the line. The Metros found a lot of their firepower in converting turnovers and this Sandersville, Ga. product was getting out and running the lanes which resulted in many clean looks at the rim. On the defensive end she combining size and assertiveness to make her the match up that opposing backcourts don’t want to see. Her vision is good on the weakside and she’s quick to close a trap. As well as she’s played in the past Gray may be taking things to a new level.
If you know your recruiting history you know that Al Coleman and Cy-Fair have produced more than their fair share of high level recruits. The squad he had brought to Franklin had already posted one event win this summer and was looking to add another to the collection despite not having one player on the roster over 5-10 in height. Playing what would normally be called “out of position” Northwestern commit Christen Inman offered up some impressive play as a forward and also showed plenty of promise on the wing. Athletic and aggressive at 5-10 (she was the “big girl”) she caused plenty of grief for defenders with her inside-out attack. Offensively Inman was effective off the drive from the elbows or filling the lane on the break. Her pull up was consistent and challenging to defend with the vertical she used to get the shot off. Spotting up, the Katy, Texas product also gave the opposition a reason to close out as she connected on several from deeper on the perimeter. Nobody is going to call her a point guard but her ballhandling is sound and allowed her to exploit bigger defenders lacking in the footspeed to match up. Defensively she anticipates well and held her ground with some size that tried to take her down low. Her future isn’t in the post but plenty of true interior players could learn a thing or two from Inman’s approach and embrace of the role her team needed her to play.
Another player who’s had some ups and downs in her performance over the spring and summer has been Adrienne Motley with Boo Williams. As we said with Allisha Gray, in no way does that mean she’s not been playing well, more so that her consistency has challenged her. That seemed to change in Tennessee last weekend as the 5-9 combo guard dialed in her game and caused plenty of headaches for defenders. The simplest description of Motely is that she’s a scorer. No doubt she can knock down the perimeter shot but off the drive she can score in a variety of ways. Slashing through traffic comes easy to her and gets her plenty of open, and sometimes creative, looks around the rim. At the same time she excels at pulling up and dropping a soft pull up over the front of the rim before helpside defenders can get close enough to contest. Going a step further is her ability and increased willingness to make the smart pass for an improved look from a teammate. Her eyes are up and she’s reading defenders as she attacks. That same quality doesn’t translate quite as well against a zone where she’ll need to attack some the seams more frequently and see what’s happening on the weakside of the floor to be as effective as she is versus man to man defenses. Defensively the Newport News, Va. Native is active and quick on the ball and does a good job one pass away in taking away or altering entry options for opponents.
Being an old defensive coach I have to admit a little bias towards the players who’ll get in stance, dig in and make getting a stop the same priority as getting a shot for themselves on the other end of the floor. The poster child for that quality after the first ten day evaluation period has to be Alexis Peterson of Sports City U. This 5-5 point guard is the absolute last thing an opposing ballhandler wants to see when they square up with the ball. Peterson has embraced and excelled at the role of harassing, turning and influencing a ballhandler. The Columbus, Ohio native may be lacking in inches but her lateral quickness, physical strength and pit bull mentality has offset the concerns of any knowledgeable recruiters. Making Peterson an even better defender is her capacity to turn defense into offense. Sports City makes their living off turnovers and having a point guard who’s an immediate option and pushing the ball gives the folks in green and orange a whole different gear in transition. Peterson’s approach sets a standard and in Sports City’s four overtime loss (Easily one of the summer top games thus far) to the Tennessee Flight she made an impact time and again in disrupting their offensive attack. Don’t think Peterson isn’t an offensive threat. On the break she’s attacking but in the halfcourt she can set up and direct traffic. The jumper serves her well and off penetration she can be uncanny at getting her own look among the bigs.
Because of her dominance Linnae Harper makes it difficult to watch the Mac Irvin Lady Fire Godfather team and take notice of some of the other talented players alongside her. However if you look closely it will be easy to take note of a backcourt mate, 5-9 JeTaun Rouse of Chicago. A versatile and skilled guard, Rouse has the tools to be an impact player herself. The ballhandling skills she has in place allow her to be a factor in transition or the halfcourt. The form is there and she knocked down several from deep on the perimeter. Touch and consistency may be a little questionable but the fundamentals are in place along with some good elevation on the release. Off the drive she navigates the lane well and created some simple looks after driving into a crowd. Additionally that same vertical that serves her well on the jumper allows her to finish closer to the rim including an impressive tip off a lob Saturday night. Defensively she’s aggressive on the ball and has the length to challenge smaller guards with her quick hands. Her risk taking on the weakside pays off often and she has the tools to recover if it doesn’t. Rouse may not be quite the high profile player Harper is but her game allows her to be productive and in the end there’s nothing that college coaches like more.
Almost any team is going to benefit by the addition of a player like Tyler Scaife. Add her to an already successful team and some good things may well be on the horizon. Joining Cy-Fair’s Nike team in Franklin the 5-8 Little Rock, Ark. native was a dynamic presence on the floor both in her ability to set the tempo and create her own looks or in the ability exploit defensive rotations and develop opportunities for her teammates. The capacity she has to get defenders out of their stance or off balance is derived from an effective use of both a change of pace and change of direction. There may not be a guard utilizing a hesitation dribble as Scaife does and it works for her time and again. She shoots it well both spotting up or off the pull up that sees her rising above the crowd and almost fading on it to a degree. Anytime you join a team that has been playing together for some time it’s a challenge to blend in and not disrupt their momentum. Scaife and her teammates had a few moments of unfamiliarity but it would have been difficult to notice had you not known particularly with her ultimately making the All-Tournament team. Her defense seems to be evolving into a greater focus and she got her share of touches and strips. With Nike limiting the second division at Nike Nationals to underclassman she’ll have to stay with this group for Augusta or join another group. Stay tuned!
As well as tournament MVP Allisha Gray played the Metros weren’t going to have the success they did in Franklin without other players stepping up. To say that Amber Campbell “stepped up” would be a tremendous understatement. The 5-9 guard from Charleston, S.C. began making plays from the tip of the first game and continued all the way through the win over the Tennessee Flight in the final. What makes Campbell a challenge for defenders is that she’s active with and without the ball and every movement is with intent. She flys the lanes on the break and forces opponents to not only get back but to pick her up before the ball. Her cuts are assertive and on a sprint which more often than not leads to scoring opportunities. On the catch she’s going to attack and there are no reservations on her part about getting deep into the paint and challenging any team’s rotations. The ballhandling is in place to change direction on a dime and she’s more than willing to use her body to protect the ball. Not a lot of perimeter looks came her way but the form seemed solid and the release higher and more consistent that in the past. Defensively she’s going to make almost any coach smile. Her wiry build and intense pressure on ball leads to forced or rushed passes and even a few strips that Campbell is quick to push out in transition. Off the ball she made several impressive picks of downfloor or skip passes from opponents underestimating the ground she can cover. The junior to be is also a strong rebounder from the perimeter offering up a real benefit and keeping that coach smiling all the more.
There is an overabundance of talented point guards in the 2014 class but only a few in that elite group at the top. Any list not having 5-7 Jordin Canada among those elite ballhandlers screams of a lack of awareness. Playing for highly respected Elbert Kinnebrew and the Cal Sparks, the Los Angeles native continues to demonstrate the skills that allow her to make herself and her teammates a threat anytime they walk on the floor. Canada creates off the dribble as efficiently as anyone in club basketball. She mixes up her use of changes in speed and direction while effectively adding ball and head fakes to get defenders to rise out of their stance or to overcommit one way or the other. Her acceleration at that point leaves them standing and necessitates some quick helpside assistance or the concession of an easy two. When those rotations do come her way is when an occasional weakness appears in her attack. At times there seems to be an urgency to get off the shot or deliver the pass rather than going just a little deeper into the paint and letting options define themselves more. The pull up and floater are there and lethal but she does go to them somewhat quickly at times when a layup might be developing for her or a teammate. The jumper is there with range but only has to be a threat with the ability she has to penetrate. Her on ball defense has always been strong and continues to serve her well. The weakside is showing improvements and should be a real strength when her vision takes in the whole floor rather than just the ball or her match up.
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.