NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. – Often events at the end of the month are revealing as to who really has game and who might have been a one or two event flash in the pan. Contrary to what some of the whiners out there are claiming, the recruiting road in July is hardly the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. In fact, playing in four separate four day tournaments means just 16 days of play in 25, including five consecutive days off in the middle. It’s hard to imagine that kind of schedule being too demanding for any athlete on an elite level in any sport. The good players are still delivering come the end of the month and an event like Nike Nationals brings out the best in them.
Last week’s annual Hatfield and McCoy showdown of all the Nike programs may have come and gone but there are still a few tales to tell from the Swoosh’s summer finale. Tom Insell and his Flight program may have taken home top honors in the championship bracket as well as the junior division but there were plenty of other players and teams worth taking note of.
If you missed our first coverage from Augusta, follow the link below to read about Flight’s championship game as well as some elite players in supporting cast roles.
Thought’s and Observations
First off, you have to tip your hat to the Boo Williams squad that fell to Greenwell, Davis and the rest of the Flight in Tuesday’s championship game. No one team may have steadily improved as much as this group did over the course of the spring and summer. In April anyone who made the prediction that they would be in the finals at the end of July would have plenty of takers on any wager as to that thought actually becoming a reality. Consistency from Jatarie White (2014 – Charlotte, N.C.), improved play from Adrienne Motley (2013 – Newport News, Va.), advancements from Dejanae Boykin (Springdale, Md.) as well as the penetrating attack of both Ataijah Taylor (2013 - Roanoke, Va.) and Feyonda Fitzgerald (2013 – Norfolk, Va.) led to a great stretch run.
As long as we’re tipping hats, how about one to Kimberly Davis Powell for the job she did with Essence in leading them to the Silver bracket championship. Essence rode the roller coaster this summer and KDP is one of the coaches not afraid to sacrifice a game or a tournament in an effort to do what we see much too little of…teach. Seeing that approach lead to a couple of good wins to finish the summer is a testament to the right thing paying off once in a while.
The “Junior” Bracket
There were plenty of great match ups and games in the aptly named junior bracket won by the Tennessee Flight. I say aptly named since 55 percent (11 of 202) of the players listed on the rosters are going to be juniors when school opens this fall. None the less, several teams were impressive and featured some talented younger players.
Flight’s win came behind the play of several players. Rachel Bell (2014 – Cumberland Furnace, Tenn.) could have played for many of the teams in the event’s top division. The 5-9 guard has the skills and athleticism as well as good instincts and court intelligence. Emily Eubank (2014 – Lascassas, Tenn.) is in the same mold as Bell and possesses sharp ballhandling and passing skills as a 5-9 point. We’ve seen Shelbie Davenport (2014 – Murfreesboro, Tenn.) in the past and the 6-0 forward continues to deliver solid, consistent performances. Shelby Gibson (2016 – Murfreesboro, Tenn.) is a solid 6-1 post who had some moments down low and finished well.
The Boo Williams team was led by a dynamic young guard in Taja Cole (2015 – Richmond, Va.). The 5-7 point guard is quick and attacking with some acceleration that would make an NFL tailback envious. There’s still a lot of maturing and development to come in her court game and decision making but lot of potential was on display. Janeen Camp (2016 – Portsmouth, Va.) is a big, young 6-1 prospect worth keeping an eye on as well.
The Philadelphia Belles made a solid run in the semifinals of bracket play before falling to Boo Williams. Guard Alexandria Louin (2014 – Doylestown, Pa.), point guards Adrianna Hahn (2015 – Wilmington, Del.) and Tamesha Alexander (2014 – Philadelphia, Pa.) as well as forwards Kennedy Johnson (2014 – Galloway, N.J.) and Khalia Prather (2014 – Waldorf, Md.) all had their moments for the Belles.
The Fairfax Stars were one of the youngest squads in the “Junior” division and had a couple of eye catchers in uniform. Stephanie Jones (2016 – Havre De Grace, Md.) is a very impressive and multi-talented swing player. The size is there to work at the forward spot but the skills are in place to make an impact on the perimeter. Kortni Simmons (2015 – Spotsylvania, Va.) played a smart, aggressive game pushing the ball and demonstrating sharp vision and decision making. For good measure she takes that aggressiveness to the defensive end of the floor as well.
Quick Hitters on Some More Standouts
Watching 6-2 Haley Lorenzen (2014 – Iowa City, Iowa) of the All Iowa Attack is like watching a time lapse photo of a plant growing. You can almost see the advancements in her game from event to event. The confidence with which she’s playing is evident and her attack is becoming more of a reaction than a thought which is really bad news for defenders. She posts hard, reads well and uses her solid lower body strength. The best is yet to come.
Yes, everyone has heard of Katie Lou Samuelson (2015 – Fullerton, Calif.) and the 6-3 guard has proven why she’s been on the radar almost as long as both of her established and well known older sisters. At the same time it’s hard to ignore an elite player who continues to add to her game and develop her skills despite already being among the class’s elite. Samuelson is now making more and more instinctual plays off the drive and reading in traffic while reacting to contact. Considering she’s already a nightmare from downtown, opponents should be thrilled about this aspect of her play.
Cy-Fair always has something up their sleeve in terms of young talent and it was easy to see what Al Coleman likes about Kennedy Leonard (2015 – Southlake, Texas). Having first watched her a year ago and seeing where she is now tells us this young combo guard is on the rise. At 5-9 her size is solid and the speed is there. Both combine with some sharp ballhandling and passing skills that allow her to create both shots and passes. She’ll need to be more assertive on the defensive end and adaptable to physical play but lots of tools are in place.
The youngest member of Essence’s Silver bracket championship roster is 6-1 Zada Williams (2015 – Babson Park, Fla.). Long and lean in her build, Williams is active both in the halfcourt and transition. All of her movement is fluid yet still has an athletic explosiveness to it. She gets off the floor well and adding to that is her ability to extend and make plays while keeping the ball high. She’ll need to be more of a factor on the block to give her a more complete game but ultimately she’ll be comfortable and at home as a forward.
If the summer had lasted much longer there’s no telling where the Georgia Metro’s Dekeiya Cohen (2014 – Charleston, S.C.) might have taken her game. The 6-1 forward seemed to take her play to another level each time she put on the uniform. In Augusta, she seemed more comfortable and there was a willingness to attack that was much greater than she had previously shown. Of course the Metros were without Allisha Gray (USA Basketball) and Marqu’Es Webb (Knee) but Cohen proved she was equally adept at producing against even the best competition. Off the drive she handled traffic and contact while finishing or finding her way to the line. Defensively she was active and got both touches and blocks while also coming up with more than her share of boards. The line at her door should be getting longer.
Michigan Crossover had a good run in pool play as a result of several players stepping up at the right time. However, it’s still difficult not to acknowledge the standout play and potential of Antania Hayes (2013 – Detroit, Mich.). One of the most active and dynamic athletes on hand in Augusta, Hayes makes plays on both ends from tip to buzzer. She’s become more and more assertive with the ball and is creating her own looks much more efficiently. Hayes is a presence on the boards and an intimidating element in defensive rotations. If her perimeter shot develops more consistency she could be the steal of the class.
Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown has had a growing smile all summer. It may have a lot to do with the verbal commitment he received a while back from North Tartan’s 6-1 Nia Coffey (2013 – New Hope, Minn.). From back at the USA Basketball trials in May through their last game at Nike Nationals Coffey demonstrated a high level game that kept on progressing each time out. By last week she was a dominant factor regardless of the opponent and doesn’t appear to be done yet. Combining size and athleticism she can be a factor offensively and makes an enormous impact as a shot blocker. Lots more to come.
Another player from the “Junior” division that is worth watching closely is Madison Springfield (2016 – Jaffrey, N.H.) of the New England Crusaders. The 5-10 combo first caught our attention last month at the USJN Hershey event and continues to offer up the play that should have plenty of recruiters keeping track of her progress. Possessing good size on the perimeter, she’s skilled and utilizing a first step that creates her penetration time and again. The form is there on her shot and she can finish in traffic. There’s already a maturity to her game that should place her in a position to take her game where she wants.
It would be hard for the Gauchos to consider their trip to Augusta a success based on court performance. At the same time, 6-0 forward Zaire O’Neil (2014 – Newark, N.J.) may have found the upward side of her roller coaster play of the summer. Physically strong and explosive in her attack, O’Neil utilized both a spin move and an explosive first step to get past defenders almost at will. She got deep in the paint again and again but still struggled to find consistency in her finish around the rim. Defensively her willingness to play physical and mix things up has her well prepared for the next level. With two more years of high school she’ll need to smooth out her production to be at her best but that “best” can be pretty good.
While the Philadelphia Belles struggled to find chemistry among their talented roster several individuals still had some moments. Well known Tyshell King (2013 – Baltimore, Md.) and A’Lexus Harrison (2013 – Baltimore, Md.) as well as Kelly Hughes (2013 – Point Pleasant, N.J.) and Megan Quinn (2013 – Berwyn, Pa.) all stood out at times but another senior to be offered flashes of her own. Isis Thorpe (2013 – Reading, Pa.) is a 5-7 combo that can be an impact player at times and if she can find consistency to that play might offer something special to one of the schools interested in her future. She can get to the rim at will but also has the ability to pull up and spot up deep on the perimeter. On ball Thorpe can be a strong, assertive defender but on the weakside she has a tendency to be ball oriented. Just tapping into her potential.
Ring City’s Taylor Rooks (2014 – Warren, N.J.) was a factor for opponents to deal with each time out. Despite spending a majority of her time down on the block, Rooks was efficient and consistent in her scoring production. The added size and strength the 6-0 swing player now brings to the floor makes her a challenging match up for opponents. While she can finish around the rim, the capability is still there to attack off the drive or to be a factor on the break. Very well suited for the college game and still has two more scholastic seasons in front of her.
Brian Crichlow and his West Coast Premier made a run to the Gold bracket semifinals with substantial contributions from several different players on their roster. One that stood out on several occasions was 6-1 Amy Okonkwo (2014 – Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.). This active and aggressive power forward has a presence both on the block and from the elbows. She reads well on the catch and has a deceiving first step once she decides to attack. Defensively she’s willing to mix things up but often defends after the catch rather than taking away the entry pass. Could really evolve, keep watching.
It’s easy to talk about all the big names on the Tennessee Flight’s roster and we wrote up high impact utility player Olivia Jones in our first coverage. But it would be wrong to finish this article without mentioning the contributions and quality of play of Nina Davis (2013 – Memphis, Tenn.). While almost always seen as a perimeter player on any roster or recruiting list (and even the Flight roster!), the 6-0 Davis made a living down low for Flight in Augusta and throughout the summer. There’s nothing flashy or extraordinary about her low post effort other than she either finished or got to the line at virtually every opportunity. Bigger still in Flight’s success was Davis’s rebounding which would have made Dennis Rodman proud. Long term she still may find a home at the #3 but the flexibility to take a smaller match up to the block could make her a real commodity.