NAPLES, Fla.—Any event surviving 18 years on the scholastic holiday tournament landscape has to be doing something right in the gym. To continue doing it year after year with highly regarded teams and top tier individual talent is a testament to that event’s status as a desired destination among programs, players, coaches and fans. And just for good measure, a little Florida sunshine and weather doesn’t hurt in late December either. The Naples Holiday Shootout annually hosts one of the premier lineups of talent and the 2016 edition did nothing to tarnish its reputation.
Once again 16 teams descended on South Florida following the Christmas holiday to test themselves across three days of competition. Programs from 10 different states and Canada made up the two eight team brackets taking the floor of the Moe Kent Family Fieldhouse on the campus of the Community School of Naples. The media and evaluators were out in force as well along with coaches from the likes of the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and more.
The American Division crown stays in the sunshine state as Miami Country Day School overcame a slow start to hold off an ever improving and young Pickerington Central team. The Tigers had the last look in the contest but came up short falling by a single point, 56 – 55. Sophomore guard Maria Alvarez opened the scoring with a three for Country Day on the first possession of the game only to see Pickerington Central run off 12 straight. Senior Channise Lewis closed the gap to 21 – 19 with her three pointer to close scoring with five seconds remaining in the first period. The Spartans took their first lead with another Alvarez three at the 6:31 mark of the second and rode the momentum to a 38 – 35 lead at the half. Thing continued to go Miami Country Day’s way in the third opening up as much as a ten point lead before the Tigers steadied themselves to make it a six point 54 – 48 gap after three. They got it to just one with just over three and a half minutes left but couldn’t get over the hump despite holding their opponents to just two fourth quarter points.
Miami bound guard Kelsey Marshall led MCD with 24 while Lewis, an Illinois signee, followed with 24 and Alvarez added nine. Pickerington got 16 from sophomore wing Maliya Perry who got 12 of her total from behind the three point line. Junior post Bexley Wallace finished with a hard earned 14 while impressive sophomore point guard Madison Greene added 11 in the loss.
Unfortunately for the Buckeye State, their other representative, Gilmour Academy, came up short in the National Division final falling to West Campus from Sacramento, California 60 – 55. The Lancers jumped out quickly 9 – 2 and rode that momentum to a 19 – 12 lead after one. West Campus came roaring back behind unsigned senior guard Namiko Adams. The Warriors tied things up at the 4:40 mark and utilized a 23 – 6 scoring edge in the second to take a ten point 35 – 25 lead into the locker room. Adams posted 20 of her game high 26 in the first half while Gilmour went scoreless for almost four minutes. The third period saw both teams trading buckets before West Campus saw their lead cut to single digits with just 6.6 seconds to go in the third, 48 – 39. Emily Kelly’s two long balls in the middle of the fourth kept the wind in Gilmour’s sails and a West Coast turnover led to a bucket by junior Naz Hillmon to make it a two point game with just 2:46 on the clock. Their lead was 58 – 52 with just 35.6 seconds to go when junior Sarah Bohn connected on a three to make it a single possession game. Adams freethrows with five second left put things out of reach and sent the championship hardware home to the West coast.
Adams was held to just one field goal in the second half but still paced West Campus with 26 for the game. Sophomore Liliana Marques followed with 10 (Three 3’s) and junior Kiara Jefferson added eight more. Kelley led Gilmour in the loss with 20, 18 coming from downtown. The highly regarded Hillmon finished with 14 as a strong presence around the rim.
There was plenty of individual talent on hand in Naples and today we take a look at some folks we know and some we’re getting to know better each time around.
Winter Haven (Florida) junior Diamond Battles continues to advance her already strong and established game. The athletic guard has the skills to play both the point and the two guard spot for the Blue Devils. There’s plenty of speed and quickness on both ends of the floor and an intensity that sets her apart from a large part of the crowd. Battles is always attacking and looks to push the ball from make, miss and turnover. Without the ball she’s active and reads the defenders well off the cut. More impressive is her communication on the floor and with the bench throughout the game. The combination of her game and those hard to find intangibles put her in an elite group of players.
A very young Sacred Heart (Kentucky) team is led by junior standout Grace Berger, an Indiana verbal commit. While an underclassman herself, Berger has been on the recruiting radar for many years and has continued to add to and sharpen her game. The 5-10 guard has a solid build and deceiving athleticism that allow her to challenge most defensive match-ups physically. Her individual skills allow her to create her own looks as well as improve those around her. She elevates on her jumper and can pull up on a dime off the drive. Berger is beginning to be more active without the ball and make herself a better option off the penetration of some of her talented young teammates.
UMass signee Autumn Giles isn’t relaxing after signing her letter of intent in November. The Fort Myers (Florida) guard/wing is sharpening her ability to be a diverse offensive threat. The event in Naples saw her effective around the rim, off the dribble and from the perimeter. There’s a more assertive approach to her attack and she was a consistent performer for the Green Wave who seemed to be struggling throughout the tournament. Defensively Giles has the agility and quickness to match up anywhere in the backcourt as well as the physical tools to even take on some size on the wing.
As we saw back in November, Destiny Harden can be as dynamic as any player in the gym. The future West Virginia guard from Morgan Park (Illinois) can develop her own looks at will both in transition and in the halfcourt. Her ball skills allow her to create separation and lead to a lot of looks off the pull up or step back. The elevation gives her plenty of clean looks and the touch is there to be productive. On the drive she’s aggressive and almost relishes contact once she gets into traffic. The tools that serve her well on the offensive end could translate to the defensive side of the ball with a more consistent focus. Harden is a strong presence on the glass from the perimeter and has good instincts on the shot or loose balls.
Fort Myers (Florida) Destanni Henderson is already among the elite in the 2018 class and added some USA Basketball to her resume’ this summer. She’s strong and explosive with the ball in her hands and is more than willing to give it up as needed. That being said, she’s almost too content to distribute it when her own scoring is needed. The Green Wave has multiple scoring options but she needs to remain more of a constant threat to keep their defenders honest. Her own on ball defense is quick and aggressive. Her first step laterally allows her to control opposing ballhandlers and she anticipates well on the weakside of the floor. Not her best event but the moments were still evident and impressive.
The combination of size and skills is always a challenge for defenders. Add in the caveat of physical strength and it can be an opponent’s worst nightmare. Westlake (Georgia) swing player Taylor Hosendove is evolving into just that as well as becoming a college coach’s dream. The tools are there to play two, three and four and, then, for good measure she’ll take it herself in transition when the need arises. Despite playing somewhat upright at times, the ball skills are sound and she’s attacking on the catch. Hosendove’s strength allows her to be productive around the rim but the touch and range are there as well to force closeouts beyond the arch. She’s more than willing to mix things up defensively and will clear space to get on the glass. She plays a big role on both ends but was visibly tired at times.
We’ve watched Tyia Singleton’s game progress and are now seeing some strong, tangible results. The athletic Winter Haven (Florida) forward is playing a smoother, more fluid game with much more confidence. She’s more and more active in working to be an option as well as reading defenders on the catch. She’ll still need to improve her consistency in finishing around the rim but it’s obvious she’s becoming an option her teammates can count on. The length and agility that serves her well in an offensive set makes her potentially an impact player defensively as well. Singleton is already making plays and getting on the glass while just scratching the surface of her potential. Important spring and summer in front of her.
Kinkaid (Texas) has several options to call upon but point guard Jasmine Smith is beginning to stand out from the crowd. Already a verbal commit for Rice University, Smith can be a factor both in distributing the ball or scoring it herself. The athletic junior is productive both on the break or executing in a halfcourt set. She can take it to the rim herself or pull up with a consistent pull up that has a smooth, fluid stroke. Smith demonstrated some strong court vision and passing skills on several occasions as well. There’s plenty of quickness that serves her well both offensively and defensively.
Cal signee Kianna Smith continues to provide a depth of production for her Troy (California) High School teammates. Smooth and fluid, she’s got the size and skill set that will translate comfortably to the next level when she heads to Berkeley next year. In the interim her play is producing results for the Warriors. The first step is there to challenge most defenders and she’s adept at the rim or with the floater and pull up. In transition she sees the floor and makes good decisions as to when to kick it ahead and when to pull on the reigns. Smith is active with length on defense but could add some physicality to her play.
Westlake (Georgia) has plenty of depth to their roster. Another standout who continues to advance her game is junior Anastasia Warren. The quick, wiry guard is active and attacking both with and without the ball. Despite her slight build she’s not afraid of taking it into traffic or taking on the bigs as they rotate her way. The crossover is low and quick and gets her past most on ball defenders. On the drive she’s got a nice pull up to call upon but there are some strong interior passing skills as well. The pace she plays at challenges opponents.
Easily one of the events standout performers was nationally ranked Christyn Williams from Central Arkansas Christian. The skilled guard is strong, smooth and fluid in all she does. What sets her apart from most on the scholastic level is her ability to make plays at speed. On the attack she’s protecting the ball even in the midst of traffic and isn’t deterred by defensive rotations that come her way. Add to that mix a physical strength that allows her to handle contact on the offensive end contain her own match up’s defensively. Going a step further, a greater statement is that Williams makes those players around her better. Hard to find on any level.
An evolving high profile prospect is Loranger (Louisiana) High School’s JaMya Young. A dynamic 5-7 point guard, Young is a threat anytime the ball is in her hands. She uses a change of speed effectively combined with some impressive acceleration once defenders come up in the stances. In traffic she can elevate for her own pull up or take it on to the rim. Still just a sophomore, she’s tapping into some skills and concepts that generally come with more experience. Young is reading the floor and you can see the decisions are becoming more of a reaction than a thought…bad news for defenders. The jumper is there with sound form though the release is somewhat low at times. Assertive on ball, the tools are there to be a strong factor defensively as well.