Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Updates!

-The TeamXpress Challenge last month was an eye opener for me. In a game between two of the top clubs in the area, TeamXpress Black and Lady Rohawks Black, three San Antonio players played prominent roles for their teams. Erica Donovan and Arielle Roberson for Xpress and Ebony Watkins for the Rohawks were occupying the court at the same time and I had a revelation; Ebony Watkins is as good as Roberson and Donovan!

That is a bold statement is San Antonio. Donovan and Roberson are the anointed ones of the 2011 class by many, including myself. I have always admired Watkins from afar. Her rocky road a couple of years ago in high school has left many still trying to figure her out. I felt Wagner would have beaten Pflugerville two seasons ago with the long Watkins at the wing. She was the X-Factor. She did not play well in the big showdown against Jay this past March. Jay's bully ball strategy slowed her down. The TeamXpress Challenge showed that she finally has taken her place among the elite in the city.

Let's talk skill set comparison:.

Size- Watkins is as tall as Roberson and longer than Donovan. Her slender frame is similar to Roberson, but she is not as strong Roberson . She is far from being as physical the punishing Donovan.

Handle- Watkins has ALWAYS played on the perimeter and has a much sharper handle than both. She lived in the paint during the first half of the Xpress game. I have witnessed her break smaller/quicker guards down off of the bounce all summer. She now finishes with both hands. Both Donovan and Roberson are transitioning to the perimeter and their handle, while getting better, is not as polished as Watkins.

Shooting- Watkins shot a knuckle ball jumper in the past. Now she is consistently knocking down the three ball. What is impressive is that she is hitting it off of the dribble at times this summer. Watkins has a solid mid-range game with various runners and floaters that make her a hard guard for defenders. However, Roberson has shown she still has a better 15-17 foot jumper. Donovan can hit the three in numbers when she is feeling good.

Defensively- This may be an area where Watkins have improved the most. Her Lady Rohawk team plays one defense only, MAN! They play it full court, all the time. Up 20 or down 20 makes no difference, they will play 5-second close, man to man defense. Watkins has had some tough match ups this summer and has held her own. Her length enables her to bother smaller guards and her lateral quickness is much improved. When compared to Donovan, Watkins is quicker and longer but not nearly as physical and tough as Donovan . Donovan takes defense personal and never takes a play off. Roberson is the best post defender of the three. She blocks shots and can guard MOST 3's, 4's and 5's. Roberson's kind off court demeanor(nickname is Smiley:) belies a fierce competitive nature. She is nasty when she has to be.

Basketball IQ- This is a tough call. All three play for successful high school programs with great coaches, Tina Camacho(Watkins and Roberson) and Mike Floyd(Donovan). Watkins has improved in this area this summer as well. She no longer has CeCe Harper to lead her. She must now shoulder the brunt of the leadership responsibilities for the Rohawks. The Rohawks are running an open post offense that is built on reading and reacting this summer. This mandates that Watkins makes the correct reads and counters on the fly. This has helped her immensely. Both, Donovan and Roberson are playing in a much more structured system, surrounded by a couple of national superstars.The smart play quite often is passing it to Top 5 player in the country, Krystal Forthan, on many occasions. Donovan and Roberson have learned dozens of set plays and counters, many from the college and pro level. This preparation has undoutedbly helped them with knowing the rigors of college basketball. So which of the three is the smartest basketball player? This is a lot more subjective than the other areas. Shooting is easily determined by who is making shots. The better Basketball IQ argument will have to be settled during the high school season.

All three have intangibles that allow for "who is the best" argument. That was not the case going into the summer. Watkins was not in the argument at all . That is not the case any more. She is Top 5 in the city, EASY! However, according to Hoopgurlz ratings, the kid from Smithson Valley is as good as this city has to offer in 2011. But I will talk about Daneille Blagg in another blog about FIT!!!!

- Shanesha Clayton- The Highlands guard is the quickest guard in the city. She has been having a great summer with Sophia Young Elite by making opposing defenders look sloppy. Her change of direction and low dribble is extremely tough to defend. Pressuring her too close is probably not the best defensive strategy. Her diminutive size and reluctance to shoot the long ball says that the smart bet would be backing off of her. The problem is that she negates space by attacking defenders full speed and positioning them on their heels. As she gets them retreating and leaning in one direction, she does it! She yanks defenders mercilessly! She finishes surprising well for her size as well.

-Brandeis High School- The summer has brightened the future of Brandeis basketball. The Broncos return rebounding machine Christina "Mena" Harris and Rose Maldonado. Maldonado has spent the summer playing besides Stephen F. Austin soon to be freshman Cheyenne Berry, learning the tricks of the trade. The Broncos have a great freshman class that includes Hannah Thompson, Kelsey Glassburn and Mykel Costly. However the biggest reason for Coach John Ince to smile is the addition of 6'0 lefty, Kia Baez. This 2012 wing will be a star. She is very long and athletic with a basketball body to match. When she adds some polish, I expect Brandeis to challenge for city supremacy in the 2011-2012 season.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Too young to travel!

"In my opinion, middle school players should not be traveling to play basketball games." This was a quote from one of the most respected and influential basketball men in girls basketball. What was ironic about the statement was that the speech was given to the parents of middle school kids at a pretty pricey camp that he was sponsoring. Most of the campers were out of town kids! I have continuously given my opinion on why kids should travel but I want to look further into that philosophy.

ESPN Hoopgurlz just released the Terrific 25 for the class of 2012. This list names the so-called best players in the class of 2012. This was a monumental day for many of the kids. Whether good or bad, the Hoopgurlz rankings have become a point of much pride for aspiring athletes. Truthfully, they are probably more important to these kids parents but that is another topic. The list goes on to name three Texas guards in the Top 20, Moriah Jefferson(#3), Alexis Jones (#5), and Courtney Williams(#20). Two of these players, Jefferson and Jones play for the same club, DFW.

Rewind to last years DFW team and recall that the ESPN 3rd ranked player in the nation was Baylor signee, Odyssey Sims. Fast forward to this past Memorial Day Weekend Nike Summer Showcase in Ohio and see the MVP of the 15u division was DFW freshman, Candace Adams. Adams is certainly is one of the best freshmen in the nation. So what does DFW and their string of successful guards have to do with the statement that young kids should not travel? It proves that young kids should not travel!!! If a city, organization or team has the kind of depth, talent and environment that DFW Elite has, why travel? There MAY be enough talent in weekly practices that would negate a need to leave the city. Of course DFW Elite's philosophy is anything but "stay at home". The first time I saw Adams was in the Lady Rohawks "Ladies First" event last year in San Antonio. She was an 8th grader and on a team of 6 players, playing in the tiny Ed White MS gym. She guarded on ball the entire game w/ one brief substitution. This kind of tenacious defensive pressure, with basically no bench help, was foreign to me; foreign to San Antonio.

If I had not played DFW Elite in this event, when were my middle school girls going to encounter this type of swarming defense. In High School? No Way! A vast majority of local high schools play zone. And even if they did play full court man for the entire game, very few local kids can match the defensive prowess of kids like Adams.

To further my point, TeamXpress is clearly the best "local" team in the city again this year. The current team features one of the best players in the nation in Krystal Forthan. It also includes the # 37 ranked player in the nation along with probably the best two 2011 players in San Antonio, Erica Donovan and Arielle Roberson. But, TeamXpress was beaten badly(running clock in the first half) by a Nike Cy-Fair Shock team on Memorial Day. Why? Defensive pressure on Xpress guards turned the game into a turnover festival. TeamXpress beats every team in the city by double digits this year. They had to go out of town to find those that are better, or who have differnet styles, and different players. Cy-Fair Shock featured two girls who are trying out for the U.S. teams later this month. Cassie Peoples and Sydney Cook are both vying for spots to represent our country on the court later this summer. In furtherance of my argument, both Peoples and Cook have been traveling to play basketball since their preteens days.

In fact, the first time I heard of Cassie Peoples was when she was a 6th grader. Peoples, who is from San Antonio, was in San Diego, California at a "phenom camp"(Also at that camp was a good 7th grader named Odyssey Sims). It's a good thing that her parents did not subscribe to the " middle schoolers should not travel" philosophy. If that was the case, she probably would not be slated to attend the University of Texas on a full ride. She probably would not be ranked in the Top 25 of her class. And as for the other guards mentioned above, I first saw an 8th grade Courtney Williams at an exposure event in College Station; she lives in Houston. I saw Alexis Jones as an 8th grader playing along side Odyssey Sims and Britney Griner in Houston; she lives in the Dallas area.

These girls' parents understood that to limit your child to her immediate surrounding basketball environment will surely limit her future choices. Waiting until high school to see how you stack up against the best may be a little to late if you are trying to be the best.