Thursday, May 26, 2011
Updated: May 28, 12:29 AM ET
Oregon's stealth star
By Glenn Nelson
|Mercedes Russell hasn't been exposed to a lot of top competition but that's changing at the USA Basketball U16 team trials.|
The term "under the radar" is used liberally on the recruiting circuit but it takes on a different meaning depending to whom it is applied.
Mercedes Russell, in many aspects, has been in stealth-fighter mode. Though college coaches (and ESPN HoopGurlz, for that matter) have known about her for a while, the 6-foot-5 post is from Springfield, Ore., which doesn't exactly have a reputation as a basketball-prospect factory. Moreover, she plays for a club team, Game Time Basketball, that doesn't circulate very widely.
So the West Coast Premier Invitational in Pomona, Calif., May 14-15 served as a coming out for Russell. The national unveiling of this exciting 2013 prospect continues at the USA Basketball U16 trials that kicks off Thursday in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The West Coast tournament proved a good testing ground for Russell because it attracts the top club teams in California, as well as several national powers, including the likes of Boo Williams Summer League, DFW Elite, Essence, GSB and the Utah Flight. The best team she'd played to that point, Russell said, was the West Albany (Albany, Ore.) squad she helped quash in the Oregon 5A championship game with Springfield (Springfield, Ore.). Still, the level of competition in Pomona did not faze her, even though it overwhelmed her club teammates.
In fact, Russell demonstrated post maneuvers that belie her relative inexperience at that position. She doesn't just make plays, for example, she finishes them -- the roll after the pick, or the layup after the drop step. She's also as advanced as they get on this level at receiving an entry, moving to the pass while maintaining her seal on a defender. Moreover, Russell maintains focus on her finishes, especially when faced with a smaller, double-teaming defender, once beating such a stunt with a catch, face-up, jab-step fake and opposition drive to a strong finish.
None of this should be taken for grant. Russell says she grew six inches between her eighth and ninth-grade years. Until then, she had her sights set on developing into a 5-11-ish wing.
Where Russell's growth spurt came from is a slight mystery, considering her mother is 5-7 and father is 5-9. But her grandfather, Rory Hill, was 6-4. So length skipped a generation.
Russell's pre-spurt skills remain, not only giving her interesting options in her toolbox, but enhancing her play in the post as well. Russell caught the ball on the wings and finished after a couple dribbles in transition, for example. But her ability to rub a defender off a screen on a high-low cut and her instinct to cut into space -- skills usually expected from wing players -- will serve her well in the trenches.
Instincts also reign at the defensive end, where Russell pretty easily can keep the lane in lockdown. She had 14 blocks in one game, 10 in the first half, so she forces the opposition to adjust its offense away from her.
Russell is so fresh to the recruiting scene, she doesn't have a school list. But those who approach are advised to have a strong medical program. Russell says she's long had an affinity for TV shows depicting "surgery and all that gross stuff."
Just another way that Mercedes Russell puts a unique twist on the concept of Operating from the Post.
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|Mercedes Russell can put the ball on the floor but don't be fooled into thinking she's not a back to the basket post.|
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.