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USA: How tall are they really?

6/10/2008
Steve Maikoski/USA Basketball

COLORADO SPRINGS -- I couldn't have asked for more.

Over the years, I have marveled at what are euphemistically known as "program height" -- that is, the number that's put down next to a player's name in high school and AAU handouts. The relation of program height to real height is summed up by one of my coaching habits: Before the season, I ask the girls on my team how tall they want to be, and that's what it will say in the program. Nobody who's been around can take those numbers seriously, so I give the girls a chance to have a little fun.

At the upper levels, though, it's a little more serious. That "6-2" post who arrives on campus and is looking up at the 6-foot-1 small forward is not only in for a shock herself -- the coaching staff might not be that excited either.

So when the photographer at USA Basketball's U-18 tryout camp in Colorado Springs told the 33 assembled girls (two were missing Monday night) to line up according to height, I nearly pulled a muscle rushing for an opportunity to find out how tall these players really are.

Heather Buck, listed at 6-5, was one of the two girls not there Monday, so Sarah Boothe (Gurnee, Ill./Warren Township/Stanford) claimed the honors. Buck may indeed be taller, but I doubt we'll ever know for sure. Next to Boothe was Class of 2009 post Cokie Reed (Waco, Texas/Midway), who is listed at 6-4 and, if Boothe is 6-5, Reed is indeed 6-4. Alyssia Brewer (Sapulpa, Okla./Tennessee) was third, and she lists herself at 6-3, which either means she's making herself smaller, or the players shorter than she is are really 6-3. For the sake of argument, let's assume Brewer has recently grown to 6-4, and go on from there, but keep in mind that could be a stretch.

Fourth is Chay Shegog (Stafford, Va./Brooke Point), who lists herself at 6-4 and most likely is, followed by Class of 2009 post Kelsey Bone (Stafford, Texas/Dulles), who has consistently claimed to be 6-5. If she is, then Boothe is at least 6-6, and there's no way Brewer is 6-3.

There were four players who looked to be 6-3 (and were definitely shorter than the players listed already): Ashley Gayle (6-4 in the program, Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman); Lynetta Kizer (listed at 6-4, Woodbridge, Va./Potomac); Ayana Dunning (program height of 6-3, Columbus, Ohio/Eastmoor); and Joslyn Tinkle (Class of 2009 listed at 6-3, Missoula, Mont./Big Sky).

The 6-2 group includes the Ogwumike sisters, Nneka (Cypress, Texas/Cy-Fair) and Chiney (Class of 2010), though both are said to be 6-3. Class of '09 post Monique Oliver (Long Beach, Calif./Polytechnic) claims to be 6-2, and is 6-2.

Taylor Turnbow (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson) may be 6-3 in the program, but in the lineup she was 6-1, as were Briana Gilbreath (Katy, Texas/Cinco Ranch) and Class of '09 post Emilee Harmon (Pickerington, Ohio/Central) -- though the last two both were said to be 6-2. Class of '09 prospects Markel Walker (Philadelphia/Schenley) and DeNesha Stallworth (Pinole, Calif./Pinole Valley) and Amber Gray (Cincinnati/Lakota West) matched the listed heights of 6-1.

April Sykes (Crawford, Miss./East Oktibbeha) and Alicia Manning (Woodstock, Ga./Etowah) are an even six-feet, which is what Sykes is supposed to be. Manning, though, has a program height of 6-1.

The last three I got a good look at before the photographer broke up the line were Shekinna Stricklen (Morrilton, Ark.), listed at 6-2; Class of '09 prospect Shenneika Smith (New York/St. Michael Academy), listed at 6-1; and Jasmine Dixon (Long Beach, Calif./Polytechnic), listed at 6-1. All are no more than 5-11.

Let's make it clear, though, that there's no sense that any of these players, or their coaches, have been padding the genetic gift for any nefarious purposes. Very few girls are actually ever measured, in bare feet, and the vast majority have absolutely no idea how tall they really are. Somebody says "6-1", and 6-1 it is.

But the fact remains that there are significant differences between program height and real height, even at the WNBA level. Bernice Mosby of the Washington Mystics (from Baylor) was drafted as a 6-1 power forward and is still on the WNBA Web site at that height -- but a Mystics' coach said flatly that she's 5-11. Crystal Kelly, now with the Sacramento Monarchs, was been a 6-3 post in high school and college, but then shrunk an inch in the WNBA. In truth, however, she's not much more than 6-0.

Then again, my favorite program height story has to do with a guard who suddenly grew. Kara Lawson was 5-8 throughout her career in Tennessee and for her first few seasons at Sacramento. Then -- suddenly -- she was 5-10 in the program. Of course, that same year both Yolanda Griffith and DeMya Walker got an inch smaller, dropping from 6-5 to 6-4 -- presumably they donated those extra inches to Lawson, and it all evened out in the end.

At the U18 tryouts though, nobody's giving away any inches, and some players are discovering up close and personal the difference between program height and real height, and a fact of life that they will have to learn to live with during their college and pro careers.

Clay Kallam is a columnist and contributor to ESPN HoopGurlz. He is the founder of Full Court Press, an online magazine devoted to women's basketball; the author of "Girls Basketball: Building a Winning Program" and a voter for several national awards, including McDonald's and Parade All-Americans and the Wooden Award.

For more in-depth coverage of girls' high-school basketball and women's college-basketball prospects, visit HoopGurlz.com