MURFEESBORO, Tenn. -- This year's Battle in the Boro featured 89 teams and 14 of the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred. Along with pool and bracket play, tournament director Tom Insell scheduled multiple exhibition games between some of the top teams to the delight of the large contingent of college coaches on hand. While the most of the cream continues to rise to the top, there are several players who may not yet have caught the eye of coaches and observers who played well in Murfreesboro. At the same time some of the better talent didn't step up, including a few ranked players. Here's a few who finished the first half of the July evaluation period on a good note.
Ashley Armstrong, a 5-foot-10 guard out of Reno, Calif., stepped up in the absence of Afure Jemerigbe. Her fundamental game gave the Nor Cal Elite a steady presence on the perimeter with her smart play. She exhibited a good stroke and showed some range as well. She was able to create her own shot both off the dribble and utilizing screens. Her combination of skills and nice size are a plus as a combo guard.
At 6-4 Jennifer Blanding of Brooklyn, N.Y., has all the tools most coaches would order off the menu if they could order a post. Her solid build is a plus by itself for her and her Exodus teammates. Add to that her willingness to mix it up inside and play physical and good things are bound to happen. There is still some skill refinement that has to come along and a consistency that must evolve for her, but all the tools are in place if she chooses to take advantage of them.
Elan Brown, a 6-0 wing from Atlanta, Ga., isn't the first player to catch your eye when watch the Georgia Metros in action. Take a look at the stat sheet after the game and she's the kind of player who will have contributed across the board. A versatile slasher, she has the speed to score in transition and the skills to put some numbers up in the half court as well. There's some 3-point range in her arsenal as well. Ranked 87th in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred going into the summer evaluation period, Brown is impressing recruiters.
Faith Dupree, Knoxville, Tenn.'s 6-3 post and Tennessee commitment, has a variety of skills to draw upon come game time. She possesses good size and strength and has the skills to work down low as well as on the perimeter. The frustrating thing is that you want her to do more. No. 67 in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred, she is a key contributor to the success of the Tennessee Flight and makes key plays time and again. Yet the frustration lies in her willingness to take opportunities rather than creating them. Minor detail, but with all she has to offer you want her to look for hers just a little more often.
Standing 6-2, Jasmine Hassell of Lebanon, Tenn., is a force and defining player at the power forward spot. The aggressiveness she shows posting for the ball may set the standard for the 2009 class. When coaches say "want the ball," this is what they have in mind. It's just not her initial posting either. She'll kick it out and repost before defenders have an opportunity to adjust and create a second look for herself and the Tennessee Flight. The Battle in the Boro did reveal the need for a quality shot fake to offset some of the taller leapers that she faces. Ranked 19th in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred, Hassell has the kind of physical game that will translate easily to the next level.
Tessah Holt, a guard out of Fayetteville, Ga., stepped it up a notch in Murfreesboro. The 5-7 speedster set a consistent tempo for the Metros and kept them in transition for the majority of their possessions. Teaming with Morgan Toles in the backcourt, they put enough speed out there to bring out the state police and their radar gun. Holt has the ability to create her own looks but also to distribute the ball to the deep Metros roster. If the rest of her summer goes as well her already valued stock could continue to rise.
Jasmine James, a 5-7 guard out of Bartlett, Tenn., is part of the Tennessee Flight glut of talent. Athletic and explosive, she has all the tools to take over a game. 57th in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred, James can and should climb the list before July comes to an end. If she can find the consistency to play at her best on every possession, there are going to be a lot of sleepless nights for her defenders in the future. Her four 3 pointers against the Georgia Metros to open the second half in the tournament's semi-final were back breakers. That range and touch should force defenders to close out and that can only lead to a lot of smiles as James drives by on her way to the hole.
Jeniece Johnson of Washington, D.C. and the DC Cobras could be a dominant presence in the paint any time that she takes the court. Her height alone (6-6) sets her apart from other posts she lines up against, but her physical stature gives her the added advantage of being almost impossible to move. It's also hard to ignore the fact that she has exceptional hands, a much underrated attribute. The North Carolina State commitment creates some incredible defensive challenges for opponents and allows teammates to find open looks when the double teams come. Johnson is ranked 26th in the ESPN HoopGurlz Top 100, but that may be a little high. There needs to be more impact play more often to warrant that kind of attention.
Kortni Jones of Oak Ridge, Tenn. keeps improving each time out for the Tennessee Flight. Her quickness and attacking mentality create pitches for open looks as well as sets the tone for the break. She appears to be playing with more confidence and is even looking for her own scoring opportunities more often. Her slight build at 5-9 may be an issue at a higher level, but you have to catch her for it to be a factor. That speed is an asset on the defensive end as well as she has the ability to stay in front of even the quickest ball handlers.
Adia Mathies, a 5-9 guard out of Louisville, Ky., and the No. 78 player in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred showed a lot of tools that make her an ideal shooting guard on the colligate level. She has the combination of smooth and powerful athleticism to go with great court instincts. Her scoring comes on penetration as well as ten to twelve foot jumpers. The consistency of her perimeter shot needs to be much more reliable, but the stoke is there. Another facet of her game that's impressive for the Blue Chip All Star standout is her rebounding from the wing. Good game now, even better in the future.
Telia McCall, a 6-3 forward out of Marietta, Ga., brings it all to the table for the Georgia Metros. An athletic and mobile post she can play both on the block and in the high post. In fact, despite her size and long wingspan, she may be more effective on the perimeter. Her range is a rare find in a post and opens up the paint for her own drives or high – low passes to her teammates on the block. Her strong rebounding limits the second looks opponents get and starts the transition game.
Monique Oliver, 6-2 of Long Beach, Calif., continues to lead the way for the West Coast Premier but the going seems to be getting tougher and tougher. West Coast was upset in the opening game by a determined and impressive SMAC team, but their lineup was one Oliver should have dominated and put away. She's still one of the more dominant posts in an exceptional 2009 class (No. 6 in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred), but she may have had more of her shots tipped or blocked in Murfreesboro than she's seen in a long time. To her credit, she was persistent and aggressive and usually got her own offensive board leading to a hoop or a foul.
Rachel Pecota, a 6-1 wing out of San Francisco, Calif., left an impression on quite a few observers along college row. Her game is very instinctual and her solid fundamental skills allow her to be very effective against quicker athletes. She set up her teammates time and again with pinpoint passing leading to good looks. She plays more of a "power guard" position with the ability to score herself on penetration or spotting up. The East Bay Explosion talent has the range to knock down the 3-point shot as well. Pecota may have the potential to play at a higher level than first looks lead you to believe.
Eliza Pierre of Pasadena, Calif., and the West Coast Premier was referred to in an earlier ESPN HoopGurlz Tip Sheet as one of best defenders in the country. In Murfreesboro she may have laid claim to being "the best" with her relentless ball pressure and extraordinary lateral speed. Dictating the tempo of the game from the defensive end is a coveted skill for any guard at any level. Pierre, No. 100 in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred, employs her quickness offensively as well and got to the rim repeatedly. Her game is still on the rise.
At 6-1, Shenneika Smith of Brooklyn, N.Y., came into the summer No. 12 in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred with only four guards ranked in front of her. All four better stay on their toes as Smith continues put on performances that may have her climbing the chart in the post July rankings. What stood out in the Battle in the Boro was her constant attack. There wasn't a possession that she didn't push the ball and get the defense on their heels. Combine that offensive assertiveness with her sheer scoring ability and the scoreboard lights up for Exodus again and again. Not to be overlooked is her defensive effectiveness with her size and quickness in the guard position.
Taber Spani, a 6-0 wing from Lee's Summit, Mo., and the Cy-Fair Shock continues to exhibit one of the best strokes at any position in the 2009 class. That shot is also creating opportunities for her to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim which she did multiple times in Murfreesboro. Aside from her skills you have to take note of her effort each time out. The 23rd ranked player in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred doesn't take a possession off and is willing to hit the floor. Teammate Chiney Ogwumike departed early and Spani and point guard Monique Smalls picked up the considerable slack.
Jessie Tammerlano, a 5-10 guard out of North Royalton, Ohio, could be a demonstrator for a basketball fundamentals video. Smart and skilled she simply makes plays no matter who the competition might be, as evidenced by SMAC's win over the multi talented West Coast Premier team. She and her teammates are the kind of team you have to put away. They play way too smart to beat themselves. The Bowling Green commitment is Curt Miller's type of player and should exhibit her textbook game early in her college career.
Morgan Toles, a 5-8 point guard from Fayetteville, Ga., continues to show why she's No. 15 in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred and the second point guard behind Skylar Diggins on the list. Aggressive, assertive, attacking, you pick the adjective. She pushes the ball and plays at breakneck speed while still making good decisions. She has uncanny instincts which lead to some eyebrow raising passes and shots. The pull up is a key weapon for her but her shooting percentage dropped somewhat as the tournament progressed. Toles' defensive effort is critical to the Georgia Metro's success and an enormous appeal to the long list of college suitors.
Tina Doughty, a guard out of Granbury, Texas, had some noticeable moments for an undermanned Team Ichiban. Her ball handling and passing skills stood out and demonstrated her ability to make the players around her better. Her fundamental play was smart and showed good decisions with the ball in her hands. The defensive end of the floor raised some question marks and may limit the level she might have the opportunity to play on collegiately.
Chiney Ogwumike of Cypress, Texas changes the game any time she walks on the floor. Defense becomes more effective, bad passes become catchable and the confidence of her Cy-Fair teammates goes up. There's not a lot left to say about her game that hasn't been said before. The challenge for her will be to continue to improve her skills and take her game to new levels. In an exhibition game in Murfreesboro she capped an impressive run in a Cy-Fair win over the Georgia Metros with a 3-pointer. Scary thought for future defenders.
At 6-2 Deaundra Young, out of Titusville, Fla., is going to be a forward to keep an eye on. Her athletic size and build make her a formidable post for the FGB club. To go with those physical traits is a very active and mobile game. She has the ability to post up on the block, but she's there in transition, too. Her basketball skills are a step behind her athletic skills right now, but when they catch up, great things could happen.
Katie Zenevitch, a 6-3 forward from Methuen, Mass., is going to have a lot of folks filling her mailbox up during her upcoming junior year. The Rhode Island Breakers standout has a good size and build for an inside game, but it's her shooting touch that has college coaches talking. Her range and consistency force post defenders out of the paint to defend this long range threat. Ironically, she posts aggressively down low and can put up some numbers from the block. Another asset is her willingness to scrap and mix it up. Keep watching.
Kaleena Lewis of Anaheim, Calif. continues to establish herself as one of the premier wings in the 2011 class. Her shooting stroke combined with her size and athletic skills make her a difficult match up for almost any defender. She also has been showing a more aggressive drives to the rim. A balance between her inside and outside game will set her apart from the previous generations of big guards. As with the rest of her West Coast teammates, she needs to find a consistency that makes her a threat on every possession. Lewis can impact a play whether with the ball or just in drawing help side defense further away by being active without it.
Malina Howard out of Twinsburg, Ohio, already is well established on recruiting lists across the country. The young, 6-3 post has tremendous size and a strong, physical build that she already uses effectively for Sports City U. She has good skills both in the paint and at the elbows. As a rebounder she gets the ball out quick, but also has the speed to get out and run the floor as well. She and her Sports City Teammates aren't being challenged in the lower divisions they've been playing in and with 9 of 11 players in the 2010 class should be playing up. They'll be pushed and have the talent to still do well.
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Mark Lewis is a columnist and national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.