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Texas high schools loaded with top players, top teams

11/19/2008

Last season, Texas girls basketball was was all about Houston. Region III of Class 5A produced some of the most competitive basketball in the country. Cy-Fair (Cypress) had to get past top players like Kelsey Bone and Briana Gilbreath and top teams to become state champions in Texas' biggest classification.

But things change quickly and there appears to be a new city staking claim to the home of the most talented teams. That's not the only change. Cy-Fair, thanks to the redistricting done every two years in Texas, finds itself in Region II and the redistricting also put a balance of power in the 4A classificaiton.

Lincoln High School (Dallas), the defending state 4A champions, and Midway High School (Waco) are the two highest-ranked teams from Texas in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 and are expect to once again lock horns in the Class 4A playoffs, most likely in the Region II final.

While most Texas teams do not leave the state to play in national holiday tournaments there are several big in-state tournaments in which teams from different classifications and different regions do battle. One of these in-state showdowns is the Houston Clear Creek tournament, Dec. 11-13, where Midway and Cy-Fair join two other top in-state teams, Dulles (Sugarland) and North Shore (Houston).

Dulles returns its entire squad from a year ago, including the No. 2 ranked player in the country in Bone. In the Region III semifinals a year ago, Bone and Co., took Cy-Fair down to the wire before the Bobcats sealed the deal on a 66-60 victory and a trip to Austin for the state finals.

Cy-Fair lost Gatorade National Player of the Year Nneka Ogwumike to Stanford, but the Bobcats return her younger sister, Chiney Ogwumike, who is the No. 3 junior according to ESPN HoopGurlz. Also joining Cy-Fair this year is standout 2011 guard Cassie Peoples, who moved to Texas from Florida.

But while Houston stole the headlines last year, there are three teams in Region II Class 4A this season that prove the Dallas area to be the state's best this season. Lincoln is ranked 15th in the preseason ESPN Rise Fab 50 and is joined by Midway, which is ranked 25th in the Fab 50, and Frisco, which is ranked No. 9 in the Southwest region.

Lincoln returns its top four players in Kimetria Hayden, the Dallas Morning News Player of the Year and TABC All-Region selection; Chynna Brown, also an All-Region selection; Raven Smith, and Brittany Gowans. Still, there are some possible concerns. Hayden reportedly has a torn mediscus in one of her knees and will miss a portion of the season and after losing five seniors, depth and experience may be a challenge for a team that extends its defense the length of the floor and applies non-stop pressure.

Midway is ready to challenge Lincoln. Second-year coach Teri Morrison returns four starters, three of which are seniors. The centerpiece is 6-foot-5 post, Cokie Reed, the No. 5 ranked player in the nation. The Texas commit is joined by TCU commit Delisa Gross, a 6-1 swing player.

"(Gross) is 6-1 and can play the one through five (positions)," Morrison said, "and she can step out and knock down the three."

The matchup with Lincoln would be a contrast in strengths and styles, though the inside-strong Panthers are implementing the drive-and-kick offense. With two proven interior scorers in Gross and Reed for Midway lining up against the pure speed and attacking style of Lincoln, in-game strategies and adjustments could make all the difference for these two talented squads should they meet.

"The biggest change for us is I've got young kids that are legit players," Morrison said of the supporting cast.

Morrison knows getting through their region alone is a daunting task. In addition to Lincoln a very strong Frisco team, which Midway beat by one point last year in the playoffs, stands in its way.

Led by 5-10 guard Tiffany Moore, the No. 9 ranked junior in the country, and Shay Cooney-Williams, a savvy senior point guard, the Raccoons have another year's experience to make up the one point that cost them a trip to the regional finals.

Another factor for Frisco is the status of a 6-2 sophomore transfer, Brittany Hardy, who could give the team a strong presence in the post to match-up better with a team like Midway or the plethora of other teams in Texas with size in the paint. She transferred after moving from in-district McKinney High School. If she is not cleared to play, she will more than likely play on the junior varsity team for a year and then be allowed to play varsity. Regardless, Frisco should be a tough out.

But make no mistake about it -- Texas is primed for another power-packed season with the Dallas-area taking the lead in what is another strong year in the Lone Star State.

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Chris Hansen covers girls' high school basketball nationally for ESPN.com and leads the panel that ranks and evaluates players for the network. He can be reached at chris.hansen@espn3.com.