East boasts height, size advantage
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- When the 2009 McDonald's All-American rosters were announced, much of the hoopla surrounding the girls' game revolved around the selection of Brittney Griner (Nimitz/Houston), the No. 1 ranked player in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100. When it was learned that the Baylor-bound YouTube dunking sensation would not be in attendance, it opened up the doors for all of the other All-Americans in attendance to display their unique skills because the media's focus on Griner's above-the-rim ability had been removed.
The girls' game not only lost one of its star attractions, but it also left the West club without its most dominant post presence. Not only is Griner unavailable, 6-foot-4 Stephanie Holzer (Cardinal O'Hara/Newton Square, Pa.) is also out for the West with a broken foot. That means the East club not only has the definite height advantage, they also have the most talented post player in the class on its roster in 6-4 Kelsey Bone (Dulles/Sugarland, Texas).
It's quite evident East coach Abby Ward (South Broward/Hollywood, Fla.) has the prohibitive favorite in tomorrow's game (ESPNU, 5:30pm ET).
"We quickly went from being the team with the superior size to being undersized," remarked West coach Dave Power (Fenwick/Oak Park, Ill.). "Our lack of depth in the post does stand out."
The East club also has playmaker Skylar Diggins (Washington/South Bend, Ind.) to lead its backcourt. Her confidence, basketball IQ and natural leadership ability gives the East club another tremendous advantage. Diggins, the No. 3 player in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100 behind Bone and Griner, is arguably the most competitive athlete in attendance, boy or girl.
"Diggins is a smart and savvy guard," Ward said. "Boy, I'd love to have her and Kelsey [Bone] all the time. I think some of our big girls are equivalent to what you'd see out of a normal boys' high school three [wing player]. They can really shoot well on the outside."
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As if they needed any more advantages.
"Oh yeah, most definitely, we're going to get the ball down low to our big girls," remarked 6-3 Destiny Williams (Benton Harbor, Mich.). "We also have forwards that are tall and even our guards have size. You never can tell what is going to happen, though, we'll have to see tomorrow."
Bone and Diggins dominated the girls' practice Tuesday. Bone, who was battling hard in the post with Reed, also displayed her soft touch from the perimeter. Diggins, on the other hand, controlled the tempo with her pinpoint passing, high percentage shot attempts and ball-hawking defense.
"My mother taught me that [to go hard on every play]," Diggins said. "She tells me to never give up. What I'm trying to do is show coach [Ward] that I'm a leader. I'm also trying to get everybody on the team to the point where they are comfortable."
Diggins also said the 23 other players "are here for a reason" and to think the West club doesn't have some ultra-talented players is a mistake. Their strengths are just in different areas, which could be more difficult to take advantage of if they don't hit some shots from the perimeter.
"All these girls here are competitive, but I'm a competitive coach, too, so we are definitely going to take advantage inside if it's there," Ward explained. "Hopefully that will be the case, but there will be some nerves just because of the atmosphere of the event. Sometimes teams do better with adversity and that could be an advantage for them."
While many of the West players sense their team could be the underdog, point guard China Crosby (Manhattan Center/Bronx, N.Y.) would have none of it. Crosby became the unofficial spokeswoman for the West at Tuesday's media day, and coach Powers singled her out as the leader of his club.
"I could see that the minute she walked into the gym," Powers said.
Crosby had some spirited battles with fellow point guard Eliza Pierre (Muir/Pasadena, Calif.) during Tuesday's practice. The duo's competitiveness and speed will be one of the West's strengths. The West also boasts the quickness of its wing and post players. They might be smaller in stature than their East counterparts, but players such as Gennifer Brandon (Chatsworth, Calif.) and Tierra Rogers (Sacred Heart Cathedral/San Francisco) are excellent second-opportunity rebounders and show no fear battling inside, which is the exact opposite of their reserved personalities off the court.
"I've told the girls the first six seconds or seven seconds of the shot clock is theirs; if they have something to take it," Powers added. "When you watch one of my practices, you might see a lot of structure, but in the game you'll see us run. I just want my girls to keep moving and keep playing."
The West also has strong wings who can face up and take their defender off the dribble, such as Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (T.C. Williams/Alexandria, Va.) and Tayler Hill (South/Minneapolis, Minn.). That could be an advantage on the longer and wider court inside the BankUnited Center as opposed to the smaller practice facilities. If the West club doesn't grab a near equal or higher number of offensive rebounds as their East counterparts, it could be in trouble.
The 5-10 Hill is able to get into the paint with ease, but she is not always assertive. If she can make an impact offensively and take some of the pressure off the point guards, the West could be in good shape. Wing players on the West unit such as Hill and Christina Marinacci (Foothill/Tustin, Calif.) need to knock down some jumpers, too. It may be asking too much of the inside players to do a bulk of the scoring and battle the East's post players underneath.
Look for the East club to take an early lead because of the higher number of shots it will attempt. The West will eventually adjust and make a comeback toward the end of the first half, but the East's size and depth will eventually wear the West down.
Final score prediction: East 91, West 78.
Ronnie Flores is a senior editor for ESPNRISE.com.
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McDonald's All-American Game
The country's best boys' and girls' basketball players will showcase their talent in the 2009 McDonald's All-American Game on Wednesday, April 1. The girls tip off at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU, and the boys take the stage at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. Watch the game on ESPN360.
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Multimedia content// Michael Snaer blog
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