International talent on display
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Girls' basketball in the rest of the Western Hemisphere, it seems, is girls' basketball. No matter the country, there always seem to be the overbearing "stage" parents who sit off by themselves, yelling instructions, in various languages, at their daughters. And the girls, as in the U.S., still largely ignore them.
Yet, as evidenced by the FIBA Americas U18 Championships, basketball south of the U.S.-Mexican border has its own rhythms and idiosyncrasies.
While a cultural (and often rulebook) no-no in the U.S., benches in the rest of the hemisphere don't flinch at openly razzing opposing free throw shooters. The Brazilians hug and kiss each other, and each member of the coaching staff, before each game. The Puerto Ricans drift in and out of English and Spanish on the court and in huddles during timeouts. The best Mexican players come from states bordering the U.S., not because of proximity to the stronghold of basketball, but because the people there tend to be physically bigger and more athletically inclined, according to Krassimira Nicova Peteva, the Mexican national coach.
Talent also is talent, anywhere in the world, though it sometimes gets funneled to different places. The Canadians have all 10 graduated seniors heading to colleges, nine of them to U.S. Division I schools. However, the Central and South Americans aspire to play professionally in their countries or, better yet, be drafted by the WNBA.
Though there were many players who performed well during the tournament, these are some of the best international prospects for U.S. colleges because, in addition to skill, they offer the kind of size and, in most cases, athleticism demanded by the next level.
Damiris Amaral, Brazil: If I were a college coach, and could be assured that I could navigate all the logistical hurdles, this 6-foot-4, fluidly athletic post would be the Western Hemisphere prospect I'd be pulling out the stops for. Though not overly well-developed in a basketball sense, Amaral has to be accounted for at all times because of her size and speed. She also has just enough polish to do considerable damage at the offensive end. The most solid part of her offensive game is her smooth, mid-range jump shot that has such a high release point, and she gets so high off the floor, it would be difficult to challenge even by similarly sized defenders. Amaral even looks good on her postups, sitting low on the boxes and willing to try sealing out defenders -- until she has to make a move to score the ball. Take away her left shoulder and she's basically done, and she has little sense of where she is on the court. However, Amaral is so fast, especially in the open floor, and so explosive, it's not difficult to conceive the possibilities, should she receive some good, focused coaching.
Tassia Carcavalli, Brazil: The 5-9 point guard has a thin but very live body and oodles of quickness. She was cited by U.S. starting point guard Bria Hartley as one of the toughest on-ball defenders she faced during the week. Carcavalli is very fast, has quick feet and length, and is dogged on the ball. Offensively, she gets the ball up the court quickly and does a good job of keeping her head up to survey options. Truly a combo guard, the lefty gets nice lift on her jump shot and has a nice, easy stroke from beyond the (international) 3-point arc, though her release point is a bit low. She doesn't have a lot of touch off the bounce, but will go after the rim, if given the chance.
Katherine Plouffe, Canada: One of twin younger sisters of Andrea, who played on scholarship at the University of Washington, Plouffe offers a lot of basics and versatility at 6-3. The Marquette signee from Edmonton, Alberta, offers tremendous size for a perimeter player. Though not a breakdown player off the dribble, she is agile, strong on the ball, can pass with either hand, keeps her head up to survey options in transition, and has vision and passing angles smaller players do not possess. She has nice touch in the mid-range and a beautiful, high-arcing shot from beyond the arc. At the defensive end, Plouffe constantly talks, stays low and moves her feet, and is quick on help.
Michelle Plouffe, Canada: A Utah signee, Plouffe had an outstanding tournament, finishing first among all players in scoring (14.4 points per game), second in 3-point percentage (42.9), third in rebounding (9.4) and fourth in blocked shots (1.4). Also 6-3, she is a bit bigger, stronger and more alpha than her twin sister. Which is to say that her offensive game is a little more well-rounded because she knows her way around the boxes and is tough on finishes with either hand, and can shoot the ball from all over the floor. Like her sister, she talks well, and does little things like search for contact during rebounding situations. While Katherine's game is suited for wing-guard, Michelle definitely is more of an inside force at both ends of the floor.
Micaella Riche, Canada: Wide and solidly built, the Ottawa native and Minnesota signee obviously was, in spite of limited play, the most physical player in the tournament. She was plagued by a sprained left ankle, so had to vacate her starting spot for Canada's last four games. Even so, she proved agile for her size and more than willing to take and administer knocks in the paint. Impressively, Riche gets low in a stance and moves her feet well at the defensive end, where she also uses her leverage to great effect.
Ashley Santos, Puerto Rico: Not having the ball in her hands as much as she does in her hometown of Geneva, Ill., or will with her club team, Georgia Ice, led to some frustrating times for Santos, who played on the wing for the Puerto Ricans. When the ball is in her hands, she can be a smooth-shooting, physically punishing guard. She is 5-10 and strong, with a solid base, and is one of the few girls in any part of the world who can shoot a true jump shot from distance. Santos is strong on the ball, and able to create shots off the bounce, whether rising for mid-range jumpers or taking on defenders at the goal. She also can take backcourt mismatches down on the boxes, where she uses her size, agility and explosiveness to good effect. She also has good vision and basketball instincts as a passer from the post and wings. Santos' prowess as a scorer will improve with an increased ability to move without the ball, using screens and initiating contact to gain separation from defenders. Her overall effectiveness will improve with a greater ability to ignore an impulse to take any offensive misadventures or lack of touches to the other end of the court with her.
Sidney Santos, Puerto Rico: We're only starting to hear from the younger Santos, who just graduated middle school yet is playing two levels up with the Puerto Ricans and will compete on the club circuit this summer with the Illinois Lady Lightning. A very solid and agile 6-1, she definitely is a force on the court. At this early stage in her basketball development, Santos already has an intriguing forward game, with the ability to get the ball at the elbows, face up and pass, shoot or take a couple of strong dribbles in a foray to the basket. She has the size and physicality to score effectively from the post, but does not yet stay low enough on the seal, use choppier strides in her moves or attempts to receive the ball or have the combinations of moves and counters that she can manufacture the next couple of years. Santos is not quite the marksman that her older sister is, but she has the form and high-release point taught to them by their mother, Lorie, a former player at Wichita State.
Jennifer Sirtoli, Brazil: Though she had a so-so tournament, Sirtoli would attract recruiting attention in the U.S. because she's 6 feet, solidly built and has great form on a shot good out to 3-point land. She is not the fleetest of foot, so more athletic teams, particularly the U.S., which faced her twice in the tournament and two other times during the week leading up to it, were able to keep a lid on her scoring by denying her the ball or crowding her on the catch. Sirtoli could be effective in a role as spot-up shooter, in a system and mix of players that could get her clean looks at the basket.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girl's club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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