Speculating the E-Will effect
Though the early signing period is a little more than two months away, there is a lot of speculation about the future victories up for grabs. With 14 of the top 40 players in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100 undecided, recruiting classes and their ranking will change.
In women's basketball the term "game-changer" is oft used when searching for that perfect addition to a program. Of the undecided elite prospects in the class, nobody fits the bill as well as a certain soft-spoken post from Virginia Beach, Va., named Elizabeth Williams.
Williams, who is 6-foot-2 and uber-athletic, announced her final five schools recently -- Duke, North Carolina, Penn State, Tennessee, Virginia.
Aside from being the highest ranked player in any of those schools' recruiting hauls, she will impact each school a little differently. Being the top ranked post in the class and No. 2 overall means "impact" is a given, but what else could her commitment mean?
The Blue Devils have three top 100 players already with Amber Henson (No. 20) a 6-3 forward from Tampa, Fla., Whitney Knight (73) a 6-1 guard from Winston-Salem, N.C., and Ka'lia Johnson (82) a 5-9 point guard from Chester, Va.
Joanne P. McCallie's program could sign two more in the class. A year ago they had just four scholarships and the current trio committed early, but a transfer gave the Blue Devils another roster spot to work with. A spot has always been available for Williams, as Duke has been considered among her frontrunners for a long time, but her impact on the program will be more than the expected double-doubles she will produce at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The game needs more elite teams challenging for a national title on a regular basis. For 20 years we have counted on two spots of the final four being filled by Connecticut and Tennessee, or at least that has been the acceptable expectation. While signing Williams wouldn't assure Duke's ascendance to those ranks, it would be a bold step in that direction.
The first step for Duke was the No. 1 ranked 2010 signing class, headlined by Chelsea Gray, a standout point guard from Manteca, Calif., and four more prospects all ranked in the top 70 in the class. Adding a player like Williams would help prove that 2010 was the beginning of something the women's game has been dying for rather than a flash in the pan.
Having Gray, a distributor with the passing skills and vision, paired with Williams, who brings athleticism and the ability to spring the floor, will make for a dynamic tandem. Williams' power game in the lane will free up forwards Henson and 2010 signee Haley Peters to utilize her versatility and mid-range shooting touch at the forward position. The addition of Williams would also be a welcome sight by the shooters like 2010 signee Tricia Liston.
The roster at Chapel Hill will be decidedly different by the time Williams would potentially hit campus for Sylvia Hatchell and Co. Jessica Breland, Cetera DeGraffenreid, and Italee Lucas are seniors, so that talented core will not benefit from Williams.
If Williams chooses North Carolina, she would have one year playing alongside 6-5 Chay Shegog before becoming the main focus of the Tar Heels front court. She would allow 6-6 Waltia Rolle, who is known for her athleticism more so than her touch around the basket, to attack the offensive glass and get out in transition while the halfcourt offense could feasibly run through Williams as well.
Williams would be entering with a nice quartet of 2011 recruits, including three others ranked in the top 80 -- Brittany Roundtree (53), a long-range shooter with point guard skills, Megan Buckland (54), a 6-0 guard who solid fundamental and nice shooting touch and Danielle Butts (79), a 5-10 wing who shows explosiveness, will join Whitney Adams a 6-1 combo forward who is a glue player that can do a little bit of everything.
Penn State seems to be the dark horse to some degree but that's just to the casual fan that isn't used to seeing players like Williams associated with University Park. But get ready because the top ranked player in the 2012 class, Breanna Stewart, is also looking at Penn State and if their play together for USA Basketball is any indicator, the two could form one of the most dominant front courts in recent memory.
Penn State graduated its top scorer a year ago but with the outstanding guard play of Alexandria Bentley and the steady improvement of Nikki Greene in the post, head coach Coquese Washington has plenty to offer.
Two years of Greene and Williams in the paint would definitely make the defenses play the perimeter player honestly. With Bentley and incoming freshman sharpshooter Maggie Lucas, the matchups would be a nightmare.
When Greene graduates, the Lady Lions will have current freshman Ariel Edwards, an athletic forward prospect to establish a dynamic high-low game with Williams as well as depth at the post position with the recent commitment of 6-4 Tori Waldner.
A commitment by Williams to Tennessee hits you right in the face because the Lady Vols would then have three players of the top four, joining Cierra Burdick (3) and Ariel Massengale (4), all of whom played together the last two summers for USA Basetkball.
Williams also played club ball this spring and summer with Burdick. Playing with Williams really brought out the best of Burdick at the forward position, playing off a dominant post player. Batman and Robin, Tim Duncan and David Robinson, or Swin Cash and Lauren Jackson, any way you look at it the two together are imposing.
With the top point guard in the class shoring up what has been Tennessee's weakness in recent seasons, Massengale really cements the group and would set expectations even higher than they already are. She showed overseas that she could be an impact player while feeding the post. She is a cerebral player who would have no issues getting the ball into the post and taking fewer shots.
The addition of a dominant post player couldn't be anything but a boon to 2012 prospects considering Knoxville. Players like Jordan Adams, the No. 5 prospect in the 2012 class, who is considering Tennessee among others, and who spent the last two summers also with those players for USA Basketball Americas and World Championships, it would make the draw of future success a little stronger. Not that Pat Summitt needs any more help.
Virginia head coach Debbie Ryan has had a ton of success in her 33 years in Charlottesville with more than 700 wins and two dozen NCAA tournament bids. With Monica Wright, who lead the Cavaliers to three straight NCAA tournaments, gone to her professional career, it will take another stellar group to keep Ryan's charge to 800 wins going at 20-plus per season.
Virginia already has a headliner in its 2011 class in New Yorker Bria Smith, the No. 8 player in the class. The dynamic scoring guard brings quite a bit to the table as does fellow commit Sarah Imovbioh, a 6-2 forward from Charlottesville.
What Williams will provide is the anchor at the post but more importantly she is an in-state superstar. The Princess Anne High School product can only bolster local support as well as increase the odds that another three-year run to the Final Four, which the Cavaliers experienced from 1990-1992, is on the horizon.
Putting Smith and Williams on the floor together could be the most lethal Cavalier duo since 1992, when Dawn Staley and Wendy Palmer reached the Final Four. And let's not forget that China Crosby will be the point guard for this potential duo for her junior and senior years.
In the frontcourt the Cavaliers will have graduated Jayna Hartig, Chelsea Shine and Britny Edwards. To boot Simone Egwu, Erinn Thompson and Telia McCall will have just one year remaining. But pairing Williams with Imovbioh would provide a twin-tower lineup that could be imposing on its own. Imovbioh has never played alongside another alpha post and her ability to knock down the elbow jumper should make for a lethal high-low combination. Though Williams has come a long way in her ability to finish with both hands around the rim, Imovbioh is a lefty and can also pound the ball inside from the left block.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.
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