Summer of the Superhero
They say heroes in sports are made on the biggest stages and, for DFW Elite T-Jack, the team that won the Boo Williams Spring Invitational (Newport News, Va.), a masked heroin may be swooping in, potentially to save the day and the team's goals of honoring their fallen leader, Marques Jackson, by winning Boo and Nike Nationals (North Augusta, S.C.).
The hero routine comes as the team has been surrounded by uncertainty. In April when the team downed the Philly Belles at Boo, a game Belles' guard Destiny Brown has vowed her team will avenge in North Augusta, DFW was without its only true post player, Kristina Higgins, a Baylor commit.
A few weeks later, one of the tallest remaining players, Jasmine Vasquez, a 6-0 wing who committed to Tulsa, tore several ligaments in her right knee playing pickup basketball at her high school.
Fast-forward to Memorial Weekend, DFW went to Mason, Ohio, to play in the Midwest Showdown, without Higgins or Vasquez in the lineup. Chelsea Jennings, the 5-9 wing-guard ranked 32nd in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100 entering the summer, had an opponent's elbow come crashing down into her face, breaking her nose and giving her a severe concussion that has kept her out of action since.
On June 30, Jennings finally got some good news after a month of dizziness, headaches and frustration of not being on the court with her teammates. She will be on the court in July, eventually.
While Jennings, a Texas A&M commit, won't be able to wear a cape on the court, she will have a mask to pull off the superhero bit. Actually, she'll have two masks, and her teammates are so excited to have her back that, rather than give her a good ribbing for the somewhat awkward mask, they are staking out places to autograph it for her.
Jennings can workout at half speed for the time being and will be able to go full speed July 8. She knows she's not quite ready to mix it up as even shoot around provided a bit of a scare.
"We were just shooting around and balls were flying around and I dodged everything. I had to go find another goal," Jennings said. "But there were 15 balls bouncing around, in the game there will only be one so I'll be good."
Her team's schedule includes the Big State Flava Jam (Dallas, Texas) July 6-8, then the Nike Summer Showcase (Chicagoland, Ill.) July 11-15, followed by Battle on the Bayou (New Orleans, La.) July 21-25 and Nike Nationals July 28-31.
But DFW's journey isn't the only storyline this summer (click here for the event coverage calendar for ESPN HoopGurlz).
Can the Lady Fire out of Chicago Ill., back up the high expectations after winning the Deep South Classic (Raleigh-Durham, N.C.) in April when it takes on major events like the Battle in the Boro (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), July 12-16, or Fila Juniors (Louisville, Ky.), July 28-30?
Can Brown and her Philly Belles win the USJN Nationals (Washington, D.C.), July 22-25, and take the crown at Nike Nationals without the 2012 class' top-ranked player, Breanna Stewart, who will be in Chile competing for a FIBA World Championship with the USA Basketball U19 national team?
And along that those lines, will new stars emerge from other club teams losing players to USA Basketball? Who will rise to the occasion for West Coast Premier without Jordan Adams? Or for FBC without Imani Stafford? Or for the Illinois Dream Team without Morgan Tuck?
We will find out how Team Concept, the star-laden team from Oregon, does with top 2013's Mercedes Russell, Kailee Johnson, Jordan Reynolds and 2014 standout Jaime Nared at the staple event on the West Coast, the End of the Trail (Oregon City, Ore.), July 6-9, and the Nike Summer Showcase.
And what will come of the Tennessee Flight and the program's attempt at repeating in North Augusta with Bashaara Graves in the paint this year? What will Team Taurasi look like without center Aly Beebe, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in May? Midwest Elite returns star guard Jewell Loyd this summer after she missed most of last summer while winning FIBA gold with the USA U17's; can the team up the ante from last summer's Samantha Logic-lead buzz?
Who will come out of the Elite 32 Summer Jam when A.O.T., Exodus and Georgia Ice are in the same field?
The Summer of 2011 will have plenty of drama to offer on the court and lest we forget the recruiting implications with hundreds of college coaches lining gyms across the country, whether they be non-air-conditioned sites 30 miles from the main gym or the glacier-like sidelines of the Riverview Park Activities Center.
In the middle of it all will be Jennings and DFW. She will travel with her team to Chicago but isn't planning on playing in the tournament herself. She does want to get some practice in at the Summer Showcase and is targeting the Bayou for her triumphant return before the team sets its sites on its ultimate goal of coming through on its promise to Jackson.
The team is looking forward to Higgins rejoining the team in July too, but roster and injury turmoil aside, the players don't feel like it matters as most of this group has been playing together since the seventh grade and their focus extends beyond the court.
"We're pretty much doing it for one person -- Coach Mudd," Jennings said, referring to Jackson, who died April 10, 2010 of a heart attack.
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. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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