Returning the Flava
WESTWEGO, La. -- It was a day of redemption. In the first half of the viewing period, Essence Purple, the team based in Tallahassee, Fla., played spoiler at the Big State Flava Jam in Dallas, besting the host DFW Elite in the championship game.
As fate would have it, DFW's top team, T-Jack, returned the favor with a 67-55 win over Essence Purple, using an 18-6 run to open the second half to create separation, at Essence's event, Basketball on the Bayou.
DFW struggled, at least by its own high standards, with offensive balance early in July. That caused a flameout, not only the Flava Jam championship game, but also in a pair of games with the Fairfax Stars in Chicago at the Nike Summer Showcase. But the old T-Jack mojo appears to be back. The team went from jacking shots to dropping dimes, and in doing so may have found the recipe to make good on their promise to their late program director, Marques Jackson, of winning Nike Nationals.
Brianna Turner, the 6-foot-3, 2014 forward from Pearland, Texas, joined T-Jack for the second half, and is a difference. She joined the team last summer just for Nike Nationals, coming over from a sister program, DFW Elite-Washington. This year she came over a little earlier. For the first few days of Basketball on the Bayou, the change appeared to counterproductive for both the team and for Turner.
"I wasn't prepared for it," Turner said of the trial under fire. "I just wanted to go play with my other team but I finally got into the flow a little."
Turner scored 14 points by working the offensive glass, sprinting out in transition and flashing to the middle of the paint for duck-in buckets. Gone were the 15-footers from the elbows and the short-corner shots that just wouldn't fall.
"I figured out my shot wasn't falling," Turner said. "So I tried to just rebound, rebound, rebound."
Tried, and succeeded. With Essence being lead by the 18 points of Destiny Jones, 14 of which came in the first half, T-Jack needed a counter-presence in the paint and Turner more than sufficed.
While Turner deserves a lot of credit, so to do the T-Jack guards for showing more patience and getting her easy looks.
Moriah Jefferson, the Connecticut commit who is ranked second in the 2012 class, led T-Jack with 18 points. She was one of four players in double figures, including Turner, and Texas A&M commits Jordan Jones (11) and Chelsea Jennings (10). That balance is what has been the trademark of this group of mostly 2012 players for five years because the team has more perimeter weapons, such as Texas commit Empress Davenport and Texas A&M commit Courtney Walker, both of whom made significant contributions without filling up the points column. For a time that chemistry was lost.
T-Jack also did a terrific job of defending Essence's top scorer, Alexis Prince, the No. 10 prospect in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100. By blanketing Prince with help and having the length and quickness of Turner as a primary defender for much of the game, T-Jack held the five-star wing to just three points.
In other action from around the country, the Cal Swish followed the redemption theme by beating the Northwest Blazers 63-48 to win the Music City Classic tournament in Franklin, Tenn. The win avenges a loss in the semifinal of the End of the Trail tournament earlier this month. At Showtime Nationals in Southern California, Tree of Hope, the Seattle, Wash., based team, defeated the Cal Sparks on a Katie Collier rebound and putback with 1.6 seconds in the game, 51-49. In Washington, D.C., Midwest Elite Platinum took down the Arizona Warriors to win the USJN Nationals title.
Maybe the rubber match will come this week at Nike Nationals. This T-Jack team has shown its vulnerability but also regained its swagger. If the team brings the share-the-rock attitude to its offense with the blue-collar play from its key role players like Ashley Eli, a North Carolina State pledge, and Kristina Higgins, a Baylor commit, then perhaps T-Jack is back.
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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. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.
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