TOC to cast more stars than ever
If greatness is the confluence of talent, stakes and drama, then high school girls' basketball may have had its best night when, a year ago in the Nike Tournament of Champions semifinals, Long Beach Poly (Calif.) overcame 33 points from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to knock off national No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) by five, and Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.) survived Bolingbrook (Ill.) in double-overtime.
For an encore, the TOC is featuring its most power-packed field ever, stuffing 20 nationally ranked teams into its top two divisions, proving again that, as the sport of girls' basketball continues to explode, the four-day tournament in Chandler, Ariz., is its bellwether.
Led by No. 2 St. Mary's (Phoenix, Ariz.), for all purposes a "home-team" favorite, seven of the top 10 teams in the preseason POWERADE FAB 50 were secured by TOC tournament director Steve Kozaki for the Joe Smith Invitational, Dec. 17-22. The others include No. 3 Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.), No. 5 Saint John's College (Washington, D.C.), No. 7 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), No. 8 Bolingbrook (Ill.), No. 9 St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) and No. 10 MacArthur (Irving, Texas). Mater Dei is the two-time defending mythical national high school champions.
Other ranked teams in the Smith Division include No. 16 Wesleyan (Norcross, Ga.), No. 17 Buford (Ga.), No. 19 Good Counsel (Olney, Md.), No. 24 Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.), No. 26 Cicero-North Syracuse (N.Y.), No. 31 Marion County (Lebanon, Ky.) and No. 39 Incarnate Word (St. Louis, Mo.). The remaining two teams, Windward (Los Angeles, Calif.) and tournament mainstay Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.), both have nationally ranked college prospects.
Many of the aforementioned teams will have higher rankings when the FAB 50 is updated on Tuesday.
Good teams, of course, mean good players. In the past, the TOC has been a national stage for the likes of Mosqueda-Lewis, Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Elena Delle Donne, all of whom were ranked as the No. 1 prospect in their respective classes by ESPN HoopGurlz. Breanna Stewart of Cicero-North Syracuse, a Connecticut signee who already has played on four USA Basketball national teams, follows in this tradition.
Some of the other top seniors in the Smith Division include No. 3 Alexis Jones (Duke signee) of MacArthur; No. 6 Jordan Adams (USC) and No. 11 Nirra Fields (UCLA) of Mater Dei; No. 10 Imani Stafford (Texas) of Windward; No. 15 Morgan Tuck (Connecticut) of Bolingbrook; No. 26 Faith Randolph (Virginia) of Good Counsel; No. 36 Jonquel Jones (Clemson), No. 85 Kelila Atkinson (Wake Forest) and No. 87 Jennie Simms (West Virginia) of Riverdale Baptist, and No. 53 Cortnee Walton (Louisville) and No. 68 Shilpa Tummala (Harvard) of St. Mary's-Phoenix. Also in the field are the Nos. 2 and 30 juniors, Kaela Davis (Tennessee commit) and Kristina Nelson of Buford; the No. 23 junior, Lindsay Allen, of Saint John's; the No. 25 junior, Courtney Range of St. Mary's-Stockton, and the No. 4 sophomore, Jordin Canada of Windward.
There's no question that this year's will be the most talented John Anderson Invitational Division for the TOC, as it includes last year's Smith finalists, Brea Olinda and Long Beach Poly, and six nationally ranked teams. At No. 21, Holy Cross (Kensington, Md.), another of the fine teams from the DMV (D.C.-Maryland-Virginia) region, is the highest from the FAB 50. Next are No. 30 St. Joseph's Academy (St. Louis, Mo.), No. 41 Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colo.), No. 43 Edison (Huntington Beach, Calif.), No. 47 Konawaena (Kealakekua, Hawaii) and No. 50 Edgewater (Orlando, Fla.).
Several other teams in the Anderson field are on the bubble of the FAB 50, including La Jolla Country Day (Calif.), Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, Calif.), Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) and Villa Maria Academy (Erie, Pa.).
Like the Smith Division, the Anderson is bursting with individual talent. Some of the best and brightest include Alexis Prince of Edgewater, a Baylor signee and the No. 16 prospect in the 2012 class; Katie Heckman of Regis, a Duke signee and the No. 79 senior prospect; Macy Keen of Dillard, No. 37 in 2012; Kelsey Plum of La Jolla Country Day, No. 31 in the 2013 class; Oderah Chidom and Kendall Waters of Bishop O'Dowd are Nos. 32 and 34 in the 2013 class, and Katie Lou Samuelson of Edison, considered one of the very best freshman prospects in the country.
The TOC has had some high-powered fields in recent years, though not to this extent, and it could be argued that it benefitted from the high-school dominance of the state of California, from which the tournament draws heavily. However, with the pendulum swinging away from California, this year's TOC has more of a national feel, with just nine of the 36 teams in the top two divisions -- three in the Smith and six in the Anderson -- coming from the Golden State.
This year's Tournament of Champions features six divisions in all, each with full 16-team brackets, for a total of 96 teams.
Some of the top players in the other four divisions include Brianna Barrett of Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.) in the Black Division, a USC signee and No. 95 senior prospect; Kelsey Brockway of Palos Verdes (Calif.) in the White Division, a Pepperdine signee and No. 76 senior; LaJahna Drummer of St. Bernard (Playa Del Rey, Calif.) in the Black Division, the No. 6 sophomore; Sara Hattis of Cleveland (Rio Rancho, N.M.) in the Gray Division, the No. 78 senior who signed with Texas for volleyball; Alexus Johnson of Monarch (Louisville, Colo.) in the Mike Desper Memorial Division, a Grambling State signee and No. 71 senior, and Je Zhe Newton of Chandler (Ariz.) in the Black, the undecided No. 66 senior.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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