Commentary

Girls' Basketball Stories of the Year

Updated: December 26, 2011, 9:27 AM ET
By HoopGurlz

Katie CollierGlenn Nelson/ESPN.comIn 2011, Katie Collier of Covington, Wash., faced more than the usual challenges of an elite college prospect. "I was just like, 'OK.' I don't think I cried that much," she says of her leukemia diagnosis.

Both tragedy and triumph resonated through the girls' basketball world in 2011. Here are 10 stories we'll remember well beyond the New Year.

Tayshana Murphy murdered

Everyone knew her as "Chicken," and when rising girls basketball star Tayshana Murphy was shot to death on Sept. 11 in Harlem, everyone had a story about her. "She has been a household name in this area for so long," said Apache Paschall, who coached her at the Exodus club program. "Even though she was a tough street kid, she was a really sweet girl. Everybody liked her. She was a jokester, real witty. She made everybody laugh and feel comfortable." Murphy, who would have been a senior at Murry Bergtraum (New York) and was one of the top point guards in the nation, never got to play her final high school season. Tyshawn Brockington, 21, and Robert Cartagena, 20, who allegedly shot her in the chest after chasing her up the stairs of her apartment building, have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. Her former teammates have added the word "Chicken" to the back of their practice jerseys and wear patches on their uniforms that bear her name and number. "It's not so much about the wins and losses anymore," said longtime Murry Bergtraum coach Ed Grezinsky. "It's about human life, about kids moving on and being successful. In the big picture, basketball is such a small thing."

Collier fights rare form of leukemia

Katie Collier was on a recruiting trip at Washington the morning of Sept. 24 when she first knew something was wrong. "I woke up and there was blood on my pillows," she said. "I was thinking, 'Yeah this is not normal, not good.' " It didn't take long for the senior at Seattle Christian School (SeaTac, Wash.) to learn that "not good" was an understatement. She was soon diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and wound up in a hospital bed. Throughout her chemotherapy treatments, Collier remained upbeat and resolved to win the battle. "Basketball has been a part of my life forever," she said in October. "It's always been the idea to be playing in college, so that's definitely still going to happen." Just over a month after her diagnosis, the No. 21 prospect in the 2012 class signed with Washington. And earlier this month, the 6-foot-3 forward returned to the court for Seattle Christian.

Star in red, white and blue

Rebecca Greenwell kept the United States in strong standing internationally with her record-breaking MVP performance last June at the FIBA Americas championship in Mexico, where she led the USA U-16 team to gold. Greenwell set or tied five individual records for the tournament, including points averaged (15.6), field goals attempted (29), field goals made (62), and 3-pointers made (11) and attempted (24). The Owensboro Catholic (Ky.) junior, who has yet to decide on a college, capped her hot summer by leading the Tennessee Flight Silver to the Battle in the Boro championship.

Repeat champs

Despite a tough schedule that included cross-country travel, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) suffered just a single loss and repeated as the POWERADE FAB 50 national champion. For its final act, the Monarchs, who had more star power than any other team in the country, downed No. 34 Berkeley in the California Interscholastic Federation Division I championship game.

Top of the class

Geno Auriemma and UConn landed a historic recruiting class in 2011 by signing the top two players in the class of 2012: Breanna Stewart of Cicero-North Syracuse (Cicero, N.Y.) and Moriah Jefferson, a home-schooled star from Glenn Heights, Texas. And if that weren't enough, they also secured No. 15 Morgan Tuck, the No. 15 player from Bolingbrook (Ill.). The three freshmen-to-be in 2012 seem to set UConn up for a long run of success.

Ugly ending

Things turned ugly in the Division 1A championship game of the National Christian Schools Athletic Association in Erie, Pa., when Potter's House Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.) engaged in a benches-clearing melee. The game was ruled a double-disqualification for two of the country's best teams. This type of unconscionable scene is one that needs no revisiting in 2012 or years to come.

Keeping a promise

DFW T-Jack of Texas won the Nike Nationals in North Augusta, S.C., keeping its promise to its former coach, Marques Jackson, who died of a heart attack at the age of 46 in April of 2010. "He should be here," tournament MVP Moriah Jefferson said after the 58-36 win over the Fairfax Stars on July 31. "This is all he could talk about, us winning Nike Nationals. We did it, and I wish he was here to see it."

Senior moment

Before leaving for Connecticut, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) left her mark on the high school girls basketball scene. The 5-foot-11 senior guard was named both the Gatorade National Player of the Year, becoming the first California player to win the award since Lisa Leslie did it 21 years ago, and the HoopGurlz Player of the Year.

Paschall's rough year

The past year was anything but easy for Nazareth Regional (Brooklyn, N.Y) coach Apache Paschall. In January, after being investigated and exonerated for alleged recruiting violations, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Paschall got more bad news in the fall, when he was diagnosed with skin cancer. But there is a bright side to his story. Nazareth is the No. 1 team in the nation and Paschall remains on the bench, guiding his talented bunch.

Nike TOC champions

St. Mary's (Phoenix, Ariz.) defended its turf against a field of the nation's top teams and won the Joe Smith Division title at the 2011 Nike Tournament of Champions in Chandler, Ariz. Senior Shilpa Tummala, junior Chantel Osahor and sophomore Courtney Ekmark were named to the All-Tournament team. "This is like the best group ever," Osahor said of her team, which entered the week ranked No. 2 in the nation in the POWERADE FAB 50.