McEachern rises above Riverdale
ATLANTA -- The start of the championship game of the JumpOffPlus.com Holiday Invitational could not have been much worse for No. 5 McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.).
Just 2:12 into the first quarter, the Indians' star freshman point guard, Te'a Cooper, was tagged with her second foul against No. 9 Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tenn.).
The big question: Sit her or to let her play through it? For a freshman, the answer seems pretty obvious that you would sit her until the second half. But Cooper is far from your average frosh, and the scenario provided the perfect setting to show not only what this youngster is made of, but also just how good McEachern is on the national stage.
"I guess I have to go with playing with my feet and not my hands as much," Cooper said after McEachern improved to 12-0 with an 84-73 win. "And they were just stupid fouls; I shouldn't have done it. It was just all in-the-moment fouls."
With Cooper forced to be conservative on both ends, compared to her usual explosive, attacking style, senior Syracuse signee Pachiyaanna Roberts rose to the occasion, scoring a team-high 22 points and helping McEachern build leads as big as 22 points.
Cooper made it through the half without picking up her third and was able to adjust her style and stay on the floor for nearly the entire game.
"I really didn't want to drive, so I just started pulling up," Cooper said. "I didn't really stop attacking, I just slowed down and let my team do most of it."
That's the danger McEachern poses for any team it plays -- it has four or five guns in the fight at all times. On Thursday, Cooper scored 17 points, Dominique Wilson had 14, and both Mia Cooper and Joclyn Ramos added 10. That kind of production can help a team absorb a night like the one Riverdale's Shacobia Barbee (Georgia) had, scoring a game-high 32 points, 15 in the first quarter and 12 in the fourth.
"I actually rely on all my teammates. I think any one of them can do that," Cooper said in reference to Roberts' clutch performance. "We depend on each other. We play as a team and expect it to go well for all of us."
The returning seniors from last year would be a force all by themselves. Clemson-bound post Kayla Montgomery, who missed this week's action with an ankle injury and will likely miss the rest of the month, Arkansas-bound Wilson at guard and Syracuse pledge Roberts at forward are better than most high school teams can match.
But the Indians also added senior and Ole Miss signee Destinie Gibbs via transfer to provide even more depth.
And Cooper's older sister, Mia, a junior who has committed to South Carolina, also can get it done.
But having a player like Te'a makes this team capable of playing with anyone in the country.
The transformation of Te'a Cooper, who scored six points in the fourth quarter and finished with 17, even from this last club season, is obvious. Most of it isn't physical, it's learning to be a leader in her inaugural high school campaign. Where many would look for excuses as to why their team let a 20-point lead get down to just seven, Cooper takes the blame herself for not getting the ball in her hands and calming her team down.
"I was just thinking too much instead of speaking out loud," Cooper said.
So while the 2011-12 season is serving as Cooper's coming out party, don't mind if McEachern makes an equal amount of noise as a team and presses the rest of the top five for spots in the POWERADE FAB 50.
With Thursday's victory, combined with a tough schedule and a perfect record, McEachern is building quite the argument to move up. The Indians have wins over No. 9 Riverdale, No. 12 Hoover (Birmingham, Ala.), No. 13 Memphis Central (Tenn.), No. 14 Norcross (Ga.), Hollywood Christian (Fla.), which was ranked in the preseason and 31-1 a season ago, and Overton (Memphis, Tenn.), which is always one of the better teams in the Volunteer State.
And now McEachern has to focus on a tough District 4 Class AAAAA schedule and perhaps another matchup with Norcross in the state playoffs. The mid-January return of Montgomery should kick this team into overdrive as it tries to finish what it has started in the first half of the season, proving the team and its stars are coming up right now.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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