NEW YORK -- Murry Bergtraum, a public high school located in lower Manhattan, has a very good girls basketball team. It can put up big numbers. It plays hard, in-your-face defense that fuels its high-octane running game. It has a long, proud history of city and state championships under Ed Grezinsky.
But compared to its similarly excellent West Coast sisters Long Beach Poly and Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco, Calif., the Lady Blazers are not as big, not as physical and not as deep.
And they're not the best girl's high-school team in the country.
"I just told my girls that we have played much better teams," coach Frank Oliver said after his Washington, D.C., team H.D. Woodson lost by just eight points 77-69 to Bergtraum at John F. Kennedy High School on Sunday. "We had our opportunities."
Woodson played in the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions in December when it was steamrolled 69-42 by a Long Beach team whose stars Jasmine Dixon and Monique Oliver then were laboring with the flu. Oliver said Poly, ranked No. 2 by Full Court Press, No. 4 by USA Today and No. 7 by ESPN, was "much tougher" than Bergtraum, which is 15-0.
Bergtraum's roster of opponents may be marked this season by a litany of "had our opportunities," but all share one trait -- they are based within a couple hours of New York City. To some, this does not constitute a national-championship worthy schedule.
"Right now, I don't think they're No. 1," said China Crosby, ranked No. 24 in the HoopGurlz Super Sixty for 2009, whose team, Manhattan Center, lost to Bergtraum by 20 last week. "Two years ago, maybe. There are teams from D.C. and Maryland which are as good or better. They have nine city titles, but they've only done it in New York (this season)."
Apache Paschall, whose New York-based St. Michael Academy upset nationally-ranked Malcolm X Shabazz of Newark, N.J., at the Kennedy Classic on Sunday (see below), suggested that Grezinsky stacks a schedule against teams he knows Bergtraum can beat.
"They don't play anybody," said Paschall, who also coaches a nationally prominent club team called Exodus. "If they went to the Nike TOC, they wouldn't have been undefeated. They don't have the size to play with teams like Poly and Notre Dame Academy."
Notre Dame Academy, located in Middleburg, Va., was a consensus preseason No. 1 choice but lost the TOC championship game to Poly and then shortly afterward lost to Archibishop Carroll of Radnor, Pa.
Grezinsky said his team was entered in a national-level tournament this season in Washington, D.C., that suddenly was cancelled. He also pointed out the expense of traveling, that much of his team's funds "come out my own pockets."
"I emphasize the city and then state," Grezinsky said. "The other is all hypothetical."
No stranger to controversy, Grezinsky was vilified nationally by the media for allowing Epiphanny Prince to score 113 points against a lower-rung league opponent in 2006. He was combative and sometimes rude during seemingly benign questioning about rankings on Sunday. When it was pointed out that media often compare teams, he said, "I'm a coach. I don't give a rat's (expletive) about the media."
Grezinsky coached truly great teams in 2003 and 2004. The 2003 team, which he calls "my best team ever," had Prince, now at Rutgers, and Shannon Bobbitt, now at Tennessee, coming off the bench. It won the Nike TOC, finished 30-0 but was ranked only third in the USA Today Super 25 that year. His 2004 team, led by Bobbitt, Prince and Erica Morrow, now at Syracuse, finished 30-1, losing only to Long Beach Poly, and was ranked No. 1.
The current edition of the aptly named Lady Blazers revolves around Syracuse-bound Shakeya Leary, ranked 54th in the HoopGurlz Hundred for 2008, and Krystal "Grandma" Parnell, a scintillating, 5-foot-5 point guard ranked No. 77 in 2008 by HoopGurlz.com. Sophomores Doris Ortega, 5-10, and Cee Cee Dixon, the 5-3 sister of Connecticut freshman Lorin, are budding stars. While 6-3, Leary, like most of her teammates, is very good on the attack off the dribble but not a dominant scorer or defender on the boxes.
"They are not the Bergtraum of old," said Paschall, who coached Leary and Parnell at Exodus. "They don't have that one player who is going to dominate. I think they're still trying to find their identity."
As a team, maybe. As a powerhouse?
"I don't think they are the No. 1 team in the country," Crosby said, "but they do have that mentality because of their history."
St. Michael Upsets Shabazz
Sophomore Jennifer O'Neil may be stretching it at her listed height of 5-foot-6, but the St. Michael Academy point guard is the epitome of pluckiness. O'Neill made a steal and layup with 1:03 left to wrest the lead, then made a clinching foul shot with 33 seconds left, as St. Michael's upset previously unbeaten and nationally ranked Malcolm X Shabazz (Newark, N.J.) 62-59 in overtime.
The game was the nightcap and most thrilling contest of the talent-laden Kennedy Classic, held at John F. Kennedy, a public high school in the Bronx.
Ranked as high as No. 10 in the nation by ESPN, Shabazz also was ranked No. 16 by Full Court Press and No. 21 by USA Today.
St. Michael was without Georgetown-bound forward, Alex Roche, the No. 47 prospect in the HoopGurlz Hundred who suffered an ACL tear in December.
Seniors Ebony Wilson and Kajunia Walker and sophomore Desiree Simmons sparked a furious second-half rally for Shabazz, which trailed by nine at halftime and three at the end of three quarters. After O'Neil hit a spinning shot in the lane to put St. Michael ahead by two with 26.3 left in regulation, Walker drilled a 10-footer following an offensive rebound with 3.3 second remaining to send the game into overtime.
For more in-depth coverage of women's college-basketball prospects and girl's basketball, visit HoopGurlz.com