HoopGurlz: Guard play highlights Kennedy Classic

BRONX, N.Y. -- When in New York, there are certain things we expect to experience -- the bright lights of Times Square, the wind-swept concrete jungle, the arts, great eating, great shopping and great guard play.

As for the latter, that's why we went to the Kennedy Class at John F. Kenndy High School. We were not disappointed. In fact, there were bonuses to be had, as a couple of out-of-state teams brought with them a couple different aspects -- size and thrilling wing play.

The following are just some of the players that caught our eye on Sunday.

Jasmine Bugg of host Kennedy High School (Bronx, N.Y.) is listed at 5-foot-6, but one college coach and I figured she looked closer to 5-10. It could be her length and physical style of play that simply makes her look bigger than she is. Another point of deception is that she suffered an ACL tear during her sophomore season, something I didn't know until after I saw her play. There were so signs of such a serious injury in her past, as I was impressed with her speed and lift, whether on her shot or in pursuit of rebounds. She may not have played the point during her whole career at Kennedy, but she sure looks confident and in command, good with the dribble and she throws very solid passes off both the jump stop and one-handed directly off the handle. She can slither or bully her way inside for scores and has a nice, easy release from long distance, though she tends to push her shot out, rather than up. If this kid is not already snatched up, I'm wondering why there isn't a line as long as a Black Friday, pre-Christamas sale.

• The drool factor from NCAA coaches section for Alyssa Bennett, of Hampton (Va.) High School was probably higher than for any player at the Kennedy Classic and with ample reason. Bennett, who will play this summer for Boo Williams Summer League, is 6-2 and has handles, a smooth jumper and explosive first step off the dribble. She is smooth and solid off the pull from 15 to 17 feet, can score from the boxes with her athleticism and in spite of her slight frame and is in love with the spin move, either directly off the dribble or following a ball fake during a postup. Bennett has an eye-popping combination of lift, wingspan and asbestos-layered hands and used that trio of gifts to make a number of difficult catches or snatches off the glass. She presently is looking as such as schools as Maryland, North Carolina State, Virginia and Virginia Tech, but I'd expect her -- and her school list -- to blow up this summer.

• The more we see China Crosby, of the Manhattan Center, the more we're in love with her game and think she's closer to being the top pure point guard in her class. She reminds me a lot of my favorite guard to watch in the 2008 class -- Samantha Prahalis. Every time she touches the ball is a potential SportsCenter moment and her lack of size may limit her list of college suitors. I could be wrong about the latter, as we've seen much success with small guards at power programs such as North Carolina and Tennessee. As to the former, Crosby doesn't play with the same calculated showmanship as Prahalis, but she flies the ball downcourt as if rocket-propelled and has such great, misdirection body feints off the dribble, on the dead run, and more shake than a belly dancer. She uses those gifts to either slalom her way to the rim, or make the defense commit to her and get the ball to a resultingly wide-open teammate. She has very good court vision, a knack for knowing how to provoke defenses and reading their responses, and gets good execution on her passes. Even on high-speed manuevers, she gets a solid base for all her dishes. Attacking the rim, she gets a great first step, exploding out of a crouch like a cobra, and has a street baller's ability to contort her body and protecting the ball, then gets great lift the finish. In both word and body language, Crosby has great command on the floor, makes herself highly disruptive on defense and, in the five or six games I've seen her play, I've yet to see her take even one play off. She's a gem.

• In some ways, Tiffany Green of University High in Newark, N.J., follows in the mini-Barkley footsteps of another Jersey prospect, Iasia Hemingway, now a freshman at Georgia Tech. Green has to do a lot of the inside dirty work for a talented but undersized University team and does it with determination and aplomb. She has a strong body and plays hard and physically. She goes after loose ball, off the glass or on the floor, and can finish left or right. Green will need to work on a so-so handle and extend her range to truly put herself near the level Hemingway established over at Shabazz.

• University's Nadirah McKenith is the prototypical Northeast point guard . She has great handles, toughness and ability to attack the interior off the dribble. She breaks the mold somewhat with a solid stop-and-pop jumper that shows good balance and release. It remains to be seen if she can deliver consistently from long distance, but on a team with as many weapons as hers, McKenith shows great judgment and restraint in focusing on delivering the basketball and hounding opposing ballhandlers on defense.

• When we saw Jelleah Sidney, of St. Michael Academy, at the Metro Classic this fall, we commented on the vast improvement of her shot. She continues to impress as a shot-maker, seeming almost automatic from about 15-17 feet and throwing down occasional 3-pointers. Sidney also has good length and lift, and you see that put to great effect, especially when she is in hustle mode, as a defender. She pushes herself to play hard, but, in doing so, sometimes tip toes along the edge of getting herself over the top, emotionally. The occasional consequence is foul trouble or getting down on herself for a single play. The other question is, with her shooting ability, whether Sidney is a small "four" (forward) or a good-sized wing. We'd develop her as a wing if her ballhandling improves.

• If you follow HoopGurlz.com, you already know we think pretty highly of Shenneika Smith, the St. Michael guard who is No. 10 in our Super Sixty for the 2009 class. While she has all the makings of the typical New York guard -- tight handles, with very good crossover and between-the-legs moves. She excels at shooting the basketball from distance, a skill that is enhanced by her ability to score, mid-lane, off the dribble. Smith manages to get her dribble high, while on the attack, giving her the ability to pull the trigger on one-handed push shots, tear drops or jump hooks at a moment's notice.

• We'll have more to say about University's Laurin Mincy in a full-fledged, Platinum evaluation, but suffice to say here that she is ascending to a lofty perch in the 2010 class. She didn't have a dominant outing against host John F. Kennedy, but showed enough of her wares to back up what a lot of people are saying about her.

Desiree Simmons of Malcolm X Shabazz in Newark, N.J., has several tools - handles and a nice shot out to 3-point range. It was impressive that, in such a hotly contested game, that a sophomore (her) was one of those who stepped up and went for it, mostly attacking the gut of the St. Michael defense for layups or trips to the free-throw line. At her size, Simmons likely will have to play the point at the next level. She has the take-charge mentality, and has a few years to develop in terms of floor generalmanship.

Deborah Smith of Hampton High School is long and athletic and likely will get more looks as a college prospect as she grows more out of her shell. She plays hard at both ends, pursuing boards on offense and loose balls on defense, and does some nice things offensively. Smith has a nice little pullup along the baseline and will mix it up inside. If she tighens up her ballhandling and extends the range on her shot, she already has the strength and body type to be a top-level, wing-guard prospect.

Jennifer O'Neil of St. Michael is easy to underestimate, which we suspect she enjoys because she's a pedal-to-the-metal type of player who can prey off those who are falling asleep on her. Shabazz attacked her with defensive pressure in the second half, and she often was left on an island by wings who didn't have the technique to break free of overplaying defenders. She still hung in and came on strong down the stretch and during overtime. She might not be the biggest or most athletic point guard around, but she's got enough speed to compete. Plus she has something you really cannot teach or coach - mental and physical toughness.

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