Nike Nationals Report I
Elena DelleDonne
Elena DelleDonne
HoopGurlz.com
Posted Jul 29, 2006


The first day of competition in North Augusta, S.C., featured the return to action and form of two of the nation's best shooters, as well as prospects, news and great games.






Rebecca Gray of Georgetown, Ky.



Cetera DeGraffenreid (left) of Cullowhee, N.C., and Kaitlin Moore of Fort Mill, S.C.

PHOTOS BY GLENN NELSON

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. - Comebacks are always interesting and while both Angie Bjorklund and Elena DelleDonne returned to the hardwood this week, their teams had different results with the Spokane Stars losing to the Family in its opener at Nike Nationals while Fencor got a big win over Riverview Park, the host team.

Bjorklund, who returned earlier in the week at the River City Classic from a horizontal stress fracture that cost her most of the summer, was still her old self. She knocked down open three-point shots like they were layups, as usual and scored 20 points in what was for her limited minutes compared to what she’s used to playing. The noticeable difference was her lift on her pullup mid-range shots, where she was not getting as far off the ground as usual which allowed defenders to bother her release better. This will all be straightened out as she rebuilds her strength and other than the loss it should be considered a good comeback.

DelleDonne was playing in her first game in more than a month, suffering a high ankle sprain just before the USA Basketball U18 trials. When she returned to practice last week she wasn’t able to acclimate herself with all of her teammates and budding star Caroline Doty was getting some much needed rest after three weeks of full throttle.

DelleDonne looked very solid and not out of shape in the slightest. She passed the ball really well while still giving her team offense when they needed it. But this team as a whole is a more complete unit now. One look at their top five leading scorers in their first game shows that they are more than a one-trick pony - Michele Brokans 12, DelleDonne 12, Sarah Acker 11, Doty 11, and Chelsea Shine 9.

With the game getting uncomfortably close in Fencor’s evening game against the Georgia Nike, it was DelleDonne who came down in transition, faded to the wing and knocked down a game-sealing three, reminding everyone why she’s usually double teamed wherever she goes.

DelleDonne felt good after the games and didn’t have any noticeable soreness or fatigue, a tribute to her hard work to get back in playing shape after recovering. She’s also figuring out how to play with Doty, as the morning game was their first time on the court together in over a month. They had a couple of nice plays off each other and if they can get clicking on all cylinders, Fencor will be a tough out.




Brittany Gray of Covington, Ga.
Brittany Carter, a 5-foot-10 guard from Covington, Ga., had a solid day showcasing her athleticism and shot making ability. The Georgia commit is very creative with the ball and plays the game in the air a lot. It sometimes gets her into trouble but she makes some amazing plays with the ball in her hands. She’s great at slashing to the basket and has expanded her ability to create shots from the perimeter with out getting all the way to the basket with a nice pull up jumper. She elevates so high on her shot that it’s not easily bothered by most defenders.

Cetera DeGraffenreid did her thing again today scoring off the dribble finishing with runners, off-balance floaters and a host of other crazy buckets. She got whistled early for a reach which set the tone for the feisty on-ball defender, thus limiting half the fun she has on the court. She’s typically good for at least three on-ball steals per game with her quick hands and quick feet, but the officials weren’t having it this morning. When she learns off-the-ball principles better she will be a defensive terror in the ACC for the Tar Heels.

Rebecca Gray, the North Carolina commit from Georgetown, Ky., got off to a hot start in the Family’s rematch of last year’s championship game against the Spokane Stars in pool play. Her offensive spark produced a lead in the first half they would need to sustain Spokane’s big comeback run which closed the gap to two before they pulled away in the second half. She showed how gracefully and quickly she can pull up for her jumper and her confidence to pull at any time and attack the defense as well. She finished with 17 in the game.

Alex Winchell, a 5-6 point guard from South Gwinnett High School battled through a tough 0-2 day but hit some big shots in Georgia Nike’s near comeback against Fencor Friday evening. In both games today she showed despite usually being the smallest player on the floor that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog. She hit a couple of threes late in the Fencor game, blasted through some screens and played with an intensity rarely matched most of the day.





Alicia Manning from Woodstock, Ga., fueled a frenzied comeback for the Georgia Metros to steal away a win against the Cal Storm who controlled the game until the final minutes. Her strength and shooting touch off the dribble are remarkable and her ability to get to the ball both in rebounding and on defense is ahead of most 08’s. When the team’s star Maya Moore was pushing hard to get her team back and seemingly every shot was rimming in and out it was Manning who would swoop in and snag the offensive rebound and keep her team in the game. She also hit the two big free throws with four seconds left to win the game.



Skylar Diggins led all scorers in the Family’s morning game with 21 points. The combo guard from Bend, Ind., scored a lot in transition while also showing her range knocking down deep jumpers. She’s very quick with the ball and has the ability to move laterally on defense.




Courtney Ward of Montgomery, Ala.
The mark of greatness sometimes isn't size or speed or strength, it's wanting responsibility with a game on the line. That certainly was the case with Courtney Ward, all 5 feet 6 inches of her. The Alabama RoadRunner guard scored 10 points, including a pair of three-pointers, plus a three-point play off a courageous drive to the hole, during the final minute of regulation to nearly engineer an upset of highly touted Boo Williams Summer League during the night session.

"I knew I had to step up," said Ward, who is from Montgomery, Ala.

A Florida State commit, Ward downed the first of two free throws to tie the game with 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation, but missed the second, with coaches on the sideline betting she'd be so perfect, the ball wouldn't even touch the net.

"And she's usually our best free-throw shooter, too," coach Patrick Cooper said afterward. "She's just a special player."

The RoadRunners jumped out to a five-point lead in overtime, but, talking about special players, BWSL point guard Shela White hit a rainbow three-pointer from the cheap seats and, seconds later, Kim Rodgers was left open on the wing - big mistake - and she buried another three. Just like that, Boo Williams was up for good.

Ward, the best guard on a team flush with backcourt performers, finished with 16 points.



Perhaps the craziest four minutes of the day took place at the end of the Cal Storm vs. Georgia Metros game. The Storm led by double digits in the second half before the Metros got things going. As the lead dwindled into the final minutes the Storm began turning the ball over against the Metros pressure, something they hadn’t done a lot of earlier.

The Metros took a 49-48 lead with three minutes to go, but Ashlee Brown knocked down a big three early in the shot clock to retake the lead. It was one of those shots that since she made it nobody will say anything about the shot selection, but if that puppy rims out there might have been an earful waiting for her on the sidelines.

After the Storm took a two-point lead, the Metros broke pressure, resulting in a two-on-one break with Maya Moore and Kelley Cain. Moore dished to Cain who made the layin and drew the foul, but missed her one free throw. Moore snagged the rebound and kicked the ball to Manning, who was the catalyst during the late-game comeback. Ten seconds would run off the clock with the score tied and both teams in the bonus when, for some reason, Storm guard Shawna-Lei Kuehu fouled Manning. This put Manning on the line for two free throws, a chance to go up, and only four ticks remaining. Manning, a stellar free-throw shooter converted both, the Storm would get off a half court shot before the buzzer and the game, which the Storm controlled for most of the way, went to the opportunistic and resilient Metros.

RIM SHOTS

Marah Strickland, who had a breakout performance to begin the summer at the Nike Skills Academy, is not with the Boo Williams Summer League team. She has had nagging knee injuries and decided to take the rest of the summer off. ... Stefanie Gilbreath sat out the first two games for West Coast Elite with a high left ankle spain she suffered with four minutes left during her last game, a championship game against Cal Swish. ... The Tennessee Flight had to do without athletic post Victoria Dunlap in its opening game against Georgia Nike. Her early, early morning flight was cancelled.




Skylar Diggins of South Bend, Ind.

Kate Cloxton of Winfield, W.Va.



Chris Hansen is the National Director of Scouting for Women's Basketball at HoopGurlz.com and Scout.com. Chris leads the panel that evaluates and ranks girl's basketball prospects nationally for HoopGurlz, Scout.com and Full Court Press (www.FullCourt.com). Chris has been involved in the women’s basketball community since 1998 as a coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He can be reached at chansen@scout.com.



Glenn Nelson is the publisher of HoopGurlz.com and the editor-in-chief of Scout Media (www.Scout.com), an online sports network and magazine-publishing company and subsidiary of Fox Interactive Media. Glenn also founded and coached the Dragons and Northwest HoopGurlz select girls basketball teams. He previously was a longtime, national-award-winning basketball columnist and writer for The Seattle Times. His work also has appeared in several national magazines and books. He is co-author of "Rising Stars: The Ten Best Players in the NBA" (Rosen Publishing, 2002). He can be reached at hoopgurlz@comcast.net.




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