PHOTOS BY GLENN NELSON
NORTH AUGUSTA, Ga. - One of the underlying themes of Nike Nationals, as well as the final installment of HoopGurlz.com's all-tournament teams, is the appearance - or make that reappearance - of the two greatest hopes for Team USA at the Junior World Championships next year.
We'd be talking, of course, about Angie Bjorklund and Elena DelleDonne, widely considered the two best pure shooting high-schoolers in the country, their long-range prowess being a key, absent ingredient from the U.S. contingent during the Americas qualifying effort this summer.
Both missed the USA Basketball trials because of injuries, but rejoined their club teams at the end of the July circuit to provide us all a glimpse of what we'd been missing all summer.
Bjorklund and DelleDonne headline the remaining two Nike Nationals all-tournament teams, as chosen by HoopGurlz.com.
2006 HOOPGURLZ ALL-NIKE NATIONALS 3RD TEAM
(CLICK ON NAMES FOR PROFILES)
Elena DelleDonne of Fencor
Angie Bjorklund of the Spokane Stars
Angie Bjorklund – Spokane Stars – 2007
Kelley Cain – GA Metros – 2007
Elena DelleDonne – Fencor – 2008
Jasmine Thomas – Fairfax Stars – 2007
Courtney Ward – Alabama RoadRunners – 2007
Because she is so adept at clearing just enough space for her shot, and gets her shot off so quickly and cleanly, Angie Bjorklund was the most feared offensive weapon in the tournament who didn't operate in the painted area. Her shot did not betray any rusted from a stress-fracture-induced layoff and neither did Bjorklund's wind, as she played extended minutes in the first half of her first game. The only thing that seemed not quite up to snuff was her lift.
As deep as their talent ran, the Georgia Metros looked clearly discombobulated on defense when Kelley Cain was on their bench, either resting or in foul trouble. At a long and active 6-feet-6, Cain shuts down the interior like perhaps no other in the Class of 2007. Though two Metros already are on our all-tourney team, we could not resist adding a third, especially since Cain helped deliver the championship with two key baskets in overtime of the title tilt, delivered after perfect seals up the lane of her defender and catches of difficult over the shoulder lobs.
Courtney Ward of the RoadRunners
A large part of us hopes that Elena DelleDonne paid some attention to Maya Moore's declared intent to practice making her teammates better. Probably the most extraordinary scoring machine in the nation, regardless of class, she showed much promise, in her first action since suffering a high ankle sprain just before the USA Basketball trials, with her passing, low-post scoring and defense. If she applies herself in those areas, DelleDonne has an opportunity to develop into a truly special player.
No discussion of top players gets too far without Jasmine Thomas being tossed into the mix. Few point guards in the country see and deliver plays for her teammates as well as she does. And, certainly, no point guard in the 2007 class offers her combination of offense and defense. Thomas can be a lights-out shooter, who gets great lift on her jumper, and we'd be interested to see how lights out if she gets on a team that doesn't depend on her to run her legs into the ground.
At first glance, Courtney Ward doesn't look like much. She's short and on the small side, but we saw few players in the tournament that we'd consider tougher. She impressively scored nine minutes during the final minute of regulation to nearly take down mighty Boo Williams. All weekend long, we saw her caring for the ball like a new-born, knocking down long jumpers off the dribble and harrassing ballhandlers and passing lanes on defense.
Kelley Cain of the Georgia Metros
Jamine Thomas of the Fairfax Stars
2006 HOOPGURLZ ALL-NIKE NATIONALS 4TH TEAM
(CLICK ON NAMES FOR PROFILES)
Krystal Thomas of the Comets
Rebecca Gray of The Family
Brittany Carter - Georgia Nikes - 2007
Lorin Dixon – Liberty Belles - 2008
Rebecca Gray - The Family - 2007
Brooke Thomas - Orlando Comets - 2008
Krystal Thomas - Orlando Comets - 2007
Because her team kept coming close, but not getting over the hump for big victories, Brittany Carter may have been easy to overlook. But her strength and explosiveness are difficult to ignore. Both attributes make her a great penetrator into traffic, where she can finish or has the vision to find teammates made open by her attacks. The same attributes make her a good shooter and defender as well.
The most eye-catching part of Lorin Dixon's game are her silly hops. They helped overcome her lack of size as a finisher in traffic, but she's now also harnessed that power into a pull-up jumper. If she had a reliable left hand and three-point stroke, we'd be crowning her queen of the point guards.
Brooke Thomas of the Comets
People who ask why the Tar Heels recruited Rebecca Gray in addition to explosive guards Cetera DeGraffenreid and Italee Lucas are not watching how reliable a shooter and penetrator she has been for The Family, or how strong and smart she plays at both ends of the floor.
Let the debates rage about the relative speed of Brooke Thomas and any number of other pintsized points, but we say put a basketball in her hands and we're hard-pressed to find a guard faster. Thomas gets the ball to the rim quickly, too, as well as shoots and creates as well as any lead guard.
We'd expect Krystal Thomas to make a mark on the college level as a great low-post-scoring and defensive-minded power forward. If she continues to develop a face-up game and ballhandling elements, the ceiling on her potential rises all the more dramatically.
Lorin Dixon of the Liberty Belles
Brittany Carter of Georgia Nikes
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Complete 2006 Nike Nationals Coverage Menu:
Stars of Nike Nationals III
The third, and last, in our series of Nike Nationals all-tournament teams, as chosen by HoopGurlz.com.
Stars of Nike Nationals II
The second in our series of Nike Nationals all-tournament teams, as chosen by HoopGurlz.com.
Stars of Nike Nationals
The first of our series of Nike Nationals all-tournament teams, as chosen by HoopGurlz.com.
Determination Wins Nike Nationals
Paced by the extraordinary Maya Moore, the Georgia Metros pushed and paced themselves to claim a title that eluded them last summer.
Day Three Report
All-Ohio, with the top post prospects in 2007 and 2008, leads the charge into the Nike semis.
Day Two Report
The new, improved Maya Moore, a look at prospects and photos from the day's competition.
Nike Nationals Standings
Results and standings from each pool.
Nike Nationals Stats Leaders
See who's tops in scoring, rebounding, assists or blocks.
Day One Report
The return of Elena DelleDonne and Angie Bjorklund, and a look at prospects plus news, notes and photos.
A Coach's Highs & Lows
A photographer's interpretation of what goes through the head of Tennessee Flight coach Matt Insell.