PHOTOS BY GLENN NELSON
The game is stale on the offensive end and the opposition is making a run. You desperately need a bucket but your All-American post is in foul trouble and your point guard is seeing double teams every time she catches the ball. You need someone to make a shot to slow the run and right now a three would really change the momentum so you call on your gunner to come off a double and hit that big three.
So who would you want to take that shot? With that question in mind HoopGurlz.com gives you the top long range bombers of the summer. These players not only shot the ball from behind the arc but in pressure situations and against defenses that were usually trying to take the three away from them.
Despite missing six weeks with a stress fracture Angie Bjorklund returned with her three-point stroke intact. Her lift on her mid-range pull-ups was off a little, but for some reason her three-point stroke, as is expected of her, was as good as a layup. Give her a clean look and you are probably going to see three more points on the board. Get close but don’t crowd her enough to keep her from raising up and she’ll do just that. She truly is the nation’s top perimeter gun.
Angela Puelo, a Georgia commit, was another long-range shooter who sizzled this summer. She has one of the quickest releases you can find. Her shooting exploits opened up cutting lanes for her teammates all summer long as teams refused to help off her side and forced teams to rotate other players over to stop the cutters and the ball. I thought teams had her figured when they started making her shoot more off the dribble until she blew up creating her own shot as well.
The summer also showcased the return of Jordan Jones and her NBA three-point range that was put on display nationally starting with December’s Nike Tournament of Champions. She was slowed with a knee injury but her return in Atlanta showed that her stroke was still there. Skylar Diggins scored from beyond the arc and in bunches to spark a big run in Augusta for the Family. Kimberly Rodgers has long been considered one of the most consistent catch-and-shoot three point shooters around. Marah Strickland added another dimension by hitting the three with regularity in addition to creating her own shot off the dribble.
Sydney Smallbone showed her quick high release that will be showcased at Tennessee next year. Courtney Collishaw showed phenomenal range that has drawn the attention of some bigger schools this summer. North Carolina-bound Rebecca Gray formed quite the perimeter duo with Diggins and, with all the trees on West Coast Elite, they often called on Emily Nichols to make room for them or to punish zone defenses.
Needless to say it always seems that having a truly great shooter can bail a team out when it absolutely needed it and get a team a win against a team they shouldn’t beat that day. The name of the game is put the ball in the hole still and with that three-point arc out there having a player that can hit from out there is paramount.
Anyone who has followed the women’s game, even for a short period of time has undoubtedly seen the huge increase in athleticism. Players of all sizes are now joining the ranks of the high risers on the hardwood. Last year it was Dymond Simon that I called the female Nate Robinson, which had to do with her style of play and her ridiculous leaping ability while typically being the shortest on the floor. With Simon now in Tempe, Ariz. to start her career at Arizona State this summer we saw another crop of leapers take to the sky.
One look at Brooklyn Pope’s calves and it’s no wonder she grabs the summers nod as highest riser or Miss Mad Hops. From dunking in warm-ups to swatting shots on the perimeter on unsuspecting guards to skying above the rim to snare away a rebound and start the break herself, this girl can truly fly. After watching her practice some dunks in Oregon her misses are not for lack of air but technique in that she’s jumping from so far out that she’s trying to dunk on the way down. Not only does she jump high but her quickness in getting up there and her hang-time are impressive.
You can’t talk about hang time without talking about Lorin Dixon from the Liberty Belles. She’s exciting to watch in the air because there’s so much air under her feet and she stays in the air even after a bump. Then you watch her pull-up jumper and she’s well over two feet in the air releasing that much improved J. The other Dixon, Jasmine Dixon from Long Beach, Calif., is another player with big air. She’s one of the most explosive athletes in the country and when she jumps she elevates with power and gets to her peak quickly.
Maya Moore continues to amaze with her leaping ability. It seems as if she floats for a minute on her turn around jumper and watching her rebound inside with the trees is a tribute to her strength desire and of course HOPS! Cetera DeGraffenreid is another short guard that has no problems jumping into the bigs to make plays. Her hanging right-handed floater is one of the most impressive and difficult shots of the summer and it’s her pet-shot.
Rounding out the top ten leapers is Charenee Stevens who is a rocket powered two-foot jumper who finishes at the rim, Victoria Dunlap who can sky and has dunked in a practice scrimmage, Alicia Manning who is dunking a volleyball, Glory Johnson who is one of the best athletes in her class and Caroline Doty who is at her best playing the game in the air attacking the basket.
All five picks for best handle combined effective low dribble moves with some personal flavor in shaking the defender as well. Italee Lucas is the shiftiest of the bunch and creates more space than anyone. She’s not exactly tall yet she gets away with barely leaving the ground on her step-back and off the dribble jumpers because of her ability to use the dribble to create space. It’s also a tribute to her staying on balance, low and explosive. She regularly sees double teams and is excellent at lowering her center of gravity and splitting the defense as well.
Samantha Prahalis has already been noted here in the Best of Summer for her crazy shot in the adidas Top Ten All-Star Game. She has perhaps the quickest change of direction and she stays so low that she can go right-left-right as quick as most player’s best crossover. DeGraffenreid is another player keeps her dribble so low the ground it’s virtually impossible to rip the ball from her and comes out of her change of direction and change of speed moves with explosion, it’s going to be scary to see her in the same backcourt with Lucas. Houston’s own Sydney Colson is another super quick and shifty guard that can break the ankles of even the stoutest defenders and She’la White uses her stellar ball handling ability to set the floor for her team, creating space not only when she’s looking to score or go to the basket but to give the offense time to get where it needs to be.
Probably the most underappreciated player is Jasmine Thomas and partially because people look at her scoring more than her other abilities. Her passing is simply amazing. She is the perfect table setter in the halfcourt and she has the ability not only to deliver the pass on the money but the smarts to get to better passing angles. Lucas gets a nod here as well even though she too is better known for her scoring. If there is a tough pass to be made, she can deliver and nothing was more indicative of that then her performance against the Metros in Birmingham. Jeanette Pohlen was a wing playing point guard for one of the West Coast’s best teams. She may not make the flashy play, but she makes the right play almost every time and passes not only get to the recipient, they get to them in a place they can convert or do something with. She is also one of the rare high school kids with the strength to make a three-quarter court sideline pass and have it on the money. The final two are very different where Jence Rhoads makes great passes both off the dribble and moving the ball on ball reversals whereas Brooke Thomas from the Orlando Comets can make great passes in the air, something you’d rarely catch Rhoads doing. These players have many different styles but all of them extremely effective.
Boo Williams’ Tierra Pratt gets our pick for best defender of the summer. Her combination of toughness, quickness and strength make her a legitimate lock-down defender and she’s typically assigned the opposition’s best scorer. She uses her body well to bump cutters, fight through screens and make the offensive player’s day a long one. DeGraffenreid, getting her third nod of the day was the queen of the pick-pocket this summer. I can’t think of anyone who had as many on-ball steals this summer and some of them came against the better ball handlers around. Thomas is an explosive defensive player who can stay in the hip pocket of the ball handlers the length of the floor. Equally impressive is her closing speed in jumping the passing lanes both in the half court and in pressing situations. While outstanding guard play tends to stand out more the job Kelley Cain did of defending the best posts in the country must be mentioned. She is a pretty good shot blocker but more important is the use of her body and her footwork utilizing her 6-6 frame. The surprise of the summer defensively was Alicia Manning who even by her coaches’ admissions was not this type of lockdown defender a year ago. Her footwork and low defensive stance is text book and her strength allowed her to defend both inside and out. There are a lot of other players out there that D-up but these players were getting it done against the top competition all Summer long.
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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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.