STORY & PHOTOS BY GLENN NELSON
KIRKLAND, Wash. - The Lincoln Abes had just finished a team meeting when coach Kevin Strozier looked up and his star, Alex Montgomery, already was gone.
Strozier was going to hold Montgomery for a sit-down with HoopGurlz.com after a game at Lake Washington High Schoo's Last Chance Tournament, but before he could say anything, she'd bolted, jumped into her car and driven off.
"That girl is just too fast for me," Strozier said.
That lament usually comes from the mouths of defenders or opposing coaches. In another time, perhaps, her otherworldly athleticism would have us talking about Alex
Montgomery in more reverential terms. As in, she is the best girl's prep hooper to come out of this state since maybe Sheila Lambert, who probably was the best out of here
since, well, Joyce Walker.
But, alas, there's a comet named Angie Bjorklund who's graced Washington state and her already-major-college-level game is something we may not see again in decades.
That would make Montgomery at the very least the best to come out of the Puget Sound region since Lambert and on down the lineage to Walker.
If we concede that much, that Montgomery's combination of speed, quickness, hops, ballhandling and finishing power put her in that kind of atmosphere, after what we've seen
this summer, maybe we'll need to create some room in the Bjorklund stratosphere.
Because, don't look now, but Montgomery has a jumper. Though it wasn't as true during Lincoln's 44-36 loss to Kentwood in the Last Chance championship game, the jumper looks good, benefits from Montgomery's great lift and overall leverage, and was darned effective at times this summer. In Atlanta, for example, it helped propel her to a 25-point half in one game and a pretty special, 30-point effort in another.
Montgomery gets impressive lift
Strozier is committed to keeping Montgomery on the wing, which is best for her collegiate future as well as the immediate future of Strozier's Abes. Last year, Lincoln had the likes of guards Shavon Tate and Vanessa Baines, even forward Samantha Tinned, who could drop threes and attack off the dribble. Montgomery will be the sole major source of either, but will do both more dynamically, plus still drop down onto the blocks, transport the ball downcourt faster than anyone in the state and disrupt with the block or steal with her ungodly wingspan on defense.
Last year, Lincoln underachieved at the Washington State 4A tournament, collapsing under the weight of all its stars. This year, the team seems a better fit with Montgomery, who is an unselfish, high work ethic player. Already, the club has played follow the leader, right to the Last Chance Tournament title game, somewhere few people expected it to go.
Other Top Players
This tournament featured more than its share of the top players from Western Washington, some of whom we review below, somewhat as college prospects but more as high-school players, as this event served as an early, early barometer of what to expect in the winter. No championships, of course, are ever won in the summer, but seeds can be sown. Kentwood, for example, should indeed be firmly ensconced as a favortie among 4A schools. Bellevue, which took a somewhat surprising third with a 45-34 victory over Lake Washington, served noticed that it will be a factor in KingCo 3A. That all said, so many of the participants were missing key players - this being vacation season, after all - that nothing extremely concrete can be derived from the results.
Finally, we only review the players we got to see. Regretably, we missed or didn't see enough of some of the top kids to file reports. Mackenzie Argens, the 6-3 post for Roosevelt, who had committed to the University of Washington, is one notable example who comes quickly to mind. On the other hand, there are some kids who, we from experience, were not at their optimum and reviewing such games would unnecessarily skew perspectives.
Amanda Harms, a 5-6 guard at Issaquah, should team with Alyssa Shoji (below) and maybe three others as coach Kathy Gibson likely will have to go with guards, guards,
guards as the size drought continues for the Eagles. Not that it impacted their ability to twice narrowly miss knocking off Chief Sealth last postseason. One of Issaquah's great
assets in Harms, who plays and defends hard and overcomes some lack of size with an above-average wingspan for a guard. She is a strong finisher inside and was lights out
from beyond the three-point line, and a bit inside, in nearly engineering a comeback victory over Prep in a second-round game of this tournament.
Becca Sexton, a 6-3 post at Gig Harbor, seems to have been largely overlooked during her high-school tenure (three-time Narrows League honorable mention and inexplicably
did not start the game we saw this tournament), but the Tides have been a factor and made state during two of her first three seasons with them. She's not the
get-up-and-down kind of post that the Sealth girls, Christina Nzekwe and, sometimes, Regina Rogers, can be, but she is a reliable anchor of any defense and nearly impossible
to push off the blocks on offense. She also has taken a pounding because of her size and the referees' wont to "even things up" by allowing defenses to manhandle bigger
players, but she is good-natured and has taken the punishment so far. Maybe if she gets a little nastier, people will take a little more notice.
Courtney Vandersloot, a 5-8 guard at Kentwood, could get playing time this coming season at Gonzaga, to whom she has committed. She opened the championship game against Lincoln with a seeing-eye pass to diving teammate Beth Johnson for the first score, and drew ahhhs minutes later with a sensational, no-look, wraparound pass that was too good for an unsuspecting teammate. She seemed determined not to shoot the ball until all her teammates had a moment at the trough first, then drained a three-pointer that barely tickled the twine. She makes almost every pass without tipping it off to the defense, though she twice had problems with a little hook pass that couldn't make it through the elastic arms of Alex Montgomery. She is ultra-competitive, sometimes nearly to a fault as she does not suffer her own mistakes very easily, even though they are not frequent. However, that competitiveness also leads to the kind of play she made near the end of the first half when, noticing no teammates were going to defend a runout, she accelerated from just over the mid-court line for a block.
Jasmine Williams, a 5-8 guard at Seattle Prep, is one of those ticking timebomb type of offensive performers, who can explode for loads of points in a hurry. She has had a
good summer and will be count on to lead her extremely talented, but young high-school team. In the past, defenses could sit on her left hand, but she appears to be making
progress with that. She seems a far better shooter off the dribble, whether pull-up jumpers or runners, than she is stationary or, even, catch and shoot. Those shots tend to
suffer from lack of preparation.
Joey Brazen, a 5-10 swing player at Bellevue, has undergone as impressive a transformation as any player in the area. In earning second-team KingCo 3A honors, she showed herself last season as an undersized forward who bulled her way through defenses and outworked everyone else on the glass. As that role will not play on bigger stages, Brazen this summer acquired an impressively accurate outside shot, good to beyond the three-point line, and quick off the trigger. Along with improved ballhandling and the swagger of being a year ahead in experience and - voila - she's now a wing.
Candace Chambers, 6-1 forward at Seattle Prep, had a decent enough summer playing front-line caddy to the highly recruited Regina Rogers. As such, she played most of the
time in the high post where she probably really belongs because of her height, and was able to show elbow-to-elbow range on her jump shot. The experience also may have
been good prep work, so to speak, for the upcoming high-school season because Chambers will be paired with 6-3 Allie Urban and likely can do much damage from the high
post, where she can face the basket and attack off the dribble, or attack the offensive glass. Though not tremendously tall, she has great size and can be a beast around the
boards and has the makings of a superb shot-blocker, though she too often bends to temptation and obliterates shot attempts.
Alyssa Shoji, a 5-foot-6 guard at Issaquah High School, almost certainly will have a breakout season during her upcoming senior year. Last season's KingCo 3A MVP, former
teammate Melissa Richardson, is gone, so the "defending" 3A state champions will need to replace her points. Shoji sometimes had to be coaxed during the summer to
unholster her almost technically perfect long-distance stroke, but seems to get the notion on this level that she must remain aggressive for her team to have success. She had
two sensational games from the perimeter when we saw her, connecting on catch-and-shoot threes, step-back threes and pull-up jumpers. Most already know she can break
down defenders off the dribble. She has a longish, but quick crossover and is using change of pace better to get into the lane, where she is strong and finishes with either hand.
Turnovers occasionally was a bugaboo last year, but throughout the summer Shoji has shown vastly improved decision-making and execution, and has been in complete
command with the ball during this tournament.
Lindsey Moore, a 5-8 guard at Kentwood, made a lot of noise as a freshman last year and that has not changed. She still is a reliable threat from the three-point arc, particularly on the elbows extended, and a dependable ballhandler, capable of manning the point when teammate Courtney Vandersloot moves over to shooting guard. She is an improving penetrator who can finish with either hand, but the next step, during Vandersloot's senior season, is to siphon off some of Vandersloot's court vision and decision making.
Madison Yakaboski, a 5-8 guard at Mount Si, last year presented a strong case for KingCo 3A Player of the Year, what with four near point guard's quadruple doubles (double
figures in points, rebounds, assists and steals) and leading a spirited but unsuccessful quest for a state berth. That and many other honors will be difficult to deny as she and
Caitie Richards likely will have to account for at least 60 percent of Mount Si's offense. Yakaboski spent the summer with one of the nation's elite select teams and saw
high-school basketball at its highest levels. The experience made her resolute to improve the reliability of her jump shot, which could make her virtually impossible to defend.
She otherwise is the quickest player in the region, and one of the quickest in the country, with the basketball and has quick, compact moves off the dribble that make it unlikely
for defenders to keep her in front of them. She is in the Alex Montgomery mold, athletically, but with quicker hands, which make her a, well, handful defensively, on the ball,
with her long arms, speed and anticipation making her equally fearsome in the passing lanes.
Chandler Jones, a 5-9 guard at Redmond, has been a fixture on the youth select circuit for years, but because of the Eastside school system, which goes 10-12, she will not be part of new head coach Dennis Edwards' charges until 2007-08. Providing a glimpse of the future, Jones doesn't have blazing speed, but gets the ball where it needs to go, either off the dribble or pass, and is a very good shooter. Defensively, she is sound, on the ball where her wingspan helps and in help.
Yasmin Fuller, a 5-8 guard at Seattle Prep, tempts one to break the rule of not gushing over players who are this young. She already looks to be a special player who could be
among the top three guards in an already loaded backcourt at Prep. She has all the moves off the dribble, plus speed and quickness, change of pace and body control, and does
not fear attacking the trees in spite of her youthful, spindly build. She can unleash a nice, easy and accurate stroke from behind the three-point arc, but sometimes that ease
betrays the shot. Fuller also will have to adjust the height of the start and release points of her shot, to increase the quickness of release plus prevent defenders from getting at
it too easily. Impressively, she already thinks to toss passes off the dribble with either hand; however, right now, her vision and the surprise element now carry those passes,
where in the future some increase strength will turn them into laser beams. She'll also go airborne to make nice connections, but her coaches no doubt will hope she doesn't fall
in love with that particular method of delivery.
Christine Meehan of Newport (left)
& Kelly Brons of White River
Yasmin Fuller of Seattle Prep
Courtney Vandersloot of Kentwood
Amanda Juarez of Lake Washington
Courtney Martin of Redmond
Amanda Harms of Issaquah
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.