Preseason '07 All-Americans
Angie Bjorklund
Angie Bjorklund
with Chris Hansen
Posted Sep 11, 2006


HoopGurlz.com's second annual preseason All-American team shares two qualities with our first - it is very talented, and there aren't three centers among the top 15 players.

PHOTOS BY GLENN NELSON


We commemorate our first year of covering the nation's best high-school girl's basketball players and teams with our second annual preseason HoopGurlz.com All-American team for the Class of 2007, plus a question.

Where are the centers?

Not literally, of course, as we do have two - Jantel Lavender of Cleveland, Ohio, and Kelley Cain of Atlanta, Ga. - among our All-Americans. But as we reveal our 2007 rankings as the week goes along, the list will not go too much further. Last year, Jayne Appel of Pleasant Hill, Calif., was the only true post among the top 15 players in our rankings - which, by the way, comprise our All-American team.

While we don't think this is the case, at least not totally, part of the problem is perception. As this class shows so clearly, there now are big forwards - witness Vicki Baugh of Sacramento, Calif.; Kayla Pedersen of Mesa, Ariz., and Krystal Thomas of Orlando, Fla. - who are in the 6-foot-5, 6-4 range and can run the floor, dribble and shoot like guards. The guards have gotten bigger (see 6-1 Stefanie Gilbreath of Katy, Texas).

Girl's basketball players are getting bigger, without falloff in physical abilities or basketall skills. Does that necessarily mean that the centers also must be bigger. Though Cain is 6-6 and the centers seem to be getting bigger and bigger, the answer really is no.

One of the basic tenets of offensive basketball is that a team must be able to at least throw the ball inside and have that inside player be competant enough to make the defense react, thereby creating space and better shots for that team's shooters. What we're seeing is a dearth of players who know how to get the ball and what to do with it once they receive it.

Across the country, we don't see many players who post up in an athletic stance, who are taught to get their hips lower than their defender's, who have basic footwork, know how to slide-step or, even, who have basic post moves such as a drop step, jump hook, show and go, up and under, baseline jumper. We don't see many who know how to even finish a shot. Don't even talk about a little more sophisticated skills such as feeling and sealing a defender or reading defensive stunts and passing out to open teammates.

While we're at it, most club and high-school teams appear as if they haven't even spent one practice session on making post entries. We see post players working too hard and potential passers being too stationary. We don't see teams using passes or dribbles to create better entry lanes.

Maybe we should amend our question - where are the teachers of the center position? There are many great coaches out there, but they aren't getting bigger like their players. In other words, we don't see a lot of former centers entering the coaching ranks. And there obviously is a correlation between teaching and final products. We don't think it's a coincidence, for example, that this year's top post, Lavender, and next year's, Ayana Dunning, both are the most fundamentally competant players in the lane and both are coached by Jay-Bee Bethea of All-Ohio Black.

We could go on, suggesting that maybe the American game doesn't appear to produce better shooters because our shooters don't have enough space because we don't produce competant post players.

But we won't. End of rant. There are too many talented players to celebrate, after all, and we don't want to take anything away from them.


(CLICK ON NAMES FOR PROFILES)

FIRST TEAM



Jantel Lavender
Jantel Lavender
6-4 center
Position Ranking: 1
Rating:
Central Catholic (Cleveland, Ohio)
Uncommitted


The Lowdown: Lavender is so heads and shoulders above the rest, it's a shame she doesn't really have any peers in her class because it's sometimes difficult to fathom how good she is. She has a solid arsenal from the blocks and is the most consistent shot-maker in the country from down low - by far. What puts her into a different world from the other posts is her ability to read defenses and pass out of crowds, her ability to hit mid-range shots and make plays from the high post. Lavender also is an excellent one-on-one and help defender and rebounder, and finds her outlets quickly and accurately.



Maya Moore
Maya Moore
6-foot-1 forward
Position Rank: 1
Rating:
Collins Hill HS (Suwanee, Ga.)
Committed to Connecticut


The Lowdown: Even during her junior season, we felt Moore probably was the best player in the country, regardless of class. And that was based on her competitive nature and offensive prowess. Her 38-point performance during Collins Hill's overtime loss to Christ the King in the 2005 Nike Tournament of Champions title game was the stuff of legend. Even so, Moore did something only special players do - she decided to figure out other ways to make her team and teammates better. Much of that took place at the defensive end, where her great athleticism and wingspan make her formidable. Much like her predessor, Tina Charles, who was No. 1 in 2006, Moore rules the sport because she has drive and character to match her talent.


SECOND TEAM


Vicki Baugh
Vicki Baugh
6-4 forward
Position Rank: 4
Rating:
Sacramento HS (Sacramento, Calif.)
Uncommitted


The Lowdown: Some will have Baugh ranked higher than we do, and we can totally see that. She is the best combination of size and athleticism in the class. There may not be another player you'd want running the wings, or even the ball, in the open court. She not only can motor, but finish and find open teammates. A pull-up shot would make her a perfect fast-break performer, as well as something special at 6-4. She can defend wings, but to play that position offensively needs improvement and range on her shot. Baugh is a face-up scorer, but more so off the dribble, where it is difficult to stop someone with her size and skills.



Marah Strickland
Marah Strickland
5-11 guard
Postition Rank: 4
Rating:
Towson Catholic HS (Towson, Md.)
Uncommitted


The Lowdown: Plagued by chronic knee pain and then by an ankle sprain, Strickland didn't have a particularly active summer. But when she was on the court, you could not take your eyes off her. There's not a smoother scoring machine in the class. She has a nice, easy stroke and great lift off the dribble and catch, from outside and inside the arc. Strickland has great dribble moves that she doesn't overuse, and excellent court vision. Her quick feet and hands, and work ethic, make her a very good defender, a rating she can bump up to excellent with more strength, which will improve her ability to defend the block and rebound.



Krystal Thomas
Krystal Thomas
6-4 forward
Position Rank: 3
Rating:
The First Academy (Orlando, Fla.)
Committed to Duke


The Lowdown: Thomas is part of this class' vanguard of the tall, athletic and skilled forwards. She can be scary in the open floor, with her speed-size quotient and her credentials as a winner are indisputable as she led the Orlando Comets to an AAU National Championship and the Silver Bracket title at Nike Nationals last summer. While Vicki Baugh and Kayla Pedersen likely will open their college careers on the wing, Thomas start inside, though she is polishing her perimeter game for a run at playing a wing. She by far has the most developed game of the three - and, indeed, of all forwards in the country - on the blocks, has a great nose for the ball, either off the glass or on the floor, and is disruptive as a shot-blocker.

THIRD TEAM



Cetera DeGraffenreid
Cetera DeGraffenreid
5-5 guard
Position Rank: 8
Rating:
Smoky Mountain HS (Sylva, N.C.)
Committed to North Carolina


The Lowdown: The shock of DeGraffenreid is looking at a roster to see that she is listed at only 5-5, because you hardly notice anything small about her game. In fact, few players in the country loomed larger in terms of getting results for her team. DeGraffenreid uses her strength and low-to-the-flooor stature to great advantage off the dribble and seems to get into the lane at will, where she can hit floaters, dish to teammates or muscle in for finishes. She also can take over with mid-range or long-distance shooting. She also puts her physical attributes to great use at the other end, where, throwing in her quick hands and feet, she is the most fearsome on-ball defender in this class.



Melissa Jones
Melissa Jones
5-11 guard
Position Rank: 7
Rating:
Legacy HS (Broomfield, Colo.)
Uncommitted


The Lowdown: A singular sensation on her high-school team who plays for a club team that doesn't get out extensively, Jones incredibly stayed under the national radar until this past summer. A three-sport star at Legacy, her game crackles with energy. Though not the fastest player on the court, she gets down in transition better than anyone and tends to cover more ground than anyone on defense. A great shooter off the dribble and from deep, Jones has a vicious crossover, very good balance and change of pace on her moves. She also has very good size and strength, which serve her well at both ends of the floor.




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.



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 and Scout.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.



HOOPGURLZ'S RANKINGS PACKAGE FOR 2007:

Preseason Hot 100 (Part II)
Preseason Hot 100 (Part I)
Preseason Player of the Year
Preseason All-Americans



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