PHOTOS BY GLENN NELSON
SEATTLE, Wash. - You only have to see her spy a crack in the opposing defense, burst through it like an NFL running back, suspend herself in mid-air, then slither the ball through the maze of help a few times, or watch her see an open teammate NSA satellites wouldn't spot, or transport the ball upcourt as quickly as UPS on next-day delivery, or crank up jumpers as true as love on Valentine's to know one thing about Courtney Vandersloot.
We at HoopGurlz.com have her ranked too low.
And that's my bad. It was left to me, as the resident expert on the senior point guard for the Kentwood High School Conquerors in Kent, Wash., to determine Vandersloot's relative national ranking in the 2007 class. And, though I thought she was as complete a point guard as I'd seen anywhere in the country, I doubted people would believe me about a kid they'd never seen, who played for a club team few outside this area had ever heard of, and, no offense to Kelly Graves and his staff, who are engineering a true renaissance with their program, she'd only committed to a mid-major, Gonzaga, far better known on the men's side of this sport.
So this is my mea culpa about a girl who I'd coached against since she was just a fourth grader. Sometimes you just don't believe your own eyes or instincts, or think that your life truly could be touched for so long by budding greatness.
And if Courtney Vandersloot isn't one of this nation's great girl's high-school basketball players, I'll eat my old coach's whistle, if I can find it, and have the HoopGurlz Hot 100 rankings for dessert.
She's 5 feet 8, not small at all, clever, deceptive and explosive. There's no better finisher in traffic in this state. There are few, if any, in the country who are better at finding open teammates off penetration.
At a very appropriate venue - the University of Washington's Bank of America Arena - on Monday, Vandersloot put on a college-level clinic during Kentwood's 71-38 thumping of Garfield in the King Holiday Hoopfest. She scored 22 points, in spite of sitting out the entire fourth quarter, making 11 of 17 shots, passed for five assists (at least) and snared six rebounds.
None of some of the region's quickest defenders, including Syracuse signee Chanieka Williams, could not keep Vandersloot out of the lane. She got to the rim so easily, her two missed threes were not even a factor. Vandersloot has that range and is such a clean shooter, she rarely misses by much, drawing at least iron on misfires.
Because Vandersloot rockets out of the backcourt on a push, or looks first to fire homerun passes to teammates who streak because they know the ball will be thrown, Kentwood is the best running team this state has seen in years. And because of Vandersloot, and sophomore running mate Lindsey Moore, and the teammates they both make better, the Conks could very well be the best team in Washington this year.
Vandersloot enjoyed somewhat of a coming out party last spring during the Washington State 4A tournament, for which she probably would have been the MVP if the Conks had won just one more game. Her mastery caused a buzz among the several college coaches in attendance. Why more of them didn't follow up more insistently is a mystery and Gonzaga's gain.
And, I trust, I'm certainly not the only one kicking myself for overlooking someone who'd been right in my face for years.
Mackenzie Argens, a 6-3 post, is the centerpiece, so to speak, of a Roosevelt team poised to make a run at its second Washington State 4A championship during the University of Washington signee's high-school career. Except for the defensive end, where her length and strong lower body make her effective as a shot-blocker and difficult-to-root rebounder, she often appears as a forward in a center's body. She even has success getting into passing lanes as a forward or guard would. At the offensive end, Argens often is too upright on her postups, and continues to have issues with balances on her finishes. She did show, several times, a nice spin move from the right block into the lane for a jump hook. But she remains an excellent shooter 8-15 feet out and, further evidence that she's better away from the basket, drained a three-pointer against Bainbridge.
Brittany Gray, a 5-11 forward for Bainbridge, last year was an all-freshman pick in the state by HoopGurlz.com and already has upper- and lower-body strength and mass for the next level. She shoots down the floor quickly, has great hands for the catch as well as rebounds, and finishes strongly. In kind of an ugly, slower-paced game, she didn't have much opportunity to show it, but can put the ball on the floor and effectively attack the rim. What Gray did show against Roosevelt and a taller defender in 6-3 Mackenzie Argens was decisiveness on her post moves, including quick-to-go on faceups, as well as excellent high-post and wing passing.
Lindsey Moore, a 5-8 guard for Kentwood, also was an all-freshman selection by HoopGurlz and, like Gray, is picking up where she left off last year. Courtney Vandersloot's scoring ability has cast her sophomore teammate more in the point-guard role. There, Moore keeps her eyes riveted on her teammates, the Kentwood offense and opposing defenses, no matter how much her defender is challenging her dribble. She sees plays with enough anticipation to look off defenses to help her passing lanes unfold. She also seldom telegraphs passes, though sometimes has a tendency to get in the air to throw them, which can be effective but also is asking for trouble. Like Vandersloot, Moore had little occasion to light it up from the perimeter, though she has range from everywhere on the court. On defense, she digs in against the best of ballhandlers, has good hands and anticipation.
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 girl's 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.