MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- The 2011 Battle in the Boro once again brought a large and talented field to the Volunteer state to wrap up the first segment of the NCAA's July evaluation period. Hosting 242 teams on 25 different courts, the event offered college recruiters a one-stop shopping experience in all six divisions of competition. While Saturday's Showcase final between eventual champion Tennessee Flight and the Cy-Fair Nike Elite spotlighted some of the high-profile prospects on hand, plenty more made a statement to recruiters and competition alike.
In this tip sheet, we take a look at a few members of the rising senior class who made the most of their final summer trip to Murfreesboro.
Imani Bailey (Laurel, Md.), Blue Star Md.: Offering up some of the most steady and consistent play over the course of the event was this 5-foot-9 combo guard. While she played the point almost exclusively, it's obvious she's just as suited to play the off-guard spot and has the tools to be a scorer as well as a distributer. The ballhandling is there to advance the ball in transition but it's equally suited for creating scoring and passing opportunities in the halfcourt. She didn't take a lot of perimeter looks but her stroke and form on the pull up was impressive, as was the elevation that gave her clean looks. In traffic, she was successful in finishing around the rim and getting herself on the line on multiple occasions. Defensively, she's active on the ball and has a long build for her size that allows her to contain an opponent's penetration. Off the ball, she isn't quite as aggressive and comes out of her stance but did anticipate well on a few skip passes. Even with her impressive play, she appears to just be scratching the surface of her potential. It will be interesting to see if that consistency translates from game to game to event to event.
Brianna Butler (King of Prussia, Pa.), Exodus NYC: This multi-talented 5-11 combo guard is no stranger to anyone following club basketball for the last couple of years, and her skill set has been extensively documented by us at HoopGurlz. What makes her play worth noting again is the fact that she's continued to refine and advance both her play and physical attributes. Appearing leaner, more fit and physically stronger, she is now playing at a level that has her well-suited to compete with and against the highest level of Division I competition. Keep in mind that it's not like there was much doubt in the first place, but the occasional questions about defensive footspeed or explosiveness have been addressed. From the skill point-of-view, it's easy to apply the words mature and consistent to her play and there were several highly-regarded opponents in Murfreesboro who looked like junior high players next to her varsity game. On the defensive end of the floor, she's reading and anticipating both as an on-ball defender and in the helpside. Her court vision at both ends serves her well and allows her to make plays and, at the same time, make them look simple. The disappointing early departure of Exodus took away an opportunity to see her and her teammates face the challenge of the Tennessee Flight in the semifinals.
Tiaria Griffin (Hattiesburg, Miss.) SME White: Griffin continues to establish herself as a prospect who should have an extensive line of coaches at her door. It's a given the interest was already there, but it's a safe bet that some new numbers are coming up on the 5-9 point guard's caller ID over the break between evaluation periods.
Possessing impressive size and athleticism at the point, she's constantly creating both shots and passes off her explosive penetration. Her play is smooth and fluid but at the same time she applies a calculated change of speed that has defenders struggling to stay tight and contest. Her quickness with the ball in her hands is challenging enough but add in some high-altitude elevation and range on her shot attempts and the word zone comes to mind. One aspect of her game that may need some attention is her play off-the-ball. With the ball in her hands, she's dynamic and aggressive in her approach. Once she gives it up, there are times she becomes a non-factor. It's not that she plays poorly, but she doesn't have the same impact as a cutter or screener. Defensively, as noted in the past, she's impressive on ball but still shows some relaxing tendencies on the weakside of the floor.
Devaughn Gray (Tulsa, Okla.) Oklahoma and 1: One of the impressive performers on a deep and talented team, this 5-10 guard is someone folks should be keeping an eye on. With a long, lean and athletic build, she's active and aggressive with and without the ball. In fact, off the cut she's leaving opponents standing and often finding herself on the receiving end of a pass from talented point guard Jessica Washington leading to layups time and again. Her active play away from the ball is a rare commodity among high school players, and to say the least, effective. On the catch she's got an extended and explosive first step that covers a lot of ground. The ability is there to slash off the dribble and create both the drive to the rim and her reliable pullup. In transition she got several early entries that led to some open spot-up jumpers that she drained with ease. On the opponents end of the floor her length, lateral speed and aggressive approach give her the tools to be a top-tier defender. Gray is one of those players you look forward to seeing where she takes her game.
Keyona Hayes (Marietta, Ga.), FBC Black: The ongoing evolution of this 6-1 wing/forward's game is beginning to reach a point where the questions about her game are turning from if to when. There is appearance and impression about her game that leaves an observer feeling they've just watched a player who is older, with more experience. The reality is that her physical maturity is now combined with a patient and well-thought out use of her increasing skills. The result is a smooth, powerful game that creates shots on the interior and from the midrange that will challenge any defender on the high school level. The ability and willingness is there to post up and she does so both aggressively and reliably. She can work from the high post and create her own looks at the rim or on the 10-foot pull up with equal dependability. As a defender, you won't find too many more willing to put a body on an opponent or embrace the physical style of play that she'll ultimately find at the next level. A past issue that hasn't disappeared but is showing considerable improvement is the consistency in her play. Hayes is an impact player and when she takes plays off it's obvious to anyone in the gym. There seems to be an increased focus in her play and the personal timeouts are slowly becoming less of an issue and a thing of the past.
Tatianna Jackson (Dallas, Ga.), Georgia Hoopstars: This physically strong 5-9 guard's play has a resemblance to that straight-A report card that some grade school students come up with out of the blue. Problem with that is now everybody will expect the same each time out. Her play in the Boro provided recruiters and evaluators with glimpses of a versatile power game from the backcourt. She created off the dribble with some impressive side-to-side action and utilized the kind of acceleration that keeps defenders in constant recovery mode. She's comfortable in traffic among the bigs but seems to enjoy settling for the pull up more often than not. The elevation on her shot is impressive, and her touch is reliable out to 3-point range. She'll need to mix up her penetration and perimeter attacks more effectively to keep defenders honest as she faces older and more experienced opponents. On the other end of the floor, she's more than willing to get in a stance and she does a good job in transition of picking up and containing breakaway ballhandlers. As good as her offensive play is at times, it may well be her defensive potential that makes her a real asset with her combination of foot speed, physical strength and aggressive play.
Sydney Moss (Union, Ky.), Kentucky Premier: If you're looking for the kind of player who's going to go out and take a game from an opponent, this is your girl. The 5-11 University of Florida-bound prospect is constantly attacking from start to finish of any game she lines up in. Her skills are sound, effective and speak for themselves but her approach may well be the thing that sets her apart. On the break or in the halfcourt, off the dribble or making a cut, no matter what situation is at hand she's playing it as if the game is on the line. In transition, she got multiple open layups simply on effort and a willingness to run the floor. Time and again in halfcourt sets, she drove aggressively, creating opportunities and forcing rotations. Defensively, she's active and assertive. She does take risks, at times leaving her out of position but she also forces opponents into quick shots or turnovers. She's one of the rare athletes whose approach to the game can be an example to her peers. Of course there's always advancement and refinement that can make her more effective, but nobody will ever accuse Moss of waiting for the game to come to her.
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Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at email@example.com.