NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- As pool play came to an end at the 2008 Nike Nationals the top teams began to separate themselves from the rest of the field and move into championship play in the Gold and Silver brackets. Throughout the week the top individual talent has separated itself as well and shown just why the courts here in Augusta are lined with college coaches from some of the nation's top programs. With the evaluation period down to it's last day, each recruiter is hoping to get one last look in and also be seen one more time by the elite talent on hand. Here are a few more of the athletes who have kept them coming to the gym all summer.
Nikki Burton, a 5-foot-11 guard out of Charlotte, N.C., should have her picture by the word explosive in the dictionary. Her first step leaves defenders behind and gets her to the hole faster than most help side can rotate. She has good size and physical strength to go along with her quickness and speed making her difficult to match up with. The GA/Lina 76er offense reaps scoring from both her penetration as well as her ability to shoot the ball on the perimeter. Her stroke is smooth and she connects both on pull ups and long range jumpers. What allows her to utilize all her weapons is an attacking mentality on every offensive possession. Burton put up 35 of her team's 65 points in their Silver bracket first-round loss to the Illinois Hustle.
Katie Rutan, the 5-8 guard from Ambler, Pa., and the Philadelphia Belles, may be one of the better known yet underrated players in the event. The balance and versatility she brings to the backcourt makes the players around her better. Her court instincts and ability to read the floor will allow her to be effective as either the point or shooting guard in almost any offense. She cuts hard, uses screens efficiently to get open and makes the most of those opportunities when the ball comes her way. Rutan posted 17 points in the Belle's loss Wednesday evening to Cy-Fair, including five 3 pointers. The question mark may be her athleticism, but it seems to be a small one if you look at her results.
Six-foot-two Markel Walker out of Pittsburgh, Pa., plays a tough, attacking game that makes her one of the most difficult players to defend in the 2009 class. Ranked No. 7 in the ESPN HoopGurlz Top 100, she has the ability to dominate a game with and without the ball in her hands. The NYC Gauchos forward has size, power and athleticism to go with some outstanding one-on-one skills making her a challenging defensive assignment for both guards and posts. The range on her perimeter shot will be a key to making her that same dominant player at the collegiate level. Her toughness isn't to be questioned either. She left the gym Tuesday night on crutches and still took the floor for two games on Wednesday.
Chelsea Gray, a 5-11 guard from Manteca, Calif., is evolving into the next West Coast scoring machine. She can light up a scoreboard on the drive, with the pull up or on the perimeter with the jump shot. Whether its pressure from her defender or defensive help staring her in the face, she slashes and creates her own shots. When she gets into the lane she's a finisher, it's as simple as that. Her perimeter game forces opponents to close out on the catch and if she doesn't get a good look, she's putting it on the floor to find a better one. Her ability to distribute the ball will become an important aspect of her game as she becomes more and more of a focus in opponent's scouting efforts. Her 24 points led the way in the Storm's Silver bracket quarter final win over a talented Michigan Crossover team.
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Mark Lewis is a columnist and national evaluator 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.