In 2009, ESPN HoopGurlz named Skylar Diggins the national high school player of the year, and we were not alone. Diggins was the first, second, third and fourth reasons why Washington (South Bend, Ind.) was ranked as the No. 1 team in the country for most of that season. And she went on to win MVP honors at both the McDonald's and Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) All-American games.
Diggins had a ridiculously good year. But she still wasn't the top-ranked college prospect in her class. Brittney Griner was, by a large margin.
And there wasn't much argument about either. Three other organizations also honored Diggins as their national player of the year. Only one organization did not rank Griner as its top prospect.
High school player of the year and top college prospect sometimes go hand in hand, but not always.
The Gatorade State Basketball Players of the Year were announced on Thursday. About half of them appear in ESPN HoopGurlz recruiting rankings, including Breanna Stewart of North Syracuse, N.Y., who is No. 1 in the 2012 class, and Mercedes Russell of Springfield, Ore., who is No. 1 in 2013. The other half were just as important and hard working, they just maybe lack a physical attribute or translatable skill to be considered among the elite prospects for college.
At least three state players of the year -- Nicole Boudreau (Massachusetts), Caroline Coyer (Virginia) and Maddie Stock (Missouri) -- are highly rated senior prospects who have signed National Letters of Intent to play Division I basketball. They fell just outside the threshold of ranked prospects, which is 100 for the senior class. Several other state players of the year are underclassmen and may yet reveal themselves to be top prospects.
The selectors for the Gatorade honors also take into account academic achievement and community involvement, as well as prioritize performance during the current high school season.
Performance is the crux of player of the year selections and almost always is quantifiable. Diggins, for example, averaged 29 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 5.4 steals and 2.2 blocks during her senior season. The most important performance measure was the 26 victories that Diggins helped compile for Washington; its lone loss was to Ben Davis (Indianapolis, Ind.) during the last seconds of the state championship.
Attributes are the focus of projecting the likelihood of success at the college level. Some, like height, are quantifiable. Many, such as explosiveness, basketball IQ and poise under pressure, are not. Attributes can be observed during the high school season, but most evaluators will agree that club basketball provides the best context since the level and evenness of competition generally is higher.
A smallish player with perfect shooting mechanics, for example, may be able to score 20 points a game in high school. But she might not be able to get her shot off with any consistency in a college game with taller, faster defenders. She could lack the strength to shoot from distance or against physical defenders, or lack the stamina and overall athleticism to repeat a high level of performance during a more grueling college schedule.
When judging Diggins' fitness as a player of the year, no one was gauging her quickness with the basketball, leadership abilities or how high she jumped. Her output -- statistics and victories -- were clear indications that she possessed the attributes that allowed her to perform at a high level in high school. Performance, in other words, is what she did or was doing; whereas attributes are used to predict what level of performance she can reach on another level.
Diggins, by the way, had the goods as both a player and a prospect. She was, at the time, the highest ranked prospect, at No. 3, ever by ESPN HoopGurlz for a point guard. And, the Big East's player of the year this season, Diggins had done right by that ranking for Notre Dame.
Meanwhile, as player of the year in the Big 12 for Baylor, the Griner kid has done all right, too.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.