SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Saturday morning brought a new day for the participants at Mater Dei High School for the Nike Regional Girls' Skills Academy. Their introduction to the expectations came the night before and a yawn from a player at just after 9:00 a.m. drew the ire of camp director Ganon Baker.
Baker put Darshae Burnside on the spot in front of the group for yawning during the morning talk on the baseline. Baker used the incident to remind the kids about respect. Burnside was not the only one yawning Saturday morning but she was the one that got caught. She was not the only player to have moments where focus faded; the entire group found that there was going to be no excuses the entire weekend.
Many of these players are stars on their high school teams, and some are coveted by numerous club coaches for the summer. Some players are used to being the best on their team and have leniency from their coaches for fear of losing them. At Baker's camp, the kids are treated as players who aren't there yet. The message was loud and clear: Their abilities earned them the opportunity to be there, not a free pass to do as they pleased.
Rest assured that if those of us in attendance can recognize the times when some players coast or look disinterested the college coaches will certainly pick up on it when the viewing period comes calling. Baker was on the kids for not listening, playing selfishly or wasting an opportunity to get better.
Many of the players failed miserably when confronted with women's basketball history trivia. Who is Nancy Liebermann? No answers. Despite the lack of historical depth, the youth at the event provided a bright spot. Some of the hardest working players in the event were also the youngest, which brings us to the underclass tip sheet.
Lauren Englein (Laguna Hills, Calif.) struggled a little bit Friday night but was fantastic the rest of the weekend. She has nice handle and was able to build on it with the drillwork. She may have had the best spin move of the kids here; she used it to get around a defender or to set up her killer jumper. The quickness and aggression are there offensively to play the 2-guard, she just needs to get stronger and continue to challenge herself against top competition.
Chelsea Gray (Stockton, Calif./St. Mary's) brought a great attitude to the floor and hit it off with the coaches. She is a terrific passer on the fast break and one of the best point guards in the country. Her strong build allows her to execute the advanced moves even when she's defended. I think she understood what Baker was explaining to the point guards about simulating how Chauncey Billups, an NBA point guard, sets the table. Instead of making five or six fancy dribble moves while his teammates get open, Billups uses his strength and positions his body to work smarter instead of harder. She showed at times that she can utilize this as well. Gray makes those around her better, a must for a point guard.
Kelsey Harris (Brea, Calif.) is a big, strong combo guard with wing size and point guard vision. She is a very good passer and is strong with the ball when she goes to score herself. She found herself matched up with quicker players at times, but Harris is a smart player who gives enough space to players she knows can get by her. She might be one of the big sleepers in the 2010 class like former Brea star Jeanette Pohlen (Stanford) was in 2007. Like Pohlen, she will do more than just try to score.
Afure Jemerigbe (Stockton, Calif./St. Mary's) is the best in the class I've seen to date at attacking off the dribble. She is strong and physical and does a lot of little things that go unnoticed by some, which makes her so successful in her drives to the cup. She knows to get into the defender's hips, maintain contact to keep leverage and just before she extends to the basket, she creates just a little more contact to keep the defender from elevating and bothering her shot. Some kids are physical by just bulling their way in there; Jemerigbe attacks with technical mastery. She is a scoring machine and a physical defender. If her passing improves to allow her to find open spot-up shooters and driving post players, she will be a more complete offensive player.
Nicole Santucci (Beaverton, Ore./Southridge) is a legit 6-foot-3 and did well in some of the post footwork drills. The advanced ballhandling was a little much for her, but she is a true post player. She was matched up against size and athleticism not duplicated in the state of Oregon. If she continues to work hard she'll be a nice player at the next level.
Mercedes Wetmore (Auburn, Wash./Auburn-Riverside) did great with the various ballhandling drills and pushed beyond the basic stuff in the drill work. She found out how physical and strong the players are on the big stage, and she'll have to continue to learn how her strengths play against better players. She picked up the floater they taught quickly. It was also evident that she spent a great deal of time on a mid-range jumper off the dribble this past year. She took the jump-stop footwork and applied it correctly to this shot as well.height="75" align="left" border="0">
Kathleen Cooper (Pacific, Wash./Auburn-Riverside) earned some praise from Baker for her hard work in some of the drills. She worked hard against some very good players and is another kid who got a lot out of the opportunity. She had success with the jabbing footwork and attacking defenders. Her shooting consistency and form limited her offensively, but she does all the little things that make teams better. She rebounds, sets solid screens, defends and gets to the free-throw line. She's also doesn't need to be told to play hard. She struggled getting the footwork when defenders were jumping off the outside foot (an advanced skill that is opposite of traditional basic layin footwork) and finishing with the inside hand. Still Cooper kept her cool, and by the time she moved over to using her left hand, she had it down. Having spent so much time in the post, her learning curve is going to be steep.
Carlie Needles(Parker, Colo./Thunder Ridge) first impressed me at the Nike Tournament of Champions in December. She picked up where she left off here at the skills academy. She works hard and gets after it constantly. She has a great base of fundamentals and appeared to pick up on a lot of new concepts. The competition level was great for her; Needles was constantly pitted against bigger, stronger and sometimes quicker players. She made mistakes and learned from them without getting down on herself, which is exactly what a freshman needs in this setting. She's just scratching the surface of her abilities. She sees the floor well and has a very nice jumper.
Kaleena Lewis (Anaheim Hills, Calif./Mater Dei) is a beast -- in a good way. She may be the most lethal shooter in the country, and to top it off, she was one of the best post scorers in the camp. She has a strong upper body, and when she pivots, she uses her shoulders to protect the ball and she attacks the defender and the basket to make the shot. She scored inside against Talia Caldwell and Monique Oliver on more than one occasion, giving up a good four inches. She's not afraid of contact and is a handful offensively. Her shooting ability needs to be complemented with the ability to attack off the dribble. She isn't the quickest kid in the gym, so she'll need to transfer that skill of using her body to create space. April Sykes wasn't the quickest kid either, but by utilizing good body control, change of pace and direction along with her strength, she scored or set up a passing angle against just about anyone. She is as confident and talented as I've seen in a freshman and the confidence is definitely not misplaced – she can flat out play.
Bonnie Samuelson (Huntington Beach, Calif./Edison) can cover a lot of ground with her stride and bother a lot of people defensively with her length. Her strength and aggression aren't quite caught up with some of the older kids, but that can be expected from a freshman. She showed some range on her jumper as well. She is definitely a kid to keep an eye on. She must have been aggressive when she scored 33 points against Irvine to open her freshman season.
Janae Sharpe (Colton, Calif./Rialto) is a super quick guard who has a fantastic lefty hesitation move. She seemed at home in the one-on-one attacking the basket drills. Some of the concepts in the screen and spacing drills seemed new to her, so she should be a player that really benefits from the exposure to it.
Jordan Adams(Irvine, Calif.) was the youngest participant in the camp and she played well once she got some confidence going. When paired up with other youngsters in drill work, the comfort level must have come for Adams because she really started pushing herself. She has a nice midrange shot and can shoot it off the dribble.
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