Spani, Sherbert among summer surprises


When we saw Taber Spani during the summer of 2007, she was battling the flu and staving off droves of fleet DFW guards. Still, she showed good size and skill level, plus a certain moxie or "It" factor. Given the circumstances, we just weren't sure - not whether Spani was good, but just how good.

Today, there is no question: Taber Spani is pretty darn good.

At times this summer the 6-foot-1 Spani was dominant which, for a perimeter player, is special. More than one opposing coach told us that they informed their team to engage Spani, defensively, as soon as she crossed the midcourt line. And if she wasn't tearing down defenses with her laser-guided jump shoot, she was shredding them with her passing or even dropping down on the boxes to mete out further punishment.

That's what we call "breaking out." This category has nothing to do with skin disorders to which one might apply Clearisil, either. Rather, this is the embodiment of the true spirit of the summer circuit, which is months of players playing in so-called "exposure" tournaments to -- you guessed it -- be exposed.

Of course hundreds of players are exposed during this process, but it's the elite group that makes a splash which we're discussing here.

These aren't just a bunch of unknowns who found the path to getting known, though those kind of players are here. Some, such as Brittney Griner of Houston, Texas, are well-known, but revealed themselves to be game-changers. Some, like Bria Hartley of North Babylon, N.Y., stepped into some big shoes (how about those belonging to incoming Ohio State freshman Samantha Prahalis?) and filled them beyond imagination.

And there were some, such as Tabi Spani of Lees Summit, Mo., whom we knew to be pretty good players who "broke out" and showed us they belonged among the nation's elite.

Breakout Players

1. Taber Spani (2009), Cy-Fair Shock

2. Lindsay Sherbert (2010), Cal Swish Black

3. Eliza Pierre (2009), West Coast Premier

4. Maggie Lucas (2010), Philadelphia Belles

5. Rachael Pecota (2009), East Bay Explosion

6. Jasmine Smith (2009), Oklahoma Trotters

7. Shoni Schimmel (2010), Oregon Reign

8. Ta'Shauna Rodgers (2010), Boo Williams Elite

9. Hillary Sigmon (2011), Carolina Pacers

10. Bria Hartley (2010), Exodus

11. Waltia Rolle (2009), Cy-Fair Houstonians

12. Tyrese Tanner (2010), Alabama Twisters 15U

13. Courtney Moses (2010), Indiana Legends

14. Samarie Walker (2010), Ohio Lady Diamonds

15. Elizabeth Williams (2011), Boo Williams Elite

16. Courtney Williams (2012), Houston Elite

17. Shakila Boler (2010), North Tartan

18. Dani Jackson (2009), Boo Williams Elite

19. Karisma Penn (2010), All Ohio Black

20. Meighan Simmons (2010), TeamXpress

21. Cokie Reed (2009), DFW Elite Gold

22. Brittney Griner (2009), DFW T-Jack Elite

23. Sam Ostarello (2009), Mile Hi Gold

24. Niveen Rasheed (2009), East Bay Xplosion

25. Thaddesia Southall (2009), Cal Sparks Gold

Lindsay Sherbert of Temecula, Calif., stood out in one particular department -- winning -- that coaches love. She led Cal Swish Black to tournament championships at End of the Trail and River City Classic, and was the MVP of both. Better yet, Sherbert's a 2010 prospect, so she has another year on the circuit. Another Californian, Eliza Pierre, hails from Pasadena, not only home of the Rose Bowl, but another speedster, Nikki Speed, who is an incoming freshman at Rutgers. Pierre played her first game at point guard during Boo Williams' spring tournament and, by the end of summer, was the nastiest on-ball defender in the country whose offense was coming along quite nicely, thank you.

We fell in love with Maggie Lucas' game when she was the younger teammate of UConn freshman Caroline Doty at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pa. A rising junior, Lucas is a smooth-shooting, tight-handled guard who, David-like, shot down the Goliaths of the summer circuit, DFW Elite, at Nike Nationals. Rachael Pecota of Palo Alto, Calif., is, at 6-1, a power guard in the mold of Katie Smith. On the other hand, Jasmine Smith of Stillwater, Okla., is an ultra-explosive athlete who, from the guard position, can score inside, usually over defenders, rather than around them.

Shoni Schimmel, a rising junior out of Mission, Ore., is a local legend finally gone national with her Pistol-with-a-Ponytail show that had coaches either dropped-jawed, or drooling, or both. Ta'Shauna Rodgers of Suffolk, Va., has developed from the unorthodox gunner of a summer ago into the best player on the best club team on the summer circuit. Hillary Sigmon, only a rising sophomore from Taylorsville, N.C., already has a great feel for the game and, at 6 feet, has a diversified arsenal that includes pull-up jump shots as well as 3-point punch.

Rising junior Bria Hartley of North Babylon, N.Y., is creative off the dribble, but calm -- and productive -- when the heat is on the most. The most surprising thing about Waltia Rolle of Houston is that, at age 14, she hadn't even played basketball before coming to the U.S. from the Bahamas. Now the 6-6 post is the No. 17 prospect in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred. Tyrese Tanner of Hoover, Ala., is 6-2 and a rising junior who is quick, explosive off the floor and aggressive, while another rising junior, Courtney Moses, is the prototypical Indiana point guard who makes up for size deficiencies with quickness, guile and a sweet jump shot.

Many already knew about Samarie Walker of West Carrollton, Ohio, but the rising junior revealed herself to be near the top -- if not the -- top of her class because she scores big with such and has the ability to dominate a game without dominating the ball. A year younger, 2011 prospect Elizabeth Williams showed there will be shot-blocking, and plenty of it, after the Griner era. Even younger yet, 2012 prospect Courtney Williams of Houston, Texas, has a stop-the-presses run at the Womanhood Championships in College Station, especially with the ability, at 5-11, to create and make plays off the dribble.

Shakila Boler of Bloomington, Minn., ended her summer on a down note, suffering a torn medial-collateral ligament in her left knee during a camp ending the first half of July. Before doing so, she'd shown herself to be one of the more explosive guards in the country. Daniell Jackson of Dumfries, Va., likewise showed explosiveness and quickness beyond the realm of most. Rising junior Karisma Penn of Shaker Heights, Ohio, meanwhile, demonstrated an indomitable spirit inside and usually calm in the clutch.
Meighan Simmons of San Antonio, Texas, scored 39 points in the Class 4A regional championship game, then showed uncanny playmaking ability during the summer. Cokie Reed of Waco, Texas, was poised to make a major assault on the top of the 2009 rankings, but was waylaid by a knee injury, like Boler, at the end of the first half of the summer evaluation period. Brittney Griner of Houston, Texas, was hampered by guards who sometimes seemed to have an aversion to getting the ball to the 6-8 post, but she solidified her hold on the No. 1 ranking with fear-inducing defense.

While not exactly an unknown at No. 13 in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred, Sam Ostarello showed during her first fulltime stint on the summer circuit that she has unique abilities at 6-2 and belongs with the nation's elite. More impressive last summer at the defensive end, Niveen Rasheed of Danville, Calif., showed nice size and fundamental base at the wing and a knack for making plays. A bit overshadowed on her nationally ranked, Long Beach Poly High School team, Thaddesia Southall continued to impress with her length and quickness off the floor at the defensive end, but showed evolving promise on offense as well.

Chris Hansen, Clay Kallam, Mark Lewis and Mindi Rice contributed to this report.

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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American Selection Committees, he formerly coached girls club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.