They say everything is bigger in Texas and, judging by the 2009 class of women's basketball prospects, that old saying is difficult to dispute.
With Cokie Reed of Waco rising to No. 5, Tall Texans occupy three of the top five spots in the final ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred for 2009. The elevation to No. 17 of 6-foot-5 Nikki Green, from Diboll, gives the Long Star State four post prospects among the top 20.
"Considering what typically is a scarcity of post prospects, having this many from one geographical area in the same year is nothing short of amazing," said Glenn Nelson, HoopGurlz.com's founder. "Check out Houston. Not only do you have Griner and Bone, a couple inside prospects for the ages, you have Chiney Ogwumike coming up in the 2010 class. If I were a municipality looking to make a splash in, say, women's basketball prospects, I might launch an investigation into what Houston is putting into its water."
The "bigness" of the 2009 class is not confined to Texas. With Monique Oliver of Long Beach, Calif., at No. 6; Joslyn Tinkle of Missoula, Mont., at No. 10, and Jasmine Hassell of Lebanon, Tenn., at No. 11, post prospects occupy more than half of the top11 spots in the ESPN HoopGurlz rankings.
"If the 2009 class was a buffet for college recruiters, the main entrées would be the positions of center and power forward," said Mark Lewis, national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz and a former two-time national college assistant coach of the year. "With 15 of the top 30 players lining up in those positions and the extraordinary depth of players with size in the perimeter spots, this is the year to get bigger."
The ranking panel for ESPN HoopGurlz includes Chris Hansen, HoopGurlz's national director of scouting; Mindi Rice, HoopGurlz staff writer, and Clay Kallam, ESPN HoopGurlz columnist and McDonald's and Parade All-American voter, as well as Lewis and Nelson, who also is on the selection committees for McDonald's and Parade Magazine.
All the newsmakers in the 2009 group were not post prospects. Skylar Diggins of South Bend, Ind., is at No. 3 the highest-ranked point guard in the history of HoopGurlz rankings. She was a standout at the Nike National Skills Academy, then went on to lead USA Basketball to gold at the U18 FIBA Americas championship.
Destiny Williams, a 6-3 forward out of Benton Harbor, Mich., jumped 31 spots to No. 8, easily the biggest leap of any top-10 prospect.
"The class of 2009 is easily the biggest we've ever evaluated," Hansen said. "The frontcourt players from the elite to those just outside the top 100 are remarkable. What is lost through in the focus upon the interior players are some very special guards, especially Skylar Diggins. She is a class act and worthy of as much praise for her on court abilities as any post player. She will be a major impact wherever she decides to go. She embodies what a point guard in today's game is all about.
"Of those players making our Top 25 nobody improved their stock more than Destiny Williams. Her progress in the past year is striking. She developed from an athletic player with potential and upside to one of the most versatile and explosive forwards in the country. I was floored by the dramatic improvement in her game on so many levels and it would not surprise me if she continues flying along that learning curve."
Rounding out the top 10 are Markel Walker, a scintillating wing prospect from Pittsburgh, Pa., at No. 4; Shenneika Smith, a 6-1 shooter extraordinaire from Brooklyn, N.Y., at No. 7, and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, a lethal combination of offense and defense from Alexandria, Va.
Two newcomers to the ESPN HoopGurlz top 25 previously were unranked. Karisma Penn of Shaker Heights, Ohio, missed the 2007 club season due to injury, but was a force in the lane all summer in 2008. Eliza Pierre of Pasadena, Calif., played her first club game at point guard at the end of May and ended the summer ranked third at the position behind Diggins and China Crosby of the Bronx, N.Y. ESPN HoopGurlz also considered Pierre to be the best on-ball defender in the country, by a large margin.
Krista Gross, a smooth and hyperkinetic wing prospect from Concord, N.C., is the other newcomer to the top 25.
In all, 23 post players made the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred. That's up from 11 in 2008.
The best of them, Griner, at 6-8, made a splash throughout the summer with her post-game dunking exhibitions, but is considered more than just a dunking oddity. Many experts, including those at ESPN HoopGurlz, believe Griner represents a quantum leap in women's basketball because of her combination of size and athletic fluidity
"Though Brittney Griner might turn out to be one of those special players who defines a basketball generation, what's also noticeable about this year's group is the overall depth of talent," Kallam said. "When we look back on this class in a few years, we're going to find that a lot of players who didn't make the top 100 turn out to be significant contributors in college, even at the BCS level."
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Scouts Inc. High School Basketball Grading System
90-100: Immediate Impact Prospect
Player demonstrates rare abilities and has the potential to start as a freshman for a national, top-25 program.
80-89: High Major Prospect
Player has the potential to start or significantly contribute as a freshman for most top national Division I programs.
70-79: Major/Mid-Major Prospect
Player either can earn a scholarship to a top national Division I program or contribute significantly as a freshman at the mid-major level.
60-69: Low Division I/Mid-Major Prospect
Player has the ability to earn a scholarship to a mid-major or low Division I program.
50-59: Marginal Division I prospect/Division II, III, NAIA prospect
Player has some redeeming qualities but is not projected to contribute at the Division I level.
45: Pending Prospect w/ film
Scouts Inc. has received film of the prospect, and an evaluation is pending.
40: Pending Prospect
Player evaluation is pending receipt of film.