NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- It's probably no surprise that the championship game of the top 16U bracket of the 25th annual Boo Williams Nike Invitational featured five players who have confirmed invitations to the USA Basketball U17 team trials in June -- Isabelle Harrison, Ariel Massengale and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis of the Tennessee Flight and Cierra Burdick and Elizabeth Williams of Boo Williams Elite.
With that much talent on the floor, the picks for team MVP's of the championship game, a 46-36 victory for the host team, are no surprise, either.
Elizabeth Williams, Boo Williams Elite
When you're the top ranked player in the 2011 class, meeting expectations can be a challenge. Exceeding those standards should even be more daunting but Elizabeth Williams has seemingly embraced them. The 6-foot-3 forward for Boo Williams Elite continues to advance both her basketball and physical skills and their impact led the way for Boo Williams in Sunday's title game.
While teammate Ka'lia Johnson's face-guarding lockdown on Kaleena Mosqueda -Lewis was instrumental in limiting the Tennessee Flight's scoring options, it was Williams' presence on the backline that created a cushion for the focused strategy and Johnson's performance. Time and again, Williams' intimidating efforts altered shots, passes and decisions. Her combination of size, athleticism and anticipation make her a game-changing interior defender with her own matchup or on help side. At times her defensive vision is completely ball-oriented and she can lose her player, but the trade off seems to work out well for now.
Off the rebound Williams is getting the outlet pass down floor quicker and further than in the past. Without the board she's running the floor with the guards and often finishing on the block at the other end. In the halfcourt her posting is more aggressive and she finished effectively going over both shoulders. An impressive first step is there on the face up and will ultimately be a necessity against bigger defenders and more experienced competition. The toughest expectations for her to meet in the future may ultimately be her own.
_ Mark Lewis
Isabelle Harrison, Tennessee Flight Silver
With all the star power on the perimeter for the Tennessee Flight, and an opponent that has the top interior defender in the country in Williams, it is hard to imagine a post player leading the charge for Tom Insell's squad. Enter Isabelle Harrison, a major talent who has garnered a spot in the ESPN HoopGurlz top 40 for the 2011 class, but is oft critiqued for inconsistent play.
With her team struggling to score, Harrison stepped up big time. The perimeter shots weren't falling and the 6-3 Harrison kept her team in the game by staying active. Most players get discouraged when Williams swats one of their shots into the fifth row, but Harrison played fearlessly. She did get a few shots checked but still kept coming. She was terrific on the offensive glass and even though strength is a limitation for her at this point she powered back up to the rim quickly and actually drew some fouls in doing so. Even more impressive was the improvement she showed with her back to the basket.
The highlight for Harrison was a sweeping right-handed hook shot over Williams that was starkly similar to the shot Tina Charles utilized against Brittney Griner during Connecticut's Final Four win over Baylor this year. Harrison blocked and altered her fair share of shots as well. Things are starting to click for her and as she gets stronger her game is only going to become more impactful. The challenge now, having proved to herself and her coaches she can perform against the best, is bringing that level of play to each and every contest.
_ Chris Hansen
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator 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.