It's not the coaches with their turned-up theatrics, noses and caps. Nor is it the parents with their chants and chastisements. And, nope, it certainly isn't the sights that draw armies of us to the mostly air-conditioned gyms set in the double-jeopardous combination of blistering heat and suffocating humidity.
It's the players.
Sometimes that gets lost amid all the shouting and shuffling. The players are the lifeblood of the sport -- its gloried past, spectacular present and hope-inducing future. They are the ones who lace them up, pull them back and step up to the stage.
And step up they do. Summertime in girls' basketball is mugging for photos, choking down snacks, one last text and too much fruit-scented body lotion. It's all of that. But it's also the sport's source of constant renewal, where stars are born and dreams emerge.
Neither of our best-of-category recipients may have been household names back in the spring, but during scintillating summer runs, with one engrossing intersection in Elgin, Ill., they left enough imprints to last a lifetime. Both Moriah Jefferson, our Best Player of Summer, and Samantha Logic, our Breakout Player of Summer, employed unrelenting, leave-my-last-breath-on-the-court, run-through-walls-to-win approaches to the game, and that's probably no coincidence.
They are players. Ballas. The biggest revelations during a summer brimming with them. They were the reason we watched.
Best of Category: Samantha Logic, Midwest Elite
Rachel Banham, North Tartan
Azia Bishop, Sports City U
Sheila Boykin, West Coast Premier
Nicole Boudreau, NE Shooting Stars
Nneka Enemkpali, Team Xpress
Rebecca Greenwell, Tennessee Flight Silver
Bria Goss, Spiece Indy Gym Rats
DeArica Hamby, Georgia Pistols
Sara Hammond, Kentucky Premier
Kady Schrann, Lady Runnin' Rebels
De'Amber Wilhite, DFW TJack Elite
Courtney Williams, Houston Elite
Explaining the breakout phenomenon requires us to go old school, back to 1978 and feeling "like bustin' loose." As Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers pointed out, there are plenty of ways to bust out. It can be like Nneka Enemkpali and De'Amber Wilihite stepping out of the enormous shadows of club teammates Krystal Forthan and Moriah Jefferson. It can be the likes of Rebecca Greenwell taking advantage of the loss of key players to USA Basketball. It could be Nicole Boudreaux breaking off 38 points during the finals of the AAU 15U Division II nationals. It can be Sara Hammond going from well-known to must-have, or Courtney Williams returning to the fold of the elite prospects. Or it can be our Breakout Player of Summer, Samantha Logic, coming from nowhere (aka, Racine, Wis.) and shooting up the rankings, as well as the speed-dials, of college coaches. Defying Logic was tricky for opponents because she could just as easily drop an anvil as a dime.
Best of Category: Moriah Jefferson, DFW TJack Elite
Rachel Banham, North Tartan
Diamond DeShields, USA Basketball/GA Pistols Team Gordon
Bria Goss, Spiece Indy Gym Rats
Alexis Jones, USA Basketball/Lady Cardinals
Samantha Logic, Midwest Elite
Aerial Massengale, USA Basketball/Tennessee Flight
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, USA Basketball/Tennessee Flight
Chiney Ogwumike, USA Basketball
Breanna Stewart, USA Basketball
USA Basketball certainly left its stamp on this category. Diamond DeShields and Alexis Jones turned Americas gold into club-circuit magic. Aerial Massengale and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis became the first girls to claim national and world championships during the same summer. And Chiney Ogwumike, now enrolled at Stanford, was so relentless for the U18 team, her Latin American opponents had any number of nicknames for her, some not appropriate to translate in a family environment. Although our Best Player of Summer was not included in the ranks of the aforementioned, it was that oversight that drove Moriah Jefferson to a summer unlike any we've seen in a while. As one of our panelists gushed, Jefferson "is the best small guard to enter the game since Ivory Latta, with better long-term prospects."
LISA BODINE'S LEFTIES
Danielle Ballard, Memphis Elite (2012)
Asia Boyd, Team Detroit (2011)
Crystal Bradford, Michigan Top 10 (2011)
Kaelyn Causewell, GA Metros (2012)
Ahjalee Harvey, West Coast Premier (2011)
Diana Logan, Fairfax Stars 15 (2012)
Zaire O'Neal, NYC Gauchos (2014)
Amber Orrange, DFW (2011)
Taya Reimer, Indiana's Finest (2013)
Jada Terry, DFW (2013)
Briana Banks, Essence Purple (2011)
Danielle Webster, BWSL 15 (2013)
Jatarie White, BWSL (2014)
We are only 13 percent of the population, but when a left-handed player is on the court you have to take notice. Left-handed people are right-brained dominant, meaning we think differently and are generally more creative, on and off the court. Lefties are frustrating to guard because defensive and offensive sets are right-side dominant. And southpaws can give righties defensive problems because our dominant hand is facing their dominant hand. Being left-handed may not make you a better player, but each of these player's games exemplifies what makes lefties special and fun to watch.
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Lisa Bodine is a national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. A native of Queens, N.Y., she began her coaching career in 1993 with the NY Gazelles, has coached with D.C.-based Team Unique, and in 2009 she was named DAC Co-Coach of the Year after leading Wakefield Country Day School in Flint Hill, Va., to its first-ever conference title. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
Kara (Harrison) Howe founded and coached in the Utah Sky club program, which sent several players, including sister Michelle, a recent Stanford, graduate to Division I schools. She played college basketball at Utah Valley State, was an all-state performer at Alta High School in Sandy, Utah, and coached high school in the Salt Lake area. She 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.
Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, 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.
Kelvin Powell is a national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. A former coach and club-program director, he operates Roundball Journal, a leading prep scouting service, and is a contributing editor at SLAM Magazine, as well as a member of the McDonald's All-American and the Gatorade National and State Player of the Year Selection Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Lindsay Schnell is a staff writer for HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Oregon State University, she has been involved in the Oregon girls' basketball community for most her life as a player, high school coach, writer and fan. She also has been regular contributor to the Oregonian and won several awards for her writing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.