Long Beach Poly could be best team ever

For those who rank girl's high-school basketball teams on a national basis, the aptly named Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits are the safest bets as preseason No. 1 to come along -- maybe ever.

After all, Poly finished last year as No. 2 after repeating as California state champions and losing only one of 37 games -- and that one was to Collins Hill of Suwanee, Ga., the unbeaten, consensus national No. 1 with Maya Moore, the all-everything superstar.

Moore now is at the University of Connecticut, but the Jackrabbits return reigning CIF Division I player of the year Jasmine Dixon, who is ranked No. 26 in the 2008 class by HoopGurlz.com and is coached by reigning state coach of the year, Carl Buggs.

Moreover, far from a one-player show, Poly's "supporting cast" already included point guard April Cook, No. 84 in the 2008 class who is visiting Washington State this weekend; wing Kelli Thompson, ranked 36th in the HoopGurlz Super Sixty for 2009, and twins Ashley and Brittany Wilson, who are among the best in the 2010 class.

But (and we say this in our best game-show announcer voice) that's not all.

As Buggs says, the Jackrabbits "have had to cause pressure and havoc because we've never had the size to play slow-down with a dominant inside player," but that has changed -- and rather dramatically at that. The family of Monique Oliver, HoopGurlz.com's No. 5 prospect in 2009, moved from Las Vegas to Long Beach, and guess where Oliver enrolled for high school?

Now the question isn't whether Poly will three-peat as California state champs or win the mythical national high-school championship, but whether they should be moved up to the WAC, if not the Pac-10.

"We've been hearing that a lot lately," said Keisha Buggs, wife and assistant coach to Carl at Poly.

Even without Oliver, Buggs had committed Long Beach Poly to a schedule nearly as challenging as, say, USC's. The Jackrabbits will tune up for the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions, where it suffered the loss last year to Collins Hill, at the Nike Northwest Invitational, Dec. 6-8, a tournament co-sponsored by HoopGurlz which includes California Division III champions Sacred Heart, Oregon three-peat champions and host Southridge and perennial Washington state powerhouse Prairie.

After a quick Christmas break following the TOC, Poly will play in the second annual T-Mobile Invitation in Albuquerque, N.M., then travel out to Minneapolis for the Gatorade Timberwolves Shootout and a likely Jan. 5 matchup with St. Paul Central, which could be ranked in the nation's top three by then.

And people were comparing Collins Hill's 2006 holiday schedule to the Bataan Death March. If that's true, what is this?

Maybe, just maybe, it will be a justly challenging romp for a team, already the best in the country, that just added one of the best posts in a once-in-10-years, mammothly talented class for that position.

Buggs knew of the 6-foot-3 Oliver but hadn't seen her play until his team began workouts a couple weeks ago.

"We run drills where the girls have to partner up and she goes over and selects Jaz Dixon because she knows Jaz is one of the top players in the country and will push her," Buggs said. "That shows she wants to do this. She is serious about the game and, even though she's already a good player, she's serious about improving her game."

Oliver's presence, in turn, should improve things for Dixon, who at only 6 feet still is one of the most physical inside players in the country. Now Dixon can slide out to her more-natural position, wing, where she will be overpowering. Buggs will go into virtually every game knowing he has matchup advantages with at least four of five positions.

Before Oliver popped up on their doorstep, the Jackrabbits had set as their goals for the 2007-08 season to win a third straight California state title and finish No. 1 in the country. Needless to say, but Buggs says it anyway, "We are not changing those goals now."

Rim shots

Cierra Bravard, who made a meteoric rise to No. 7 overall in the HoopGurlz Hundred for 2008, is coming down the home stretch of her recruitment. The 6-foot-5 post out of Sandusky, Ohio, made an official visit to Florida State and will visit Maryland next week. Visits to Ohio State and Pitt will follow. Bravard said she has two "bubble" teams - Kentucky and Miami - one of which she may visit, if she feels the need after the first four. Size of school or stature of program is not a major factor. "I want to go somewhere I can be myself," Bravard said. Neither is distance from home. "I want her to spread her wings," said Bravard's mother, Laura Oliver.

  • Keisha Hampton of Philadelphia, Pa., is another highly ranked prospect who is not afraid to travel to college. The No. 60 prospect in 2008 will visit St. John's next week with club teammate Da'Shena Stevens of Stamford, Conn., who is ranked 52nd in the class. Hampton then visits DePaul on Oct. 13 and Florida on Oct. 20. The 6-2 forward suffered a fracture in her left hand during the Silver Division semifinals at Nike Nationals and will be getting her cast off on Monday.

    • This weekend is huge for the California Golden Bears. In for an official visit are Ashley Corral of Vancouver, Wash., the No. 23 overall and third ranked point guard in 2008; Shawna-Lei Kuehu of Honolulu, Hawaii, No. 25 in 2008, and Kayla Standish of Ellensburgh, Wash., No. 71 who, at 6-2, can catch and shoot from behind the three-point arc. Casey Morris of Piedmont, Calif., ranked 51st in the class by HoopGurlz, also will be along, but already has committed to Joanne Boyle, the second-year Cal head coach. Boyle will have to overcome USC in the recruiting battle for Kuehu and USC and Notre Dame in the race for Corral, who is the best true point guard in the class. Standish prefers to stay close to home and is considered a strong lean to Gonzaga.

    • Kansas, which landed a verbal from top-notch point guard Angel Goodrich of Tahlequah, Okla., earlier this week, added an excellent post in Ashley Ellis of Antioch, Calif. The 6-3 Ellis averaged a double-double, 14 points and 12 rebounds, for Deer Valley High School as a junior.

    Kandice Green, a 6-foot forward out of Baltimore, Md., has committed to Seton Hall. Green averaged 14 points and 15 rebounds for St. Frances Academy during her junior season.

    For more in-depth coverage of women's college-basketball prospects and girl's basketball, visit HoopGurlz.com