All in all, we agree with what we were told all summer by college coaches, from border to border and sea to shining sea: Club teams have become as watered down as the drinks at the hotel lounge.
Yes, girl's basketball continues to enjoy a spasmodic growth spurt. However, the number of teams is more than keeping pace with the number of players entering the sport. The general result is a club-team-on-every-corner mentality.
The everyday consequences include an influx of evaluation events, many of which have no business taking place; an increase in bad, blowout-oriented basketball, and a proliferation in bile-spewing, non-teaching, un-role-model-like adults play-acting as coaches based on some badly misinterpreted vision of the professional or college level.
Memo to all of the aforementioned, from not only ESPN HoopGurlz but from those who form the foundation of a sport that was here before you ever considered being and will be here long after some semblance of rationality strikes you: Stop already. If your child is not good enough to make a team that's already available, maybe it's time to consider another sport. Seriously, your fronting is making the club scene look like Time Square with its Nikey- and Goochi-infested bag stands.
Everyone seems to be chasing something, whether it be scholarships, ego massages or logo sponsorships, on a road of yellow bricks imbued with the false, Title IX-infused promise of unlimited resources to meet the desire of every precious little girl and her stage parents. First of all, trying to strike it rich in girl's basketball is a lot like drilling for oil in your backyard. Secondly, surrounding Susie Crossover with her Brownie buddies actually makes it more difficult for her to be viewed by college coaches who now have to sort through hundreds of one-star wonders and navigate across three national club circuits and umpteen regional circuits that are spreading like Morning Glories.
The prescription for scholarships, as well as team success (which, unfortunately, still occupies at least No. 2 on most stage parents' lists), is a regionally homegrown group of players who practice regularly as a team and are developed by coaches as individuals. Ergo, summer's crown jewel, Nike Nationals, won in its history by The Family of Indiana, the Metros of Georgia, Essence of Florida, the Flight of Tennessee and, most recently, the Swish of Southern California -- all teams in the most positive sense of the word. The crews that have tried to airlift talent like so many mercenaries from various corners of the country have, so far, looked nicer on paper than they've performed on the circuit's grandest stages.
Alas, the case for homegrown is made every year by the teams that "do it right" -- practice, develop and employ real coaches. And the scholarships follow. Ask your most honest and open local college coaches what kind of club team they prefer. Many programs love to window shop on a national basis but, except for a handful, recruiting in the women's game is still very much a regional pursuit.
The situation begs for some kind of acceptable club-team caste system, actually. The elite of the elite feed into a national-team program, the secondary and politically disfavored elite compete on a circuit composed of strong regional teams, and the girls who want to get better for high school, maintain physical activity and play for social reasons can compete in reasonably -priced local and regional tournaments. Those kids should not, after all, carry the bags and financial freight for a fortunate few.
Top Teams Of The Summer
All Ohio Black, Cy-Fair Houston Heat (Derby Classic winner), Domino's, DFW Elite 2012, East Bay Xplosion, Exodus Elite, FBC Blue, Georgia Elite 16U, Houston Elite, Jacksonville Lady Rams, Memphis Elite Summerfield/Pruitt, Michigan Pistons, North Tartan, Northwest Blazers, Oregon Reign, Philly Triple Threat, South Carolina 76ers (Candace Parker Invitational winner), Sport City U, Western PA Bruins
California has produced some pretty good teams in the past, including last year's rendition of the Swish, which was basically the same group that won Nike Nationals, only a year younger. However, they've had a habit of not faring very well on the big stages, prompting questions of whether West Coast teams were too soft, or simply too battered by the time difference or distance from home, to be counted among the nation's elite.
Leave it to not one, but two teams -- Cal Swish and Cal Storm Taurasi -- to smash those stereotypes. The long, unselfish, sweet-shooting and well-coached Swish won the crown jewel in Nike Nationals, as well as End of the Trail, which it has started to own, and the Music City Madness. All five Swish starters will earn scholarships to major Division I programs. While, Cal Storm Taurasi won the Summer Showcase in Chicago and reached the final four at Nike Nationals thanks to point guard Chelsea Gray's summer to remember. Even more impressive was the fact that Cal Storm Taurasi competed as a complete team in only two July tournaments.
Not only was the Cy-Fair Shock one of the most successful teams on the circuit, it was one of the busiest, jamming five tournaments into July, winning three, reaching the finals of another before petering out in the elite eight of Nike Nationals. The Fairfax Stars have had higher profile prospects in the past, but this was one of its most successful teams in years, improving every time out. DFW T-Jack Elite resembled a M.A.S.H. unit at the end of the summer with three suffering severe sprains, but, led by their ferocious though hobbled point guard, Odyssey Sims, they still managed to win two tournaments and finish July wondering "what if."
It's worth noting that the highest-ranked, non-Nike team of the summer also hails from California. JBS Purple lost only one game all summer, to No. 1 Swish, and even then it was without Brittany Shine, an ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred guard. The Tennessee Flight opened with a lot of talent and promise, but only won its own tournament, albeit besting Cy-Fair in a blockbuster, and struggled in a lot of games it did win. The Philadelphia Belles added a trio of New York imports -- CeCe Dixon, Ariel Edwards and Bria Smith -- but blended them nicely through a combination of practice and top-notch coaching by Brian Creech.
Another team from Pennsylvania, the Lady Runnin' Rebels, may not have featured a stable of elite prospects, but it won its host tournament to start the summer, then rode the momentum to an upset-filled path to the Summer Showcase championship game. Illinois also featured a pair of well-drilled teams in Full Package Platinum and the Illinois Hustle that were paced by sharp-shooters Angela Rodriguez (Full Package) and Trisha Liston (Hustle). Full Package won the head-to-head, and thus gets the nod in the rankings.
Exodus NYC jammed its roster with elite-level prospects, then jammed its July with tournaments, winning four, sometimes ferrying back and forth between a couple at a time. Essence Purple, with some of the best talent in the next two classes, including USA Basketball invitees Rachel Hollivay and Alexis Prince, will be heard from for a while to come. The Gauchos, meanwhile, continued its lineup of spectacular point guards with Charmaine Tay and its usual supporting cast of jumping-jack forwards and lightning-fast guards.
Reflecting our belief in the watered-down nature of this year's club scene, we cut our rankings in half from its usual numbers, choosing instead to compile a secondary list of honorable mentions. Among the notables in that group, DFW Elite 2012 was entertaining and as good as teams two years its senior; Alicia Cropper-led Exodus Elite, Suriya McGuire-led North Tartan and Samarie Walker-led Sport City U were, on their best days, as good as anyone but didn't always have its best days, and the South Carolina 76ers ended its season on a high note, dispatching Full Package in the semifinals of the Candace Parker Invitational, then Exodus NYC 51-48 in the championship.
Lisa Bodine, Chris Hansen, Mark Lewis, Glenn Nelson, Kelvin Powell and Mindi Rice comprised the panel that made Best of Summer choices.
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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 girl's 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 email@example.com.