With Independence Day now behind us, the fireworks in the evening sky are traded in for explosions on the hardwood. On top of the thousands of scholarships up for grabs during the two NCAA-certified evaluation periods -- July 6-15 and 22-31 -- are some major spots in class rankings as well as bragging rights: Which team is the crème de la crème of each club circuit?
USA Basketball is having a major impact on the landscape of the summer circuit. Much of the flexing and posturing by teams about how many elite players they have became immaterial by the 13 players who have been removed for nearly all of July. The FIBA U17 World Championships in Rodez and Toulouse, France, run from July 16-25. But team practice, training camp and exhibition tuneups played before the World Championships will eliminate that crop of players for the first viewing period of the month.
Perhaps the fiercest debate of the season -- who will finish at the top spot in the 2011 class -- might not even be played out on U.S. soil. Current Nos. 1 and 2, Elizabeth Williams and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, will be competing for the USA Basketball U17 National Team. Both will get to showcase what they individually bring to an already-loaded team atmosphere against the best competition the world has to offer. Both should be used to it, as their respective club teams are laden with elite players as well. But what will stand out more -- the quiet, defensive-minded leadership of Williams or the explosive scoring and swagger of Mosqueda-Lewis?
There is still a chance that the two could plays as opposition instead of as teammates back in the States.
Word from several players and their parents, who declined to be named for the story, cited pressure from some club coaches to return from France in time to play in tournaments at the end of the month. USA Basketball confirmed that the players and their families get to decide where their return tickets on July 26 will send them, and if the players requested, say, a ticket to Augusta, Ga., the itinerary would be booked.
Time will tell whether jetlag and fatigue will keep any of these athletes from competing in top tournaments like Nike Nationals. The father of at least one USA player said he will not allow his daughter to play at Nike Nationals, in spite of the pressure from her club coach and, by extension, Nike.
Keeping with the international theme, the No. 1 spot in the 2012 class could go to any of a handful of players: Current top-ranked Breanna Stewart and second-ranked Bashaara Graves are both on the U17 National Team, while No. 3 Moriah Jefferson will spend her summer state-side punishing the opposition for what many believe was a colossal oversight by the USAB selection committee. Jordan Adams, currently No. 4, will have a chance to recapture the success she had a year ago with the U16 team.
One of the most anticipated classes in years is the group from 2013. A year ago, the Georgia Ice and its two-pronged attack of Kaela Davis and Diamond DeShields were the newest, biggest ticket on the circuit. Each will make their individual cases for the top spot in the initial 2013 rankings, but they will no longer be making those arguments as teammates. Davis still plays for the Ice, but DeShields has taken her aerial antics to the Georgia Pistols Elite.
ESPN HoopGurlz again willdeploy its staff to more than 20 events this summer – from Oregon City, Ore., to Dallas, Texas, to Chicago, Ill., to Cincinnati, Ohio, to Augusta, Ga., and even the Midi-Pyrénées region of France -- to keep the pulse of things both home and abroad and look for the top prospects.
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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.