CHANDLER, Ariz. -- With no bigger stage in girls' high-school basketball, the Joe Smith Division championship game at the Nike Tournament of Champions presented the opportunity for players to make their marks on the game. On top of selecting a tournament Most Valuable Player, we take a look at two performances from both teams doing battle for the title of TOC champ and No. 1 team in next week's Powerade FAB 50.
It's hard to be 6 feet 2, the seventh-ranked player in the 2011 class by ESPN HoopGurlz, a UCLA signee and lead your team to the championship of the premier high-school tournament in the country and not be the center of attention. But if you watch Justine Hartman, this ultra-talented forward from Joe Smith Division champion Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.), you get the impression that she's more focused on facilitating the success of her teammates around her than herself. Her 22-point effort along with her diverse and multifaceted scoring effort was instrumental in Brea surviving Long Beach Poly's early run and exploiting the foul problems of Jackrabbit standout and future Bruin teammate Sheila Boykin.
On the catch Hartman is a threat almost anywhere on the floor, but the reality is that her own scoring options seem to be second or third choice for her. With the ball in her hands she's textbook fundamental and will square up but is looking to make the high-low pass or kick it back out if the double team comes. She almost seems reluctant to think shot first with the exception of those times when she has her defender sealed on the block and a look at the rim that's too inviting to pass up. In Wednesday's championship game Hartman not only finished effectively in the paint but for good measure knocked down four separate looks from 15-foot range.
Another aspect of the "reluctant hero's" game is the stoic approach that she brings to the floor. It's almost impossible to tell if she just knocked down the game winner or committed the turnover that cost her team a championship. Her constant and steady emotional approach to the game made her a reliable threat for coach Jeff Sink throughout the title game. In a game of runs Hartman remained a thorn in Poly's side from start to finish and challenged the Jackrabbits to find a defensive solution with Boykin spending a large portion of the game on the bench.
At the defensive end of the floor, Hartman contributed three blocks as well as provided an imposing presence that altered numerous other Jackrabbit attempts around the rim. Her weakside vision is sound and she anticipates and rotates very effectively. Still sporting a knee brace from past issues, she's not the quickest player on the floor but her speed and mobility are more than adequate and allow her perimeter teammates to take a few chances at the defensive end.
Taking advantage of opportunities, whether it's playing in a championship game or just exploiting a defender's overplayed defensive denial, is what makes Hartman a key component to any roster. Brea benefited by Hartman's opportunistic play in Chandler and should see more returns on her efforts before her senior season comes to an end.
-- Mark Lewis
Few, if any, players earned bragging rights as great as Alexis Riley-Perry did in her championship performance at the TOC. Perry was brilliant against Long Beach Poly. It's hard to imagine that just a few days prior Perry was injured in her opening game. An injury that left spectators gasping as Perry screamed in pain while trainers forced her subluxed shoulder back in place. Fast-forward to the championship game, and you wouldn't have known a thing had happened. Riley-Perry hit clutch shots down the stretch that kept Poly at bay, and the championship in her hand. But it wasn't sinking jumpers that made the night so memorable. Perry was controlled and confident. Her poise and leadership kept her team in control, even when Poly would start to push tempo or make a run. Perry always had an answer.
Keitra Wallace is a fluid, athletic, perimeter player who played outstanding in her team's championship victory. While teammates Alexis Riley-Perry and Justine Hartman drew much of Poly's defensive focus, the 5-9 junior wreaked havoc on Poly's game plan. In a one-on-one isolation Wallace used her quick step and nifty crossover to create space and get open jumpers. She is a smart player who used her shoulder to dip and go, and get by defenders. She was solid when finishing at the rim. She also defended well, using her great frame and strong shoulders to play physical and aggressive. Most impressive was her focus. With 34 seconds remaining in the game, her team up by two, Wallace stepped to the line to shoot a one-and-one. She was clutch on the first, and clutch on the second. Wallace had a fantastic game and complimented her teammates well, so it was only fitting to see her put the icing on the cake to seal the deal in her championship victory.
-- Kara Howe
Long Beach Poly
It was no secret to anyone who has watched Long Beach Poly that their floor leader is senior Ariya Crook-Williams. At the start of the game Crook-Williams did a great job getting her teammates involved in the offense, as she carefully surveyed the Brea defense, looking to create scoring opportunities. Defensively, she had her hands full dealing with Brea's quick backcourt but she did a good job pressuring the ball and creating a couple of key turnovers. Later in the first half, Crook-Williams started looking for her shot as she scored seven of her 12 points. Her ability to attack the basket and stroke it from long range helped Poly go into halftime with a five-point lead. Crook-Williams' hot start quickly went to cold in the second half once Poly mounted a comeback; she started forcing shots from the perimeter. She didn't use her ability to attack the paint, possibly because she is battling a nagging hip issue. With her settling for outside shots, the Brea defense didn't have to make many adjustments. Late in the game she did knock down a huge 3-pointer that stopped a Brea run, but with a minute left she threw an errant pass that went through her teammates' hands. Surely, Crook-Williams would love to take that play back but hopefully she won't dwell on it too long, because she has a long basketball career ahead of her.
Destiny King played two very distinctive halves of basketball in the championship game. The junior guard was the offensive catalyst for Poly from the opening tap, as she scored three straight baskets. She presented a matchup problem for Brea when she attacked from the perimeter, using her strong stocky build to get into the seams of their defense. Once King was able to get into the paint she picked up a few assists as multiple Brea defenders collapsed on her. In the second half she not only had to shift her focus from offense to defense, but she had to guard a different position. With forward Sheila Boykin on the bench with foul trouble, King had the formidable task of guarding the tournament MVP, 6-2 Justine Hartman. In a classic David-and-Goliath battle, she did everything she could to defend a player who towered over her. While, she didn't completely stop Hartman, she was very effective at pushing her off the low block without fouling her. She was tough and scrappy, her hands were everywhere has she tried to cut off passing angles to the post. King stepped up and did whatever her team needed and even in a loss, her performance was something of which that Poly should be proud.
-- Lisa Bodine
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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 email@example.com.
Kara (Harrison) Howe founded and coached in the Utah Sky club program, which sent several players, including sister Michelle, now a junior at Stanford, 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. Howe 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.