NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Nike Nationals is the biggest stage of the summer evaluation period for players, and these are some who shined brightest during Sunday's championship games.
Tournament Most Valuable Player
Moriah Jefferson (Glen Heights, Texas), DFW T-Jack: Jefferson's ability to impact the game with or without the ball and make plays for her team on offense as well as the defensive side of the ball left a lasting impression on the 2011 Nike National event as a whole. Over the past years it has been more than a joy to watch Jefferson compete with the intensity that she has played with since she was what we all labeled the "next one." Sunday she lived up to the label and closed out a memorable career with back-to-back marquee performances against two of the country's better summer programs. In what was one of the most anticipated matchups of the summer, Jefferson made a couple key plays to knock off a loaded Tennessee Flight team and then managed to distribute the ball and disrupt the offense of a Fairfax team that knocked off her DFW team twice in Chicago. After it was all over and we got to watch the last game of one of the more memorable players to come through the circuit in recent memory we can rest assure that it has indeed been a great summer.
-- Keil Moore
Top Performers -- Gold Final
Empress Davenport (Duncanville, Texas), DFW T-Jack: Davenport came off the bench for DFW and made an immediate impact on both sides of the ball. She was able to put pressure on the Fairfax Stars defense by slashing to the basket and getting a couple of quick baskets. All of her nine points came in a burst towards the end of the first half, allowing DFW to get their first double-digit lead. Defensively, she caused all types of headaches for the Fairfax guards using her lateral speed and quick hands to harass the ball the full length of the court. In her last club season game, Davenport never coasted when she was in the game. Whether her team needed a score, rebound or a steal she delivered.
-- Lisa Bodine
Kristina Higgins (El Paso, Texas), DFW T-Jack:In a game that featured two 6-3 and 6-4 post players one might have expected a physical battle down low but Higgins had a different idea. Instead of staying under the basket, Higgins set up at the high posting acting more as a facilitator in DFW's half court sets. She was able to pull Fairfax's Brionna Jones away from the basket giving DFW's leading scorer, Brianna Turner plenty of room to work in the paint. Higgins was so effective as a high post passer, she forced Fairfax to go to a bigger lineup, which allowed the DFW backcourt to play the game at their tempo. Her unselfishness played right with the game plan -- to limit the opponent's points in the paint. Higgins may have only scored three but her impact on the game was bigger than any stat line.
-- Lisa Bodine
Katie McCormick (Charlotte Hall, Md.), Fairfax Stars: While the championship game didn't produce the results this 5-9 combo guard and her teammates were looking for, those present got one final summer glimpse of her versatile and relentless play. While her skill set and success this summer has been thoroughly documented, it's worth taking note of the approach and style with which she plays. It's not fair to call her a blue-collar athlete as her game is much too refined and advanced but there's an element of her play that's virtually an assault on defenders. Whether she's pushing the ball herself on the break or receiving the entry pass on the wing, she's constantly probing and exploiting opponents creating options for both shots and passes. Given the slightest edge or angle she'll utilize both her body and sharp ballhandling skills to open an avenue to the rim accelerating through traffic with a single minded focus of converting the opportunity into points or assists. Defensively she's equally aggressive and has the lateral foot-speed to challenge most perimeter opponents.
-- Mark Lewis
Logan Battle (Springfield, Va.), Fairfax Stars: At her best Battle is an attacking and slashing presence from the wing, short corner and even the high post. Her mobility allows her to get past both perimeter and interior defenders with improved ballhandling and evolving decision-making. Against DFW she got into traffic several times and found her way to the line only to struggle to capitalize on the free throws. On other possessions she wasn't as aggressive in looking for her own options and failed to make herself available to her penetrating teammates. In the past we've seen an agile, athletic impact player and there's little doubt that's the nature and character of her game. Her length combines with those physical attributes to make her a versatile defender capable of matching up almost anywhere on the perimeter and effectively with most small forwards.
-- Mark Lewis
Top Performer -- Silver Final
Allisha Gray (Sandersville, Ga.), Georgia Metros: It was definitely a tale of two halves for Gray, who scored only five points in the first half. Offensively, she caught fire early on in the second half , but it was her defense that changed the energy and flow of the game for the Georgia Metros. Not only did she slow down the ultra-quick Lauren Holiday but she had two blocks on 6-6 center Candice Agee. She shot the ball confidently from beyond the arc but found ways to keep pressure on the defense by attacking the basket in transition. With the Metros up by nine with 1:27 on the clock, Gray sank a 3-pointer from the corner that gave them their first double-digit lead. Gray finished with 21 points and put together one of the most complete performances of the tournament.
-- Lisa Bodine
Top Performer -- Juniors Final
Tyler Scaife (Little Rock, Ark.), Cy-Fair U15: In an overtime game you have to have a player that you have confidence in and trust if you're going to have a chance. In the Junior championship this 5-7 guard provided Cy-Fair with consistent, skilled and versatile play throughout the win over North Tartan. Her ability to create her own looks as well as force defensive rotations kept opponents guessing and teammates converting. The change of speed she utilizes will draw even the best of defenders out of their stance and the acceleration that follows leaves them scrambling. Her ability to finish inside and out is high-percentage basketball but it's her pullup that's virtually automatic. On the defensive end she's equally effective with impressive lateral speed and active, greedy hands. Her quick backcourt teammates provided plenty of on ball pressure allowing her anticipate and make picks from one pass away.
-- Mark Lewis
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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.
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.
Keil Moore is a contributor and national recruiting analyst for ESPN HoopGurlz. He is also the Director of Scouting for the JumpOffPlus.com National Scouting Report - a division of Peach State Basketball, Inc. Moore has been involved in the community since 2007 as a recruiting analyst and trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @keilmoore.