With July officially in the books, here is look at some of the noise makers from what has to be considered a very memorable month of summer basketball.
One of the major storylines in the second half of July was the quality individual matchups we got to see at summer events around the country. Brianna Butler of Exodus NYC and Courtney Williams of Houston Elite had a battle at Basketball in the Bayou on New Orleans. The matchup saw both players enjoy moments in which they controlled the game by making key plays in hopes of leading their team to a pool play victory. Williams, who has given a verbal pledge to Texas A&M, showed why she is a top-10 caliber talent. She managed to score the ball on offense and control the glass on the defensive end, but it was Butler and her silky smooth game that managed to get the win.
At USJN, we had a matchup that on paper seemed as though it would be a little one-sided. But on the court, it become one of the most memorable of the summer when the Arizona Warriors faced Midwest Elite for the USJN Jr. Nationals championship. The finale game that saw Jewell Loyd, our No. 4 ranked player in the Class of 2012, face off against one of the better scorers in the country, Shilpa Tummala of the Arizona Warriors. Not to be outdone on the inside, this game also saw Cortnee Walton, our No. 41 ranked player in 2012, face off against Taya Reimer, our No. 3 in 2013. While Walton and Reimer went toe-to-toe inside, it was Tummala and Loyd who put on the show from the perimeter. Tummala's ability to score the basketball was put on full display as she showed the ability to knock down the perimeter jumper, while making plays off the bounce to get to the rim. On this day though, it was Loyd who wouldn't be beaten as she made the decision to guard Tummala on the defensive side of the ball while matching her scoring production on offense. Midwest Elite pulled off the win in a very close but exciting championship game.
Other individual matchups of note throughout July included: Kaela Davis of Georgia Ice vs. Brianna Butler of Exodus NYC, Jadda Buckley of All Iowa vs. Katie McCormick of the Fairfax Stars, Kelsey Mitchell of All Ohio vs. Iesha Small of Essence, Alyssa Rice of Sports City U vs. Dejanae Boykin of the Fairfax Stars, and Allisha Gray of Georgia Metros vs. Lauren Holiday of West Coast Premier.
Recruiting in March
So much of July is about finding the next "it" prospect from around the country. This year we got to see a bunch of kids with the potential to fall into that category, but from gym to gym one of the major observations of onlookers from around the country was how good the talent that Notre Dame and Texas A&M were able to acquire after their national championship game appearances this spring.
Texas A&M picked up six of the top 57 players in the country and, with Curtyce Knox out with a knee injury, saw five of them (Courtney Williams of Houston Elite; Jordan Jones, Chelsea Jennings and Courtney Walker of DFW T-Jack and Peyton Little of Cy-Fair) play at a high level at elite summer events across the country.
Not to be outdone, Notre Dame made a major splash with their trio of Jewell Loyd of Midwest Elite, Michaela Mabrey of the NJ Demons, and Hannah Huffman of East Bay Xplosion. While Huffman suffered an injury and sat out a good bit of July, Loyd and Mabrey carried the banner for the Irish quite well, managing to make an impact in every gym they performed in.
Next Year is Wide Open
Last August if you would have asked anyone with a good feel for the summer circuit who the top teams in the country would be, DFW T-Jack would have been a very popular answer. With six of top 100 players in the stable, in addition to an elite 2014 prospect in Brianna Turner, they were a clear favorite for the top spot in the summer team power poll. This year there isn't an odds-on favorite as there was last year. DFW will certainly reload, but they can't be asked to be next year what they were this year, and the Fairfax Stars will have an all new team as all but two from this year's group will be off to college. Other elite programs such as Sports City U, Exodus, the Philly Belles and Essence will also have major roster shakeups due to the graduation of players. An early pick for the team to beat next year might be Cal Sparks; with Jordin Canada, Erica McCall and Lajahna Drummer, they might have enough of a core to make major noise next spring.
Names on the Radar
Every year there are a couple of players who stand out with their July play. Here is a short list of prospects who should feel good about what they did during their time on the circuit.
Jadda Buckley, All Iowa: She wasn't just good with her play, but was consistent, too. She has the ability to turn it up a notch when the stage is set for her. The kind of kid who just has winner written all over her.
Ariana Freeman, Boo Williams Maryland 15: She plays with a high level of intensity and is a very skilled young guard. A name to look out for for years to come, she has a chance to make a mark on the 2014 rankings before it is all done.
Rebecca Greenwell, Tennessee Flight: She solidified her stock as the premier shooter in the Class of 2013. She was simply great all month long and will cap off a great summer in which she won a FIBA Americas gold medal and a couple of summer tournaments with an appearance on the USA 3-on-3 team in September.
Candice Agee, West Coast Premier: She played very well on the national stage this year. The Penn State-bound post player has grown before our eyes this summer.
Allisha Gray, Georgia Metros: She might have had two of the best halves of anyone in the country this July with her second-half play at USJN against the New Jersey Demons as well as her more noteworthy second half in the silver bracket championship at Nike Nationals.
Two for the Road
Zoe Vernon (Durham, N.C.) Carolina All Stars: Six-foot-plus kids who can shoot the basketball at a high percentage are a hot commodity among the recruiting ranks because they provide an offense with so much in terms of versatility and court spacing. Vernon is the kind of prospect who can open the court with her shooting ability as well as create matchup problems with her ability to play at the high post and make plays for others using the pass. Her play in July solidified her stock as a versatile 4-player who should be high on the recruiting radar.
Alexa Kastanek (Lincoln, Neb.) Cornhusker Shooting Stars Bison: Like athleticism or size, toughness is something you just cannot teach. But it will certainly be needed throughout the course of a season. At 5-9, Alexa Kastanek is a blue-collar kid who plays with the right amount of grit and toughness which allows her to get things done on the court. She is the kind of kid who forces you to match her energy on every possession, and if you don't she'll beat you. A lot of the things that she does on the court can't be measured by statistics, but they are certainly things you need if you want to win games.
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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 email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter @keilmoore.