With plenty of justification, many were expecting the worst. With much of the 2012 class' top players in tow, USA Basketball was at the FIBA U19 World Championships in Chile during most of July. The economy was tailspinning, likely restricting competition to a more regional basis. Heck, of the 20 players ranked among the top 10 in the 2012 and 2013 classes by ESPN HoopGurlz, only five competed at Nike Nationals, the summer circuit's premier event.
But just as they have in summers past, the players played. And they rose to unexpected heights.
The summer technically began with USA Basketball's record-breaking dominance at the FIBA Americas U16 championships in Mérida, Mexico. It served as a catapult for three players -- Rebecca Greenwell, Linnae Harper and Mercedes Russell -- who ended up on our best-players-of-summer list. Exciting new talent sprouted at every turn, and the second half of July produced a scintillating, overtime victory by Midwest Elite over the Arizona Warriors in the USJN championship and DFW T-Jack's emotional win at Nike Nationals.
How did this all happen in spite of the odds? Chalk it up to anything from bobbing ponytails to pink pre-wrap to multi-colored nail polish. Girl power prevailed -- once again.
Best of Category:
Kelsey Mitchell, All Ohio
Branndais Agee, Michigan Crossover
Candice Agee, West Coast Premier
Taylor Agler, All Ohio
Te'a Cooper, 2015, A.O.T. Lady Rebels
Caprice Dennis, All Ohio
Asia Durr, Georgia Pistols Martin, 2015
Lashann Higgs (2015), DFW Washington
Kianna Holland, Georgia Hoopstars
Christen Inman, 2013, Triple D Hoops Elite
Jonquel Jones, Blue Star Maryland
Nicole Kornet, Cy-Fair Nike Elite
Destiny King, West Coast Premier
Maddie Manning, Kingdom Hoops
Mercedes Russell, Team Concept
Katie Lou Samuelson, Cal Swish Black
Jessica Washington, OK And1
Jamie Weisner, Northwest Blazers
If "breaking out" means emerging from under the radar, we're not quite sure what Kelsey Mitchell did. She came screaming out of nowhere like a stealth fighter, leaving sonic booms, and wide-eyed and drool-riddled college coaches, from coast to coast.
And to think it all began with an ill-conceived early exit from USA Basketball trials. Mitchell's transgressions apparently were wearing her jersey backward and simply being too individually talented. The snub certainly said more about the absence of national vision of our own game than it did about Mitchell's downsides.
There aren't many. Maybe her trigger finger gets a bit itchy at times, but we've seldom seen a player as willing to shoot herself back into rhythm. Plus, she is the princess of the answer bucket, nullifying an opponent's basketball, literally in an eye blink.
The best part? Mitchell is from the Class of 2014.
Maybe it says something that behind her on this list are three from the Class of 2015 -- Taya Cooper of the A.O.T. Lady Rebels, Asia Durr of the Georgia Pistols and Lashann Higgs of DFW Elite. The future is bright.
And speaking of bright futures, we ponder the summer of 2012 for All Ohio Black. Not only will that team (presumably) feature Mitchell, it also will have another member of this list, Taylor Agler. The daughter of Seattle Storm coach Brian Agler, she's a player who flourishes with superior talent both with her and arrayed against her. Having Mitchell alongside certainly will guarantee the former.
Best of Category:
Jewell Loyd, Midwest Elite
Allisha Gray, Georgia Metros
Bashaara Graves, Tennessee Flight
Rebecca Greenwell, Tennessee Flight
Linnae Harper, Lady Fire
Moriah Jefferson, DFW T-Jack
Michaela Mabrey. NJ Demons
Kelsey Mitchell, All Ohio
Mercedes Russell, Team Concept
Breanna Stewart, USA Basketball
We were determined to keep this list to 10, a sort of All-America team for the summer. It wasn't easy.
The tough choices started at the top. In the end, Jewell Loyd put together as complete a summer as we've seen in a while, which was good enough to edge Moriah Jefferson and her obsession to honor her late coach, Marques Jackson.
Three other players from the 2012 class are on this list. Though she didn't shoot a bucket in the U.S. during July, top-ranked Breanna Stewart saved our country's skins often enough in Mexico. Bashaara Graves, No. 9 in 2012, continued to be an inside force who required opposing teams to attempt to scheme her into at least near-neutrality. And although she played on a slightly more dimly lit circuit than most, Michaela Mabrey showcased one of the more complete offensive games in the country.
From the 2013 class, Rebecca Greenwell, from FIBA Americas to Nike Nationals, had as compelling a case as anyone for player of summer. Allisha Gray scored as effortlessly as anyone in the country and Linnae Harper virtually redefined the notion of toughness from the backcourt and Mercedes Russell emerged from near anonymity to show herself as one of the more polished post prospects to come along in recent years.
Finally, Kelsey Mitchell did more than just stamp herself as a prospect to watch. She signaled her arrival among the nation's elite.
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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.
Brandon Clay is a contributor and national recruiting analyst for ESPN HoopGurlz. He is also the publisher of the JumpOffPlus.com National Scouting Report and the owner of Peach State Basketball, Inc. Clay has been involved in the community since 2001 as a recruiting analyst, event operator and trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @peachstatehoops.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.