For all the chest beating we do about summer being a platform for the players, we must concede the necessity of teams. Though the dash for scholarships is an individual pursuit, teams give the whole evaluation period context. Since basketball is, after all, a team sport, prospects are judged with regard to their fitness for joining a given team on the next level.
Not to mention the many things that teams are inherently good for -- learning to cooperate and coexist, learning to trust and be trusted, to name a few.
Judging by the amount of mail we get before and after our Best of Summer series, appearing on the list below means something to a lot of people. So we take it seriously. We have seven staff members out during the summer, and we've seen hundreds of teams.
What makes a best team of summer? Tournament championships? Division I prospects? Head-to-head victories over others on the list. Yes, all of those and more.
Does the winner of Nike Nationals automatically get the No. 1 ranking? Not two years ago, but it helps. It is the premier tournament of the summer, a competition that pushes from the early rounds going forward, and the best proving grounds for a team. This year, four of the top five teams earned their stripes at Nike Nationals. Then again, the next seven were not invited.
We continue to dream about an all-inclusive, national club championship. Until that happens, maybe this is the next best thing. We hope so anyway.
Best Teams of Summer
(Tournament championships for top 10 teams)
1. DFW T-Jack (Nike Nationals, Basketball on the Bayou, Boo Williams)
2. Tennessee Flight (Battle in the Boro, PBR Super 64)
3. A.O.T. Lady Rebels (AAU Gold, Peach State Summer Jam I)
4. Fairfax Stars (Nike Summer Showcase)
5. Essence (Flava Jam)
6. Midwest Elite (USJN Nationals)
7. Exodus NYC (Peach State, Summer Jam II)
8. Lady Fire (Deep South Classic)
9. Team Concept Heat (End of the Trail)
10. Sports City U (Windy City Classic, Blue Star Nationals)
11. Arizona Warriors
12. Cal Sparks
13. Cal Swish
14. All Iowa Attack
15. Georgia Metros
16. West Coast Premier
17. North Tartan
18. All Ohio
19. Philly Belles
20. Cal Storm Taurasi
21. CSS Bison
22. Cy-Fair Shock
23. Northwest Blazers
24. Kentucky Premier
25. New Jersey Demons
26. Cy-Fair Mickens
27. Georgia Ice
28. Minnesota Metro Stars
29. Tree of Hope
30. Carolina All-Stars
31. Houston Elite
32. DFW Elite Gold
33. Georgia Hoopstars
34. Wiggins Waves
35. Cy-Fair Premier
36. Arkansas Mavericks
37. Boo Williams Summer League
38. Spiece Indy Lady Gym Rats-Green
39. Central Florida Elite
40. DFW Washington
We walked out of the Boo Williams Nike Invitational in mid-April convinced of two things. No. 1: After the way DFW T-Jack stifled one of the best spring fields assembled in years, there was a good chance they'd go unbeaten a second straight summer. 2. The Tennessee Flight, with its collection of shooters, depth and inside might in Bashaara Graves, might have its best team ever.
So it isn't any surprise that those teams finished 1-2 in our poll. It all just didn't happen the way we thought it might.
DFW T-Jack did not go unbeaten. In fact, in its quest to honor its fallen coach, the late Marques Jackson, DFW stumbled three times -- once to Essence at its own event and twice to the Fairfax in Chicago. But one of the greatest collections of guards on a single team, plus one of the most competitive players ever on this level in Moriah Jefferson, plus the emergence of young inside player Brianna Turner provided a winning recipe. Not only did DFW T-Jack avenge all its losses at Nike Nationals, it won a barn-burner over its top rival, the Flight, in the Nike semifinals.
The only program with more than one Nike championship, the Flight entered the big tournament poised to make history and become the first to repeat. Alas, it may have been only that DFW appeared to be reeling that the Flight took over as pre-tournament favorites. Its shooting, balance and preparation was as good as ever, but when it came down to it, when Graves got squeezed and the shooters weren't hitting, Tennessee lacked the one element that T-Jack had in spades -- players who could create their own shots and those who could get to the rim off the bounce.
It's a shame that -- failing to get them all into Nike Nationals -- no one could have rounded up all the elite non-Nike teams and had them play off to the death down the road somewhere. It would have been an event to see.
There are those who believed the A.O.T. Lady Rebels, with their abundant athleticism, inside depth, shot-creators and star Bre McDonald, could have stood toe to toe with the best Nike had to offer. The Lady Rebels had a shot at proving that in New Orleans, but bit it too early in the Basketball on the Bayou brackets. Midwest Elite, with our best player of the summer, Jewell Loyd, was a second-half-juggernaut-in-the-making because of the addition of Taya Reimer. Exodus NYC had its best team in years, prompting much disappointment when they skipped on a semifinal matchup against the Tennessee Flight at Battle in the Boro.
The Lady Fire, out of Chicago, won the Deep South Classic and beat DFW T-Jack, which was without Jefferson at the time, but the Fire was missing its marvelous guard, Linnae Harper. Team Concept, with four elite prospects, including post Mercedes Russell, may be the best team the state of Oregon may ever have produced. Before post Malina Howard was snatched up as a late replacement by USA Basketball, Sports City U was as strong as any of the aforementioned.
And just outside the top 10, the Arizona Warriors were everyone's worst nightmares and finished second at USJN Nationals. Just one slot down, the Cal Sparks won Fila Nationals and, with young talent such as Erica McCall, Jordin Canada and LaJahna Drummer, is certain to be among the very best teams of future summers.
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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.
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 email@example.com 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 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.
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 email@example.com.