A growing point of contention

UCLA recruit Jordin Canada says she uses her quickness to exploit taller players who venture out to the perimeter. Courtesy Chuck Isgar

Jordin Canada has noticed the growing trend, but the nation's top-ranked point guard in the 2014 class thinks she just might have a quick fix.

The 5-foot-6 Canada, who is preparing for her senior season at Windward (Los Angeles), said she's seen the girls around her getting taller and more skilled. It's becoming more common, she said, to see 6-3 or 6-4 girls playing on the perimeter.

But the UCLA recruit is undaunted.

In fact, she welcomes the challenge.

"Playing against bigger players is an advantage to me because I can be quicker and faster," Canada said. "I don't really get upset that I'm not tall like them. I don't think about why I'm not growing."

Canada is right not to fret, said Debbie Antonelli, a women's basketball analyst for ESPN.

Antonelli said there will always be a place in the game for smaller and quicker point guards. Indeed, of the NCAA's top five assists leaders last season, four of them were 5-5 or shorter.

"Speed and quickness," Antonelli said, "can't be taught."

Position shift

While small point guards are far from extinct, the perimeter is no longer the exclusive habitat of sub-6-footers.

In college basketball last season, Michigan's Kate Thompson, who is 6-4, tied for second in the nation with 3.3 3-pointers per game. Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, who is 6-5, played extensively on the perimeter as a guard/forward.

Other taller players who starred on the perimeter last season include 6-2 Alyssa Thomas of Maryland, who was among the nation's top 35 in assists with 5.3 per game; 6-1 Markel Walker of UCLA, who averaged 5.7 assists; and 6-1 Tricia Liston of Duke, who was third in the nation with a 46.5 3-point percentage.

Antonelli thinks American coaches are taking a page from their European counterparts on how to use their bigger players.

"It's very exciting," Antonelli said. "It's very European to have a 6-3 player face up and have the skills of a guard instead of just sticking them in the block and making them only play with their backs to the basket.

"The trend now is that all players -- no matter their size -- have to handle and pass, not just catch and shoot. You are no longer locked to the low box, and that's the way the game's been evolving over the past decade."

High school coaches have noticed the trend.

No longer is a tall player automatically put in the post, which is why coach Ron Kessler of Life Center Academy (Burlington, N.J.) moved 6-3 Aja Ellison from the low block to the wing this past year.

"We felt it was better for her development if she learned how to put the ball on the floor and hit a 15- to 18-foot jumper," Kessler said. "Now she's comfortable hitting 3-pointers."

How to beat a 'big'

At 5-6, Canada is considered on the short side of average for a point guard in the women's game.

As such, she continues to work on ways to beat taller opponents.

"Playing against taller players has helped me develop certain moves," Canada said. "Floaters are something I have to work on more -- and hesitation moves and pump fakes, too.

"I'm also working on my outside shot. I'm a year away from college basketball, and once I get there, I know it won't be as easy to get to the basket. That's why I'm working on my shot."

Division I prospect Shakoa Edwards, a 5-4 point guard at Boynton Beach (Fla.), is similar to Canada in that she doesn't shy away from contact.

"Every girl I play against is taller than me, so there's no reason to be intimidated," Edwards said. "When it comes down to it, I'm fearless. I don't care how tall they are, I'll just kill 'em with my quickness."

Edwards said the key to entering the valley of the giants -- also known as "driving the lane" -- is mental preparation.

"You have to go in under control," she said. "If you are out of control, they will block your shot nine times out of 10.

"So I just try to gather myself, lean my body a certain way [to get the layup and the foul] and shoot the ball high off the backboard so that they can't get it."

Edwards, who has offers from Southern Mississippi, South Florida and other Division I colleges, said she uses taller players as a steppingstone for her own success.

"If college coaches are coming to look at a taller girl, that's fine," she said. "I figure that if I beat them, they will look at me, too."

Packing power

Even though many guards insist size doesn't matter, there does come a point -- some coaches say the cutoff is 5-3 and shorter -- where it does become a factor, especially on defense.

Opposing coaches tend to want to post up a player that short.

Ieshia Small, who is 6-foot and explosive, is an example of the tough matchup that awaits small point guards. She played a lot of wing in high school, but now that she is at Baylor preparing for her freshman season, she has been told by coaches that she will also play point guard for the Bears.

"I feel like it's a good thing," Small said. "Girls are showing they have a lot of variety in their games, just like the boys.

"[NBA star] Kevin Durant is 6-9, and yet he can bring the ball up and play like a point guard. That makes the men's game more exciting, and we are showing we can do the same things."

Coach Sam Baumgarten, who led Miami High (Fla.) to the Class 8A state final this past spring with 5-1 Amanda Mendoza at the point, said it's not just about height.

It's about power, too -- and he encourages girls to train in the weight room.

"You have to be strong enough to handle the bigger guards," he said. "Strength in the girls' game is huge."