Forum member PurdueJim spent the weekend in Willowbrook, Ill. watching 14 games over four days. He stopped by on Monday to contribute the following reports from Chicago.
Report No. 1 (Candace Parker)
I watched 14 girls Bball games in the past 4 days at Willowbrook and have much to share. First, there were many very good players, but one that was in a class by herself in that was Candace Parker. I've seen Candace play on numerous occasions and have often been disappointed in her play as she lacked maturity (probably not unexpected from someone so young) in the big games, however she was awesome against Dayton Chaminade. She can pretty much do whatever she wants with her size, quickness and ball handling ability. She is 6'3", but her long arms allow her to play much bigger. She can palm a men's bball which combined with her size, quickness and athletic ability makes her unstoppable down low. Chaminade has a lot of talent and dominated Caprice Smith's Trinity team on Saturday. Chaminade has a Soph. 6'2" center who dominated Smith, however against Candace's Naperville Central team, she was pretty much a non-factor. Chaminade's point guard was outstanding and will be attending OSU in the fall. OSU's new coach (Foster) is going to make OSU a force in women's bball. The Dayton crowd from Beaver Creek said that Anthony Munoz' daughter (Michelle) who was Beth Jones' teammate in H.S. @ Mason, Ohio had transferred to OSU from Tennessee and was sitting out this semester.
The best news for Purdue fans about Candace Parker is that Christy Curry was in attendance for the Fenwick and Naperville Central games on Monday and [Purdue recruit Erin Lawless's] mom sat with her the entire time.
One last comment about Candace is that besides being a fabulous bball player, she appears to be a really neat kid. She is friends with everyone and makes a point to say hello and give them a hug. I'm sure that she will be successful where ever she goes. I just hope that she spends four years in West Lafayette.
I thought it was interesting that Pat Summitt wasn't in attendance on Monday as she has been to the Willowbrook event the previous 2 years when Ely and Zolman were playing. Does that mean that she doesn't think that she has a chance with Candace and therefore didn't make the trip. On the other hand, Trish Vanderveer (Stanford coach) was in attendance and also Theresa Grentz (Illinois coach). Illinois' coaches and members of the Illinois team attended Candace's conference game last week which Candace commented positively about in the local newspaper.
Report No. 2 (Other players)
There were many other impressive players at Willowbrook besides Candace Parker (see previous report).
The three other most impressive players in my opinion were Allison Bales, 6'6" center from Beaver Creek, Ohio who will be attending Duke, Dayton Chaminade's point guard who has good size (6'0) and strength and will be attending OSU and Erin Lawless who we all know will be attending Purdue.
Bales has lost some weight from last year and is therefore quicker, although quickness is not her game and she lacks any jumping ability, although I suspect that Duke will put her through drills that will improve her jumping. She does, however, have a very nice shooting touch. As her competition gets bigger I suspect she won't be as dominating a presence on the inside, however I think Duke got a keeper. I think that Allison Bales has matured over the years. She was a defensive presence in the paint and didn't back down from anyone. Her size and shot blocking ability were apparant against both Trinity (Caprice Smith) and Fenwick (Erin Lawless). Fenwick adjusted better to Bales and had Lawless draw her out from the basket by making some outside shots and then Lawless was able to drive around her and beat her to the basket. I was particularly impressed by a fade away shot that Lawless made over Bales' outstretched arms. However, Bales denied almost everything from in close including Lawless' attempt at the go ahead basket in the closing seconds of the Beaver Creek/Fenwick game. Bales was also very effective at avoiding fouls. I believe she only picked up one foul late in the 4th Q against Fenwick even though Fenwick made an effort to take the ball at her early in the game and was rejected.
Both Lawless and the OSU recruit will make immediate impacts for their college teams. Lawless is a very heady player who will probably play small forward, but can play power forward. She played against Bales and was effective when she pulled Bales away from the basket and then beat her off the dribble to the basket. She needs to continue to work on her outside shot and if she develops a reliable outside shot she can be special. She appears to be a very hard worker and as such I expect that she will develop the outside shot that she needs to be special (ala Cuonzo !!). I saw Lawless earlier this year against Candace Parker and Naperville Central and came away extremely impressed with Lawless' ability to let the game come to her as opposed to forcing the action. She also plays very well and under control when she gets in foul trouble. Against Naperville Central, Lawless had three fouls in the 1st half but didn't leave the floor as the Fenwick Coach (Power) has confidence in her ability to avoid picking up fouls and in fact she didn't commit another foul for the rest of the game. Lawless was every bit Candace's equal on that particular evening, although Lawless has a much better supporting cast than does Candace. Naperville Central won in OT after Fenwick missed three front ends of 1 and 1 free throw attempts that would have sealed the win for Fenwick. Candace rebounded the last FT miss with :06 seconds left in regulation and drove the length of the floor and banked in the game tying FG at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
Report No. 3 (Juniors)
The Chicagoland area has five highly talented junior "big girls" who have been getting a lot of press. They had their picture taken together for an article in a Chicago paper which I believe was the Sun Times. They are Candace Parker (see previous report), Naperville Central; Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, Nequa Valley; Caprice Smith, Trinity; Natasha Williams, Niles North; and Lauren Lacey, Marion Catholic. They are all 6'3" except for Smith who is 6'2". All were in action at Willowbrook, although the level of competition that they faced was very different which makes it somewhat difficult to compare and contrast. Williams played against an inferior team from Wisconsin while Parker and Lacey played against Dayton Chaminade, Wisdom-Hylton played against Kokomo and Smith played against Beaver Creek, Ohio. I had previously seen Parker, Wisdom-Hylton and Lacey play so my comments about them include prior exposure. Williams, Smith and Lacey played on Saturday in front of Kelly Curry. While Parker played in front of Christy Curry on Monday and Purdue didn't have a representative at Wisdom-Hylton's game on Friday night.
None of the other four has a game that is developed anywhere near Parker's, but then not many, if any, do. I like Wisdom-Hyltom over the other three as she has a complete game and plays within the system that the Nequa Valley coach (Williams) has installed. She is great in a pressing defense, an excellent shot blocker, passes extremely well and rebounds well. She doesn't score as much as some of the others, because she doesn't have to for Nequa Valley to be successful. She has led Nequa to a final four finish in her freshman and sophomore seasons, so I think she can be classified as a winner.
Williams appears to have a lot of upside as an athletic 6'3" player. Her defensive game appears to be more developed than her offensive game. I think she could develop into a very talented front line player. She reminds me of Purdue's former center, Cooper, which is a compliment.
Smith is more offensive minded than the others except for Parker. She struggled against Beaver Creek's 6'6" center (Erin Lawless was much more successful against Bales than was Smith), but her offensive skills were noticeable. She made two three-pointers in the closing minutes, so she can shoot from the outside. She needs to work on her defensive skills and didn't play any defense after she got in foul trouble. She would be a good get for Purdue, but would probably play behind Lawless unless they play small and power forward at the same time. For some reason, I think Purdue has a good chance to get Smith. I would suspect that Lawless should be a great asset in recruiting the Chicagoland players and in particular Smith who plays in the same conference and whose H.S. is nearby Lawless' H.S.
I was the least impressed with Lacey, although there is certainly untapped talent with the athletic 6'3" center/power forward. She was a non-factor against Dayton Chaminade and was completely outplayed by Chaminade's 6' sophomore center, Aisha Jefferson. She needs to develop an offensive game and seems to play in the shadows of Marian Catholic's outstanding guards. Marian Catholic will need her to step up if they are going to compete with Naperville Central, Nequa Valley and Fenwick for a state championship.
A couple of other underclassman of note at Willowbrook were Fenwick's point guard, Christa Heidloff, who has been a starter since her freshman year. I like her leadership and agressive nature, however I suspect that she will have to improve her outside shooting if she is to become a significant recruit. She didn't shoot particularly well at Willowbrook, however she shot the lights out against Benet Acedemy (the only Illinois team to beat Marian Catholic) on Saturday, so I might have caught her on off nights. Her game isn't anywhere near as developed as Kelly Komara's game was when Kelly was a junior. I was very impressed with Julie Demuth of Highland, Indiana who dominated a very good York team on the inside even though Highland suffered their 1st loss in the closing seconds. Unforetunately, Julie will be hard pressed to take her H.S. game to the college game, since she is only 5'10", albeit a powerful 5'10". One last junior that impressed me was Ashlee Pistorius who is a 5'10" point guard for Class A University High in Normal, Illinois. She was outstanding in a loss to a mediocre Maine West squad. I believe Ashlee is a big-time soccer recruit, however she could certainly play point guard at a major college. The only sophomore of note was Aisha Jefferson of Dayton Chaminade who dominated Lauren Lacey, but was a non-factor against Candace Parker and Naperville Central. I expect that she will develop into a big time recruit and that OSU's Foster already has his eye on her, since he has signed her teammate, Brandy Hoskins, who is an outstanding senior point guard.
That's all from Willowbrook. I can't wait for the girl's basketball tournament to begin in Illinois.