It's getting late here in St. Louis but the Nike Camp is heating up...
Weather here was cool and somewhat cloudy this morning as Bob & I ventured over to campus for Day 2 of the Nike All-American Camp. Due to our late night, we both slept in since the games did not start until 2:30pm local time.
After a brief lunch at the Student Center, we got set up in time for watching the girls go through their skill stations. I took the video camera to one of the stations to make sure I got all of the post players on video as they rotated through the station I was at. Richards freelanced around with his digital camera trying to get stills of as many girls as possible. By first game time, he boasted he had 40 of the girls recorded.
Just prior to game time I glanced around and noted that the coaching flood gates had opened up as virtually all the big name coaches were in attendance. In no particular order I noticed the following coaches...
Sherri Coale (OU - sporting a great tan!)
Mark French (UCSB - easy to spot as he is around 9'8" tall. vbg)
Geno Auriemma (MUCH shorter than I imagined but looking fit, tan & relaxed)
Cheryl Burnett (Michigan)
Kathi "all the little girls in Indiana want to grow up to be Hoosiers" Bennett
Muffett McGraw (domer queen)
Jody Conradt (Texas)
Vivian Stringer (Rutgers)
Pam Borton (UMinn- I think)
Gail Goestenkors (that former Lin Dunn assistant... vbg)
Pokey Chatman (LSU)
and many many others...
Oh, and Kristy Curry.
Oddly enough, Pat Summitt was not in house after her brief appearance last night.
One final note to Purdue fans... I did see Kerry Cremeans in her new Auburn pullover as she sat right next to me (heart palpitations...) for awhile.
Anyway, on to the games...
Overall, the game play really heated up with so many top faces in the stands. I developed writers' cramp early on trying to record all the pertinent contributions as they developed. Game action moved so quickly at times that I would miss a great shot or play while I was writing down the prior one. It was quite exhilarating to watch. There was a great deal of excitment in the air as the games took off.
Both Bob and I watched Jodi Howell's team during the first game as she is only being allowed to play one game per day at this point in her rehab and I wanted to see her play having missed her yesterday. And while she seemed to move with some hesitancy (as in reaching in on defense rather than moving laterally with her feet which she admitted to me later), Jodi proved to be all that and more. I almost missed her first shot, a perfect rainbow from the top of the key. As previously advertised, Jodi has an amazingly quick release. She made several shots from the perimeter and played quite well. While she did not belly up on D, she played flawless position defense better than anyone I have watched at camp. It is clear she is a coach's daughter and she has learned well from her dad, Jon.
The only reason why I mention Jodi at this point is because her play has been severely limited not only in how many games she can play but she is usually on the floor for no longer than 3-4 minutes at a time. As a result, it would be unfair to evaluate her play by the same yardstick as the others. And knowing how much Purdue fans care about her progress, I made her one of my two interviews later around dinner time. I will publish the results of that interview sometime after we get back. Suffice it to say that her knee is doing better and progressing steadily and she should be ready to go at the first tip.
(Collective sigh of relief)
There is no doubt Jodi Howell is a very special young woman who will represent Purdue University with grace and honor. It was a privilege to talk with such a sweet and sincere individual...
Back to the action...
Virtually all the girls raised their level of play. Perhaps sensing the immediacy of the moment considering who was watching, everyone put their best foot forward and left it all on the floor. Normally, in front of so many top coaches, you might expect a lot of individual showboating and errant gunning. Surprisingly, not so. At least as much as I expected. There was a point where a couple of talented opposing guards did get into somewhat of a shooting contest with each one trading consecutive 3 pointers, one right after another. When one finally missed, they had hit something like a combined 5 or 6 in a row. And all of the shots were pretty much put up in the flow of the game.
All in all, play has centered around wing and post players. Once the entry pass has been made, the ball seems to rarely come out. That has coerced many of the guards to drive and dish or shoot perimeter shots whenever the weather permits. Slower guards have been hurt in the sense that they have been reduced to playing catch around the perimeter and displaying their post entry passing skills. Quicker guards are getting more attention because they drive at the first hint of a crease in the defense.
However, by and large, the post entry passes have been quite excellent. The passes that seem to defy any guidance and end up in the next county are usually perimeter kick outs from driving guards somewhat out of control. But with the entry passes, inside dishes from drives have been exceptional and quite fun to watch. Having watched women's basketball for many years, I can tell you the level of play has elevated considerably in the last few years. So much so that many of these girls could start for Division 1 teams from day one.
Post play has been very active if not as skilled as the entry passes. Few of the big girls have learned how to properly seal the defender on the low block - probably a result of playing against so many smaller girls and never having to develop those skills. Yet the athleticism and aggression in the post is notable. Even some of the slower but more physical guards are going down and throwing some elbows around!
Yet while the athleticism is evident, it is still disappointing to see so few truly blocking out and setting off ball screens. That is not to say it doesn't happen but not as much as I would like to see. Still, the level of overall hustle, motivation and team play is invigorating. It is clear all of these girls have run most of the basic offensive sets the camp coaches are running as it appears second nature to the girls. And interestingly enough, Nike is teaching them to properly play some zone defense so the girls can get some advanced flight time playing against REAL 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones. Not this mish mash so common in many HS games around the country.
In fact, when one of the teams switched to a zone, this one girl recognized it immediately and personally torched it on multiple occasions. I didn't see it but one of the parents indicated it was quite a display.
Besides the brief flirtation with zones, the girls generally played excellent man defense. Very few girls played what I call "puppy dog" man by following her assignment all over the floor. Almost all of the girls know what to do when the ball is either one or two passes away. They understand denial and rotation despite the fact that there has been a lot of reaching and marginal stances. Early on, the defensive stances start low and quickly straighten up as a result of the intensity of play. They just get tired, its that simple...
As for stories, I have heard some rumors that the competing Gatewood camp nearly had a meltdown because of a severe shortage of all things - basketballs. It was supposedly so bad, the staff had to get out in their cars and raid the local stores for extra balls. I even heard the Paris twins were trying to get back into the Nike camp at the last minute as a result.
Of course, I have no idea if this is true but it sure seemed to entertain a few people around here at the prospect...
But by a large margin, the number one story in this camp has been the play of one particular player...
An 8th grader from my home state of Delaware. In fact, if she were not attending a parochial school, she would be attending my old high school. In fact, my mom lives within 5 miles of her home.
And this girl could become the greatest women's basketball player of all time!
Yep, you heard it right.
The GREATEST women's basketball player of all time!!!
Her name is Elena Delle Donne. Don't bother to memorize it for you will hear it constantly after this camp breaks. Guaranteed!
She is 14 (to be 15 in September), 6'3" tall (every bit of it unlike so many exagerrated tape jobs) with a slender, athletic full grown woman's body. NOT some scrawny bony child chewing gum. As an 8th grader, she started for Ursuline Academy and averaged 20 pts/game as she lead her team to the Delaware state title.
She is exceptionally mature and level headed with a refreshing personality. I know because I am the only one in the media to have interviewed her here at Nike. And what a pleasure it was!
Check out this link for some more background on this girl. But mark my word, if she progresses like I think she will, this girl is going to be more than the Lebron James of women's basketball. Much more.
And, strange as it may seem, while she may or may not make our All Camp team, this girl will be the most highly sought after HS recruit in history.
Without a doubt!
When her team came up to play this evening, the stands for the other game virtually emptied as the coaches flooded the bleachers to get a look at this girl. And she did not disappoint.
She is all that and more, I assure you. And I will post the results of my interview with her when I get back. A very impressive young woman indeed!
She has an early list of schools though she has indicated it is still wide open and early.
And if any coaches out there need a primer regarding the First State, give me a shout. This girl loves her home state and you better know something about it before you try stealing her away!
Tomorrow... morning games and the wrap up!