East Hampton, Virginia - The Boo Williams Sports Complex in Hampton, Va., was the perfect venue to host the USJN Premier Invitational-East tournament kicking off the 2012 summer evaluation period. Despite the sweltering temperatures, 400 players gathered with their summer club teams to showcase their skills for the 100+ Division I, II and III coaches in attendance. A couple teams got off to a rough start, as evidenced by the number of early blowouts. However, as the weekend progressed the level of play picked up and fans where treated to a few standout team and individual performances.
The tournament showcased two great match ups between grassroots powerhouses BWSL and the Philadelphia Belles. The Philly Belles-Costello team toughed out a 4-point victory over a scrappy BWSL 15 squad in a back and forth contest that had several lead changes. Crafty guard Alexandria Louin (Doylestown, Pa.) did a little bit of everything for the Belles; whether it was a crucial shot or a timely assist. Speedy 2015 guards Taja Cole (Richmond, Va.) and Chanette Hicks (Norfolk, Va.) paced BWSL coming up with defensive stops and pushing the ball in transition. The Belles were able to seal the 54-50 victory on a layup and foul shot by Avery Marz (Sinking Springs, Pa.).
The game between BWSL 16 and the Philly Belles-Hilf gave anxious college coaches a chance to see two of the top uncommitted guards in the country--Tyshell King (Baltimore, Md.) and Adrienne Motley (Newport News, Va.). The Belles scored the majority of their points from outside the arc, led by sharp-shooting Boston College commit Kelly Hughes (Point Pleasant, N.J.), who released a barrage of 3-pointers. The size of BWSL allowed them to control the paint on both ends with the post play of 2013 D’alishia Griffin (Chesapeake, Va.) and 2014 Jatarie White (Charlotte, N.C). 2015 DeJanae Boykin (Springdale, Md.) continued to show why she is considered the top player in the 2015 class, her versatility as a forward makes her a serious match up problem. The Belles were able to tie the game at 40 early in the 2nd half, as King and uber-athletic Maryland commit A’lexus Harrison were able to attack the basket. But with solid guard play from Motley, Atajiah Taylor (Roanoke, Va.) and timely scoring from Feyona Fitzgerald (Norfolk, Va.), BWSL was able to open the lead back up and win by 9.
Norfolk Express ‘ Justyce Swango (Virginia Beach, Va.) had a stellar weekend and continues to show that she has what it takes to be a successful lead guard at the collegiate level. Swango is a bundle of energy who competes for the full 32 minutes, and she is willing to do whatever is necessary to help her team. With the ball in her hand, she can push her team’s fast break or control their half court sets. The lefty has improved her off-hand and is confident handling the ball under pressure. What stands out about the Virginia Beach guard is her ability to feel the pulse of her team; she understands what buttons to push, and she challenges her teammates to match her intensity. The 5-4 Swango is usually the smallest player on court, but the true measures of her game are her intangibles: heart, passion and leadership.
The landscape of girls’ grassroots basketball is littered with players who spend their time with overpriced trainers working on drills which have little relevance to the actual game of basketball. It is always refreshing to evaluate a player like 2016 Elexus Davis, whose game is purely organic, not “gym-netically” modified. Watching Davis play this weekend immediately made me think of Tayshana “Chicken” Murphy, the New York City prep star who was murdered last summer. Elexus’ game is the perfect combination of playground swagger mixed with strong fundamental guard skills. Her ball handling and passing are flashy without being overdone, and she has terrific court vision. As a rising freshman, she is surprisingly strong and has no problem playing through traffic when she attacks the basket. Two elements of her game that impressed me the most were her ability to make a post entry pass (a skill that is on the decline at this level) and her vocal leadership, where she showed plenty of confidence communicating with her upper-class teammates, who clearly respect her. Davis will play her high school basketball at Riverdale Baptist, the perfect canvas for this rising star to begin painting her masterpiece.
2015 Ladeja James (L.E.A.D. Lady Vipers, Virginia Beach, Va.) is a combo guard who can score from anywhere on the court. She has the passing and dribbling skills to run the point and the jump shooting skill to play the off-guard. With her ability to create and slash to the basket, James is a tough defensive assignment with her explosive first step. She is a lock-down defender who can harass opposing ball handlers full court and overplay passing lanes without getting burned. At times she can get a little ahead of herself playing a frenetic pace, but as the game slows down for her, she has the potential to be a top player at her position.
A couple of 2015 post players that left an impression were 6-2 Alexis Davis (Lady Hoop Booth, Stafford, Va.) and Dara Pearson (BWSL 14, Hampton, Va.). Davis has a college frame and good hands. She can play with her back to basket having mastered some basic post moves. Davis gets good rebounding position and doesn’t shy away from physical play. Pearson is all arms and legs, but she has good body control and she works hard to establish her presence on both ends of the floor. She runs the floor with ease and immediately looks to seal her defender on offense. Blocking and altering shots is instinctive to Pearson, as she uses her length to get her hands in the path of the ball.
2015 Brianna Jones (Philly Belles–Bamford, North Babylon, N.Y.)--pure shooter with a sweet stroke and quick release will remind you of a young Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis…2016 Taylor Edwards (BSWL 14, Portsmouth, Va.)--crafty, creative guard who can make things happen on both ends of the court…2016 Mikiyah Croskey (BWSL–MD, Bowie, Md.)--6-1 athletic wing with a huge upside…2014 Keli Brown (BWSL-15, Williamsburg, Va.)--rugged tweener post, super-tough defender…2014 Chelsea Harrison (HRH, Chesapeake, Va.)--scoring point guard with a legitimate pull-up jump shot…2017 Zhymani Smith (BWSL-14, Hampton, Va.)--rising 8th grade guard with maturity beyond her years. Coaches looking for under-the-radar 2013’s need to check out The Cap City Ballas out of Richmond, Va. and BWSL 16–Domond.