HAMPTON, Va. – In the eyes of both recruiters and participants the gold standard for kick off tournaments of the club basketball season has always been the Boo Williams Nike Invitational. The nation’s longest running spring event provided no reason for anyone to question the tournament’s supremacy once again with a talent laden and ultra-competitive event this past weekend in Hampton.
Utilizing 30 courts, 220 teams battled things out over three days in front of a large contingent of college coaches looking to identify, evaluate, babysit and catch the attention of the next generation of colligate athletes. Teams and players from 35 states and Canada competed in pool play Friday and Saturday before moving into championship bracket play Saturday evening and Sunday.
The Newport News Division was home to some of the top club teams annually competing in NCAA certified events. By the time Sunday morning’s semifinal games rolled around it’s was a quartet of traditional club powers who were still standing. The Tennessee Flight recovered from a 21 – 4 deficit to overtake a resurgent Georgia Metros program and earn one ticket to the final. One court away the Philadelphia Belles Maryland team and Minnesota North Tartan were trading punches in a back and forth battle that saw the Belles ultimately earn the right to play for the title.
The championship game saw the Flight take a different approach than their slow start in the semis and jump out quickly to a double figure lead on an offensively stagnant Belles team. The folks from Tennessee had early success handling the impressive defensive pressure that had carried the Belles all weekend and were rewarded with several easy looks out of their press attack. Add some lock down defense on high scoring Jannah Tucker to the mix and Flight posted a double digit lead right out of the gate. However, paced by Lindsay Allen and Tyshell King, the Belles recovered enough to make it a three possession game at one point but in the end couldn’t keep the Flight from taking the bragging rights and hardware home with them.
Here are a few of the standouts form both of the teams in Sunday’s final that will be worth keeping an eye on this spring and throughout the summer. Check back with bluestarmedia.org for more Boo Williams coverage all week long.
Philadelphia Belles – Maryland
Jannah Tucker (Randallstown, Md.) may well be the prototype “has it all” guard. Combine size, athleticism and skills and you pretty much have a ticket for a successful collegiate future and beyond. The 6-0 guard has upped the level of her attack and it’s not just with the ball in her hands. Defensively she spent the weekend applying pressure, taking away options and playing an assertive brand of physical basketball that creates both turnovers and stops. Not being one to miss opportunity, she grabbed hold of the cliché’ that states “defense creates offense” and made it a reality. In both transition and the halfcourt she maintained the attacking mentality and scored effectively on the perimeter and off penetration. Her physical strength is an asset that challenges most opponents matching up with her. Tucker isn’t hesitant about initiating contact herself and using it to her advantage all the way to the rim. Left open she has the range and touch to knock down the long ball but close out too tight and she’ll make you pay with a lengthy and explosive first step. If you’re looking for perimeter contributions on the glass, she obliges on both ends consistently. While the championship game was the lesser performance for her over the weekend, on the whole she demonstrated that she’s taken her game to another level.
If the key to a team’s success lies with the point guard, the Belles and any team’s whose uniform Lindsay Allen decides to wear in the future are going to be in good hands. The 5-9 Bowie Maryland native is playing with a confidence and maturity that is usually reserved for players with a season or two more under their belt. Allen sets an intense pace looking to run off makes, misses and turnovers but at the same time is demonstrating sharp choices as to when to push and when to pull back on the reigns. Her solid individual skills go hand in hand with impressive speed and quickness creating options for her every time she puts it on the floor. She’s reading defenses efficiently and knows when to look for her own shots as well as make the smart pass as the defense reacts. Allen is scoring consistently off the drive but delivered on the pull up on several occasions as well. On the defensive end she’s always been strong on the ball and her play this weekend showed an even more focused effort in taking away options and changing the direction of ballhandlers. Her anticipation on and off the ball put her in position to make plays time and again. There’s a promising summer in front of this already elite point guard.
The recent coaching change at Wake Forest has led to the reopening of Tyshell King’s (Baltimore, Md.) recruitment and the long line from before should get even longer this time around. The well-established top tier defender has continued the advancement of her offensive repertoire and is now making significant contributions at both ends of the floor. While she’s always been a sound scoring threat, she’s now providing a versatile and assertive attack that keeps her match up’s guessing. Off the drive she can get deep in the paint and isn’t hesitant about going up in traffic. The inconsistency that has come with her pull up in the past is no longer an issue and she’s taking all of her shots with confidence. The elevation on her jumper gets her clean looks at the rim and also provides the legs for deeper range in turn forcing tighter close outs from defenders. Defense is still her calling card and few embrace and perform the role like King does. She has the quickness and lateral speed to control a ballhandler and the understanding of angles to cut them off and turn the ball. Quick hands come with those quick feet and she gets plenty of tips and picks both on and off the ball. Academics are a priority for this 5-10 guard and schools looking to join the new recruiting sweepstakes better offer an “A” game in the classroom as well as on the court.
Flight coach Tom Insell makes it an annual habit of adding a high profile addition to his already talented roster each spring and this year is no different. Calling Kaela Davis (Suwanee, Ga.) high profile may be a compliment but at the same time an understatement. Since her breakout performance in front of college recruiters three years ago at this same event Davis has been a household recruiting name and always a top five prospect in the 2013 class. In that time what the 6-2 guard has done over the course of her high school and club play is evolve into one of the more versatile and complete packages in the any class. The depth of her skill set makes you want to call her a “jack of all trades” but that is usually followed by “master of none” which is absolutely not the case. Not many prospects offer up both the depth and quality of her skills and even fewer do so with her physical size and athletic ability. She’s creating her own looks at will and delivering some sharp passing as well when opposing helpside comes her way. Davis can spot up behind the arch to connect on the three or elevate impressively on a dime for a pull up off the drive. In transition she has the ability to handle it herself but is showing a consistent willingness to get out and run the lanes like a wide receiver. More recently she’s established herself as an impact defender, particularly in pressing and trapping situations. Her size and aggressiveness puts her in a position to impact the game with touches as well as forcing easily picked high or long passes.
Unquestionably one of the most improved players over the course of last summer was Rebecca Greenwell of Owensboro, Kentucky. What makes that statement all the more impressive is that she was already well established among the elite of the 2013 class. Unfortunately September offered up a speed bump in the evolution of her play with a torn ACL while competing for USA Basketball. In typical Greenwell fashion she’s excelled at rehab just as she does on the floor and provided a solid return performance this weekend in Hampton. While not yet at 100 percent she’s still more effective than most opponents she lines up against and even appeared to become more and more comfortable as the tournament went on. Despite wearing a brace she was confident off the drive and planted hard several times without hesitation as she made her move to the rim. The stroke and form are just as refined as they’ve been in the past and will get their consistency back even more as complete strength returns to the leg. What really stood out in her play this weekend was just how active her play is both with and without the ball. Her cuts are well thought and made with authority leaving defenders standing or chasing. Not many skill players grasp the importance of play off the ball as well as Greenwell does. If her rehab stays on pace and the focus stays as sharp, the scar may be the only reminder left of her training room detour.
Another eye catching addition to the Flight roster this spring is Nina Davis (Memphis, Tenn.) from the high profile program at Memphis Central High School. The 6-0 Davis has been a solid contributor and high profile prospect for several years now but seems primed and ready to make a statement this summer. Mother Nature has afforded the previously leaner built Davis some much need physical size and strength and she already appears comfortable putting them to use. Don’t mistake that for saying she’s heavy, she’s absolutely not but there’s some physicality now in place that’s going to make her a difficult match up for some opponents. Another changing aspect of her game is her inside-out versatility. Generally considered a perimeter player, she is providing quality minutes at the small forward spot and doing so effectively. The ability to create off the dribble is sharper than most small forwards and her first step challenges bigger defenders. While her perimeter shot is still not a strength it has evolved and could be a threat if she can connect from the elbows just enough to keep defenders honest. Defensively she’s able to use her quickness against opposing bugs and rotates quickly as help from the weak side. There seems to be a growing interest on the college level in the swing player who can be productive both on the wing or in the small forward spot. Davis may well be suited to fill that kind of role. It’s an important summer in front of her in many ways.
Mark Lewis is a national evaluator and photographer for Blue Star Basketball as well as the lead columnist for Blue Star Media. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 Division I assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), he logged 25 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and Washington State. Lewis also serves as a member of the prestigious McDonald’s All-American selection committee. He resides with his wife Carol near Houston, Texas.