- Chris Hansen, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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Taber Spani of Lee's Summit, Mo., may not be 6-foot-8 nor be able to dunk like the No. 1 player in the 2009 class, Brittney Griner, can. Yet her performance this summer with the Cy-Fair Shock was unmatched.
Spani didn't even have a club team as late as May , but that didn't stop her from earning the ESPN HoopGurlz honor as Best Player of the Summer.
Wanting a chance to compete against the best of the best, Spani showed out at the Nike Regional Skills Academy in Houston, Texas, almost as an audition. Spani is not a one-on-one style of player but entertained the entire camp with her six straight baskets and victory in the one-on-one championship. Her passionate play in Houston earned a spot in the National Nike Skills Academy in June where she further proved she belonged with the nation's elite.
On the court Spani is many things – a deadly shooter, a crafty passer, a dynamic rebounder, a go-to player in the clutch - but she ultimately was glue player even on a team for which she hadn't for years.
Spani made everyone around her better with her presence and her style of play. She didn't need touches offensively every possession to make an impact and when she did have the ball in her hands she had a knack for making big shots. Her positive attitude on the court was infectious and she had a very good Cy-Fair team playing great most of the summer, which is why she tops our list of top players in our Best of Summer Series.
Best Players of Summer 2008
1. Taber Spani (2009), Cy-Fair Shock
2. Ta'Shauna Rodgers (2009), Boo Williams Elite
3. Brittney Griner (2009), DFW Elite
4. Lindsay Sherbert (2010), Cal Swish Black
5. Destiny Williams (2009), Michigan Crossover
6. Kaleena Lewis (2011), West Coast Premier
7. Samarie Walker (2010), Ohio Lady Diamonds
8. Chiney Ogwumike (2010), Cy-Fair Shock
9. Cokie Reed (2009), DFW Elite
10. Skylar Diggins (2009), Team USA/Nike Skills
11. Markel Walker (2009), NYC Gauchos
12. Jasmine Hassell (2009), Tennessee Flight Silver
13. Monique Oliver (2009), West Coast Premier
14. Michala Johnson (2010), Full Package
15. Bianca Lutley (2009), Team Breakdown
16. Lauren Avant (2010), Memphis Elite
17. Erica Wheeler (2009), Essence
18. Kaneisha Horn (2010), Alabama RoadRunners
19. Jasmine James (2009), Tennessee Flight Silver
20. Tayler Hill (2009), Minnesota NC Heat
No list of top performers would be complete without Ta'Shauna Rodgers of Suffolk, Va., near the top. She led the top team of the summer, Boo Williams Elite, to a nearly perfect summer circuit with just two losses. Rodgers falls into the winner category above all else because she does whatever it takes to get the win.
Brittany Griner and Lindsay Sherbert also belong in the winner class. Both impressed with their individual efforts but also by helping lead their respective teams to championships most of the summer. Sherbert's Cal Swish won the End of the Trail in Oregon City, Ore., as well as the River City Classic in Memphis, Tenn., while Griner's DFW team won every tournament they entered dating back to April except the last one of the summer, Nike Nationals.
This list of players represents all styles and positions and graduating classes on the court. The 2009 class has long been touted as the best class of "bigs" in recent memory. Destiny Williams from Benton Harbor, Mich., not only played great basketball but improved tournament-to-tournament this summer and looked like one of the most versatile forwards in the class.
The baby of the group, Kaleena Lewis, just a 2011 prospect, created quite a buzz with her emergence as most than just a complementary shooter. It is really scary to think she has three more years at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., to develop her game.
Chiney Ogwumike of Cypress, Texas, and a teammate of Spani's this summer, played venerably in her first season without her older sister, Nneka Ogwumike (Stanford), in the paint with her. Her leadership on the court really shows she is ahead of her years as a player from the 2010 class.
Other impressive bigs making the list include three work horses in the middle in Jasmine Hassell of Lebonon, Tenn., and Monique Oliver of Long Beach, Calif., and Cokie Reed of Waco, Texas, as well as a promising young 2010 post Michala Johnson from Bellwood, Ill.
On the perimeter both Samarie Walker of Dayton, Ohio, and Kaneisha Horn of Birmingham, Ala., combined explosiveness and scoring on the wing. Walker was a monster on the glass repeatedly and Horn was perhaps one of most physical wing players regardless of class. The two will be among the most hotly recruited in the 2010 class.
At the point guard position Skylar Diggins' play from April through the Nike National Skills Academy was impressive enough, but the South Bend, Ind., native also made the USA Basketball U18 team and went on to win gold for her country in Argentina.
Lauren Avant of Memphis, Tenn., captured an AAU U15 National Championship with the Memphis Elite and showcased her ability to attack and score off the dribble from the point guard position. Tayler Hill showed similar scoring ability for her Minnesota NC Heat team though Hill sprinkled in some nice 3-point shooting as well. Speaking of shooting, the clutch performance of Jasmine James at the Nike Nationals championship game catapulted her into the top 20.
Clay Kallam, Mark Lewis, Glenn Nelson and Mindi Rice contributed to this report.
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Chris Hansen covers girls' high school basketball nationally for ESPN.com and leads the panel that ranks and evaluates players for the network. He is a graduate of the University of Washington with a Communications degree. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The second part of the Best of Summer Series looks at the Top Gunners.