- Glenn Nelson, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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We are not razzing anyone -- it's not our style. Rather we are putting an exclamation point behind the Best of Summer club team.
That would be Boo Williams Elite, out of Hampton, Va., and the supercharged, DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) region.
Yes, we realize the Tennessee Flight Silver won Nike Nationals, which, for all intents and purposes, is the national club-team championship. Yes, that was Boo Williams that the Flight defeated in the Gold Bracket championship game at Nike Nationals. And, yes, our previous Best of Summer club teams (the Maya Moore Georgia Metros and last year's Essence) have been Nike Nationals winners.
In both cases, those teams also demonstrated the highest level of excellence throughout the club-team circuit (which actually starts in the spring). The Tennessee Flight was a top-flight team throughout. We just think, start to finish, the Boo Crew was the most consistently fabulous team of them all.
Unlike the Moore-powered Metros, which also had Alicia Manning as a great Robin to her Batman, and Essence, which had the terrific trio of April Sykes, Tiffany Hayes and Chelsey Lee, Boo Williams Elite was not super-star-powered. Of course, it had tremendous talent, top to bottom, and one of the deepest front lines in the country. But its star, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, No. 3 in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred, struggled more as the summer progressed with a shoulder injury that bit into her activity and therefore conditioning.
Into the void stepped Ta'Shauna Rodgers, the sweet-shooting guard aptly nicknamed "Sugar," and Daniell Jackson, the latest in the long line of ultra-fleet Boo point guards. The Boo Crew also played superb team defense and featured an up-and-coming, 2011 star in post Elizabeth Williams.
Though Boo began the season with a narrow, championship-game loss to DFW Elite T-Jack and ended it with a narrow, championship-game loss to the Flight, it was consistently brilliant in between, taking titles in two of the summer's tougher events -- the AAU Junior Showcase and USJN Nationals.
It was a season that featured the deepest group of contenders we've seen at Nike Nationals and during which neither the new adidas circuit, nor Michael T. White's, were dominated by a single team. That said, we could sum up the best of them all with just one word:
And from the rest of the circuit:
1. Boo Williams Elite
2. Tennessee Flight Silver
3. DFW Elite T-Jack
4. West Coast Premier
5. Philadelphia Belles
7. Cy-Fair Shock
8. Team Breakdown
9. DFW Elite Gold
10. Cal Swish Black
11. Cal Sparks Gold
12. Georgia Metros
13. Oklahoma Select
14. Team Xpress
15. NYC Gauchos
16. Full Package LL Platinum
17. Michigan Crossover
18. NY Elite Silver Bullets
19. Illinois Hustle
20. FBC Blue
21. All Ohio Black
22. East Bay Xplosion
23. Team Anonymous
24. Mile Hi Magic
25. GA/Lina 76ers
26. NW Blazers
27. North Tartan
29. Lady Runnin' Rebels
30. Minnesota NC Heat
Back to the Flight... their Nike Nationals title was good enough to leap frog DFW Elite T-Jack, a team we once thought would be one for the ages. However, they imploded at Nike Nationals, using Brittney Griner as little more than a prop on offense. Tennessee, meanwhile, cruised along behind its usual super-solid coaching, great post play from Jasmine Hassell and terrific perimeter play from Jasmine James. We had intense debates about the relative powers of West Coast Premier and the Philadelphia Belles, both of whom slayed DFW in North Augusta, S.C. We think they're pretty equal, so we bent to star power as the tie-breaker with Monique Oliver and Kaleena Lewis lifting the Left Coasters by an eyelash. We fully expect Maggie Lucas to carry the Belles back to the rare air next year.
This would have been a great year to have invited part-powerhouse, part-traveling-hoops-skill exhibition Exodus to the Nike Nationals dance. Despite great size, all-world shooting from Shenneika Smith and surprising backcourt play, Exodus was unattached at the end of the summer, all dressed up with nowhere to go. Our Breakout Player of Summer, Taber Spani, lifted the Chiney Ogwumike-led Cy-Fair Shock from very good to the cusp of greatness.
Two other teams we would have loved to have seen in a national-summer-title free-for-all would have been Team Breakdown, which made considerable waves behind uber-talented Bianca Lutley, and Cal Sparks Gold, which won the Michael T. White events and could have settled the best of SoCal issue with Cal Swish Black (winners of End of the Trail and River City Classic), West Coast Elite and FBC Blue, the Super 64 runners-up.
In between all the Southern Californians was the "second" DFW Elite team, Gold version, led by rankings climbing posts Cokie Reed and Nikki Green. We rated them among the nation's top 10 this summer. Just behind was one of the most athletic teams in the country, the Georgia Metros. A couple more teams who could've crashed a national-championship tournament were Oklahoma Select (Trotters), winners over FBC in Vegas, and TeamXpress, which finished second to Exodus at Deep South in the spring and to the Sparks at Showtime Nationals.
The Gauchos carried the NYC tag, but they mostly were from New Jersey with one excellent Pennsylvanian in Markel Walker and a very good New Yorker in China Crosby. The Full Package LL Platinum was a very good young team, led by one of the top 2010 prospects in Michala Johnson but bolstered by a top 2009 recruit in Ashley Wilson. With one of the best players of the summer in Destiny Williams and one of the top point-guard prospects in Sharena Taylor, plus good inside depth, the Michigan Crossover should have broken through to the elite level but never quite could. Meanwhile, full of Long Islanders, the Silver Bullets made waves to Boo, made the finals of the Midwest Showdown and were the only non-Nike team at Nike Nationals.
The Illinois Hustle parlayed solid post play from Kelsey Smith, athletic scoring and defense from Adrienne GodBold and long-distance punch from 2010 prospect Trisha Liston into a Silver Bracket championship slot at Nike Nationals. All Ohio made noise from spring through Nike Nationals behind the charismatic Karisma Penn, and East Bay Xplosion was bigger than the sum of its parts, with a bracket championship berth at End of the Trail and runner-up finish at Showtime Nationals. We'd loved to have seen many of these teams try to match up with NABI champion Team Anonymous and its parade of long-distance shooters and slashers marshalled by the magnificent Angel Goodrich.
Mile Hi Magic had two top prospects in Sam Ostarello and Joanna McFarland and two other ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred members in Diana Rolniak and Mariah Williams and stayed in the hunt everywhere it went. The GA/Lina 76ers had as much athletic depth as any team in the country, particularly in the form of Kristi Bellock, whose talents bubbled over marvelously at Nike Nationals. The Northwest Blazers did not play an ambitious schedule, but then again had Joslyn Tinkle for the End of the Trail before losing her to USA Basketball for the FIBA U18 Americas Championship, where she averaged 7.2 points and 5.8 rebounds.
North Tartan had its usual contingent of bigs, led by 6-4 Katie Loberg, and had complementary guard play from Shakila Boler until she injured a knee just before the midway point in July. The defending Best of Summer team, Essence, got way younger, with Rachel Hallivay, a 6-3 post in the 2012 class, a huge reason to believe they'll be back at or near the top in little time. With top 50 prospect Shante Evans owning the painted area, the Lady Runnin' Rebels were the class of the Blue Chip circuit. And the state of Minnesota earned some second and third looks as the second-best team in the land of 1,000 lakes, the NC Heat with downtown scorer Tayler Hill, proved itself belonging among the best in the nation.
Chris Hansen, Mark Lewis and Mindi Rice contributed to this report.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American Selection Committees, he formerly coached girl's club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.