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Preseason Hoops: Five Burning Questions

11/10/2009
Glenn Nelson

1. Is California the best in all the land?

It goes in cycles. In the '90s, Minnesota produced 22 Division I scholarship players in one year and Oregon was home to a series of powerhouse teams. This century, Christ the King led a New York dominance for several years and Texas, Illinois and Ohio all claimed elite status as well.

But this season, it's California's turn. The top two teams in the preseason ESPN RISE FAB 50 are St. Mary's (Stockton) and Mater Dei (Santa Ana) -- and Mater Dei lost to No. 6 Brea Olinda in postseason last season. The state is so deep in talent, another St. Mary's (Berkeley) and Mater Dei (Chula Vista) -- while pretty much unknown outside of their areas -- would be title threats in many of the smaller states in the country.

The Golden State offers more than the power trio of St. Mary's, Mater Dei and Brea. Long Beach Poly has its usual horde of talented players, and Sacramento has three seniors who will play at major colleges.

Of course, the wheel will turn again next year, and California will sink back to the pack. But in 2009-10, there's no doubt where the best teams are -- no matter what they say in Texas, Illinois, Florida, Ohio and Georgia.

2. Is there a game-changing player like Candace Parker or Brittney Griner on the horizon?

To say Parker and Griner are game-changers might be an understatement. Parker was the WNBA MVP in her first season, and Griner collected so much Internet attention from people watching her dunks, blocks and other displays of athleticism last season at Nimitz (Houston, Texas) that she practically created a cottage industry.

Texas has another few standouts on the way up, such as Hoopgurlz No. 1 Chiney Ogwumike, but there is no one on the horizon quite like Griner. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) has two players near the top of their national recruiting classes -- junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and sophomore Jordan Adams -- but to say either one is in that super elite status is not accurate, at least not yet.

Last year's ESPN RISE Freshman of the Year, Morgan Tuck of Bolingbrook (Ill.), has shown signs of being super elite but is coming off an ACL injury from last May.

3. Should girls' teams play before the boys, or in a different gym?

Here's the hard truth: Students would rather watch a decent boys' team than a great girls' team. It's true in high school and it's true in college, with rare exceptions. So what good does it do to have the boys' varsity play at one site and the girls at another?

Some ardent fans of the girls' game say the only way for girls to build a fan base is to go off on their own. But in the years since Title IX was enacted, it's pretty clear that fan base is going to be smaller than the boys'. To maximize the fun for the players and fans, an obvious solution is to have the girls play before the boys at the same site.

The result? More people get to see how good girls' basketball has become, and the players get the recognition and support they deserve.

4. Will any other school be able to out-recruit UConn and Tennessee?

This is a trick question because it depends on the year. In 2009, Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt had few scholarships to hand out and neither NCAA perennial power's class was considered in the top 10 of the ESPNU rankings. Neither got Brittney Griner, either, as she is going to play this season at Baylor.

In 2008, Tennessee and UConn had much more to hand out and were No. 1 and No. 2 in ESPNU's rankings. The Vols had six signees from that class and the Huskies four, including Maya Moore. The lure of UConn is also shown with the recent commitment of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis from California. For players as highly regarded as her, it's still going to take quite an effort -- any maybe some luck -- for colleges other than UConn or Tennessee to get them.

5. Will the ACL epidemic ever go away?

Shanna Crossley plays in the WNBA for the San Antonio Silver Stars, and throughout her college and pro career she did every available preventative exercise and workout regimen to strengthen her knees and prevent an ACL injury. Then she was playing two-on-two, planted to make a backdoor cut and her ACL turned into spaghetti.

As happens often in women's basketball, Crossley's ACL tore without contact or any unusual stress or strain. The natural question is, "Why?" The unnatural answer in these days of scientific wonders: "Nobody knows."

Many theories have been advanced, but despite the best efforts of coaches, trainers and players, ACL injuries are a mystery plague in the women's game. Though constant research has improved the situation slightly, it seems as if the price of women's basketball is a much higher incidence of devastating knee injuries than on the men's side. That doesn't mean everyone should shrug their shoulders and quit trying to prevent ACL tears. But it does mean that, as with football, serious injuries come with the territory.