- Glenn Nelson, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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HAMPTON, Va. - In a word, scary.
DFW's oddly-monikered TJack Elite dominated Boo Williams' Battle of the Best in this past weekend, rolling to the tournament title without ever being seriously threatened.
Although they won the championship 54-49 (over the host team), DFW trailed only once, at 19-18, and led by 14 with 3:59 left.
While a Tierra Ruffin-Pratt 3 did cut the margin to 53-49, the BWSL Elite were never within one possession of the lead during the final 12:09.
And even more impressive, the Texans took care of business with tourney MVP Brittney Griner having an off game, with just 11 points. Griner, like most of the players, seemed worn down at the end of the two-day session. (It was originally supposed to be a Friday-through-Sunday event, but a snafu with NCAA accreditation placed all the games on Saturday and Sunday.)
The format was unusual for this type of event. Rather than pool play, the top 16 teams were placed in a single-elimination bracket, which, as winning coach Daryl Horton said, led "to good games every time out. It wasn't like there would be an easy pool game."
But the TJack Elite were simply too good, no matter what the format. Their game scores: 81-53 over the Philadelphia Comets, which then went on to success in the losers bracket, 65-52 over Essence, another strong team, 79-58 over the New York Elite in the semis and then 54-49 in the championship.
Still not impressed? The "second" DFW team finished fifth, anchored by posts Cokie Reed and Nikki Green and featuring the Lincoln High guard tandem of Chynna Brown and Brittany Gowans. And just for the record, DFW had two more U16 teams in the tournament, plus the most impressive U13 player from Texas, and, perhaps, the country, in Alexis Jones, who will likely soon be playing with the big girls despite not being in high school yet.
Marques Jackson has assembled this powerhouse by encouraging girls to work harder on their games and focus as much, if not more, on skill development as spending time traveling to tournaments.
"Now the kids are playing year-round," he says, which they didn't do in the past primarily because no one took girls basketball seriously enough. "It's always been about football in Texas, but the colleges are helping [by having successful programs].
"They're having a big impact."
Jackson added: "The biggest selling point is that we're taking them around the country. The Texas colleges don't just recruit in Texas any more, so it's important for our girls to get out and compete against the best in the country."
DFW has an advantage many club teams don't because many Texas high school teams are prevented from traveling to major tournaments during the winter, so the only intersectional outlet is through summer basketball.
And once these players are assembled, they run and shoot and play up-tempo basketball.
"We're going to play the way we play," says Horton about his team's style, and that's just what they did against Boo Williams. Even when the hosts made runs, DFW continued to push tempo -- most notably Odyssey Sims, who led all scorers with 25 hard-earned points.
"I'm tired and sore," said Sims after the game.
Her fatigue and pain are certainly understandable; she was hit repeatedly on her left-handed forays to the basket. Of course, someone had to score since BWSL was focused on stopping Griner.
"We were trying to run plays for her, but they were double-teaming her," said Sims.
Perhaps her most impressive play came with DFW leading 40-32 with 9:55 left. The 5-6 Sims got a rebound, dribbled the length of the court and scored in what seemed like a heartbeat, and the Virginians never recovered.
Lauren Flores also was all-tournament for DFW, but Tierra Rogers might have been more deserving. Rogers is noted as a demon defender, but she also went hard to the rim, and had some big baskets in the earlier games. Rogers played for nationally-ranked Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) last year. But it's possible, if not likely, that she will move to Texas for her senior season after the tragic death of her father. That means, of course, she could wind up playing with Griner at Nimitz, with Sims at MacArthur or with any of the other top-flight DFW talent at what would immediately become a powerhouse school.
Shauntel Nobles and Jordan Madden also were key contributors for DFW and held off a solid BWSL team that featured 6-3 Asya Bussie, 5-4 Daniell Jackson, 5-8 Ta-Shauna Rodger and, of course, the indefatigable Ruffin-Pratt, who's still unable to raise her left arm above her head after dislocating her shoulder, Candace Parker style, during the Virginia playoffs.
In the end, DFW was just too much -- and Jackson, who runs the club, promises sooner or later, all the top talent will play on the same team. And since half the available talent won the toughest tournament in April with ease, it's more than a little scary to think what might happen if all the horses were pulling the same wagon.
Clay Kallam is a columnist and contributor to ESPN's HoopGurlz.com. He was the founder of Full Court Press, an online magazine devoted to women's basketball; the author of "Girls Basketball: Building a Winning Program" and a voter for several national awards, including McDonald's and Parade All-Americans and the Wooden Award.
For more in-depth coverage of women's college-basketball prospects and girl's basketball, visit HoopGurlz.com