- Chris Hansen, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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BEAVERTON, Ore. -- Nineteen of the nation's top player came from all walks of life to Nike's National Skills Academy. The event features speed demons, high risers, hyper-quick cats, savvy half-courters, righties, lefties, shooters, scorers, lock-down defenders and everything else you can think of.
The contrast of styles really made for some interesting matchups and opportunities to learn. During the opening scrimmage of the first session super scorer Taber Spani found out early that things weren't going to come easy. Despite being introduced to Brittney Griner and her shot-blocking exploits at the Houston Regional Skills Academy, Spani found two of her shots erased right off the bat. The first may have been the play of the day as Spani pulled the trigger on a 3-point shot only to have Griner swat the shot out of mid-air. A few plays later a turnaround jumper from the right block found Griner's big paw on it.
This group is one of the biggest and most athletic to play in this event. Players such as Christina Marinacci, who is known for reading defenses and beating the opposition with smarts, find themselves surrounded by quicker, faster players. Faced with so much athleticism, Marinacci found herself playing faster, trying to keep up, but also getting away from what she does best. And just when you think the trailblazing game was going to dominate the day, the scrimmage rules were set to eliminate transition so the players could focus on half-court play. Monday's skills drills focused on half-court movement, so it made sense to slow the scrimmage down to keep the players working on the skills not falling into their comfort zone of playing solely in transition.
The surprise of the day really shouldn't have been. Kaleena Lewis stood out but not with perimeter shooting, as might be expected. She was one of the best in the post drills, both using her body and with footwork. It is rare to find a shooter who likes contact, let alone excels with it like this fab freshman. She put on a clinic of her own.
The 19 participants were broken into three teams today. Team 1 (Yellow) -- Skylar Diggins, Tayler Hill, Taber Spani, Cokie Reed, Jasmine Hassell and Marinacci. Team 2 (White) -- Odyssey Sims, Erica Wheeler, Afure Jemerigbe, Chiney Ogwumike, Monique Oliver and Brandon. Team 3 (Blue) -- Morgan Toles, Chelsea Gray, Shenneika Smith, Lewis, Kaneisha Horn and Griner.
The first scrimmage included all three teams rotating with the team scoring staying on offense, while the other team waiting on the opposite end to play defense creating a continuous game of five-on-five.
With the Yellow and Blue teams matching up in the first scrimmage, Griner dominated with two baskets, two big blocks and causing general havoc for the Yellow team's offense. Reed hit a bucket for yellow, while Lewis and Horn also scored for blue, which advanced to a matchup against the white team with a 4-3 win.
Against White, Horn scored the only buckets for the Blue team, while Oliver carried the White squad. Oliver hit two layups and a free throw for a 5-3 win by the white team.
From there, the three squads moved into an alternating scrimmage, during which the White team won with three points to the Yellow team's two and blue's one. Griner scored the only bucket for the Blue team on a layup, while Hassell and Diggins both hit free throws for Yellow's two points.
Between Yellow's two and Blue's one point, the White team scored all three of its baskets. Brandon started it off with a nice floater, followed by a free throw from Ogwumike. During scramble for a rebound, Sims pulled down the ball and threw up a jumper for Yellow's final bucket.
Second scrimmage -- two teams:
With the girls split into two teams playing a five-minute, full-court scrimmage, the white squad raced past the blue team, 8-2.
Nearly every player on the White team scored a bucket, led by two from Oliver. Sims showed her speed, hitting a layin on a fast break, while Brandon and Jemerigbe also scored on layups of their own. Reed threw in a hook shot for her basket, while Ogwumike hit a nice fall-away jumper. Toles added a free throw to give the Blue team eight points.
For the Blue team, Diggins hit a midrange baseline jumper midway through the scrimmage and Horn hit a basket at the buzzer for the team's second point.
One invitee, Kelsey Bone, did not make the trip to Beaverton. Nike grassroots director Mary Thompson was notified of an illness on Sunday... Brittney Griner finally found a drawback to her dunking and shot blocking -- a bruised hand. She smacked her hand on the rim blocking a shot early in the session today and further aggravated it dunking the ball in drill work. She iced it and was able to finish out the day missing very little... Tierra Ruffin-Pratt was limited to drill work only on Monday to rest her injured shoulder which has been bothering her since April. She will not participate in any of the scrimmages this week. Further restricting her was a case of jumper's knee, so the nation's No. 3 ranked player saw very little court time.
Chris Hansen covers girls' high school basketball nationally for ESPN.com and leads the panel that ranks and evaluates players for the network. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Day 1 of the Nike Skills Academy kicks off with a Griner block party and plenty of contrasting styles, writes Chris Hansen.