- Chris Hansen, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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In baseball, fans love the long ball and so many people focus on scoring in basketball that those skilled at other vital parts of the game don't often enough get their due. The seemingly long lost art of passing made a bit of a comeback this summer as did those players who truly excel on the defensive end of the court.
Gray isn't the fastest kid playing the point-guard position and she scores the ball well. Griner -- well -- she breaks the mold at any position. Both are actually closer to the WNBA model than their current levels. Gray is a big, strong point guard who can score the ball as well as many shooting guards, yet ESPN HoopGurlz recognizes her as the summer's best passer while Griner's block party known as the month of July earns her top defensive honors in the Best of Summer Series Part Three.
Vision is not spared for our collection of crafty passers. These players are constantly scanning the court, finding passing lanes and angles that the average player can't. Often times the distributors dole out dimes faster than a cheap Las Vegas slot machine. Gray, for example, not only delivers the ball on the spot but does it with just enough flare to keep the game fun. From no-look passes to a behind-the-back fling, she knows how to entertain as well as execute.
Griner may have the ability to lockdown an entire team with her shot blocking and range, but there are a number of other players that brought defense back with the zest of Justin Timberlake.
Dime Droppers (passers)
1. Chelsea Gray (2010), Cal Storm
2. Skylar Diggins (2009), The Family/USA Basketball
3. Jonae Ervin (2009), Cal Swish
4. Bria Hartley (2010), Exodus NYC
5. Valencia McFarland (2010), Tennessee Flight
6. Shakila Boler (2010), North Tartan
7. Monique Smalls (2009), Cy-Fair
8. Chloe Wells (2010), FBC Blue
9. Carlie Needles (2011), Colorado Hoopsters
10. China Crosby (2009), NYC Gauchos
11. Briyona Canty (2011), SJ Boro Blitz
12. Katie Rutan (2009), Philadelphia Belles
13. Meighan Simmons (2010), TeamXpress
14. Adrienne Pratcher (2009), Memphis Lady Bobcats
15. Kaitlyn Peterson (2009), TSIN Gold
Chloe Wells of Fontana, Calif., and Bria Hartley of North Babylon, N.Y., a pair of 2010 up and comers, both have the ability to engage defenders with their dribble attacks only to set up a teammate for an easy score. The best point guards are said to make those around her look even better than they are and players such as Shakila Boler, Skylar Diggins, Jonae Ervin, Adrienne Pratcher, Meighan Simmons, and Monique Smalls all fit that description.
Witty point guards are not the only players who deliver passes that are dime worthy. Some players have such a respected offensive punch that defenses key on them to take away their bread and butter. Katie Rutan of Philadelphia, Pa., was included in our Top Gunners list and she used her incredible shooting stroke and the attention it drew to her to find teammates slashing to the cup. She also was one of the more skilled post-entry passers, a truly lost art.
Carlie Needles of Parker, Colo., is a tireless worker who pursues passing angles religiously on the floor. While not as shifty as a player like China Crosby (Bronx, N.Y.) both have a knack for taking an extra dribble or two to create better angles to deliver the ball where defenders have no chance of tipping it.
There are also a few speed demons out there that somehow, even at blinding speeds, see plays before they happen. Briyona Canty of Willingboro, N.J., tops that list. She is as speedy as any from baseline to baseline and is completely in control at those speeds, sometimes delivering passes to unsuspecting teammates.
Another aspect of passing often underappreciated by the average spectator is where the ball is actually delivered. Just because the recipient caught the ball doesn't make it a good pass. Players like Kaitlyn Peterson of Laguna Hills, Calif., hit the shooters in the shot pocket, post players on their way to the basket and slashers out in front of their cuts. For a shooter nothing is more frustrating than having your body balanced and ready to knock down that big shot only to have to lunge to the side to catch the kick-out pass. With Peterson that almost never happens.
Lockdown Artists (best defenders)
1. Brittney Griner (2009), DFW T-Jack Elite
2. Eliza Pierre (2009), West Coast Premier
3. Deaundra Young (FGB)
4. Terry Green (2009), NY Elite
5. Daniell Jackson (2009), Boo Williams Elite
6. Adrienne Godbold (2009) Illinois Hustle
7. Nyree Williams (2009), Team Unique
8. Kiyana Stamps (2009), West Coast Premier
9. Odyssey Sims (DFW)
10. Elizabeth Williams (2011), Boo Williams Elite
11. Chiney Ogwumike (Cy-Fair Shock Nike Elite)
12. Tierra Rogers (DFW TJack Elite)
There was a buzz in the gym every time West Coast Premier took the court and it was usually coming from the college coaches section as coaches from coast to coast watched dumbfounded by what they were witnessing. They watched Eliza Pierre of Pasadena, Calif., play a tenacious brand of defense that was unmatched by any other perimeter player all summer. She tormented, intimidated and dominated the opposition with her incredible quickness, length and strength and she did so every single possession. Her exploits defensively became one of the most common subjects among club coaches as well as they schemed to lessen her pressure, in many cases leading to anyone but a point guard bringing the ball up.
However Pierre alone was not the only reason ESPN HoopGurlz frequently referred to Premier's team as one of the best in the nation. Pierre had quite an impressive running mate in the backcourt in Kiyanna Stamps of Moreno Valley, Calif. Like Pierre, Stamps handled both guard spots and applied constant pressure. The two seemed like interchangeable parts which gave the opposition fits.
Daniell Jackson of Dumfries, Va., stands just 5-3 but that aids her in completely besieging opposing point guards. She has extremely quick hands and if the ballhandler let down her guard even once Jackson was taking it and converting it into two points on the other end. There wasn't a guard too quick, too strong, or too shifty for Jackson who was really the unsung hero for the summer's most dominant team.
Another dynamic defensive duo played for DFW. When Tierra Rogers of Pacifica, Calif., and Odyssey Sims of Irving, Texas, locked in collectively on the defensive end of the floor they were a virtually unbreakable two-player full court press. Their presence, combined with Griner's, is a big reason DFW lost just twice between April and July.
There is another breed of defender with size to defend inside and out, and length to make passing lanes disappear in an instant. Terry Green of Brightwaters, N.Y., Nyree Williams of Ellicott City, Md., and Deaundra Young of Titusville, Fla., fit the bill. All three are in the 6-1 to 6-2 range and have the ability to defend all five positions on the floor if needed.
Chiney Ogwumike of Cypress, Texas, is another long player who can defend multiple positions. Her ability to block shots makes her a little more reliable post defender against the bigger posts yet she showed great anticipation skills giving her coaches plenty of flexibility in how to utilize her athleticism.
Speaking of post defense there weren't many as imposing in the paint as Elizabeth Williams of Virginia Beach, Va. The 6-3 interior force for Boo Williams Elite is just a 2011 prospect so look out in the lane the next three years.
Wrapping up our defensive dozen is Adrienne GodBold, from Chicago, Ill., who brings the aggression and confidence to defending the ball which makes a good defender potentially great.
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Clay Kallam, Mark Lewis, Glenn Nelson and Mindi Rice contributed to this report
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 email@example.com.