- Chris Hansen, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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In the ever-changing world of club basketball, things are always moving and usually in all directions at the same time. As the official club season kicks off with the April 17-19 spring evaluation weekend, the lead up has brought tremendous drama. We've had mergers, movers and rumors, oh my.
The latest New York migration is Stefanie Dolson. The 6-foot-5 Connecticut commit is playing for the Tennessee Flight this club season. She is the third high-profile recruit to emerge from outside the historic, geographical footprint of the Flight.
No. 13 in the ESPN HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2010 class, Dolson joins No. 38 Ronika Ransford from Washington, D.C. and super sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis from Santa Ana, Calif. Returning from last year's team are Valencia McFarland (Edward, Miss.), No. 26 in the junior class, and Laquinta Jefferson, who's the No. 42 ranked player in the class.
Dolson previously played for the New York Elite Silver Bullets and the Slate Hill, N.Y. resident was the lone underclassman that played the summer circuit. The other returning underclassman was Aerial Edwards who missed last summer with an injury. She followed several other New Yorkers, including Bria Smith, Doris Ortega and CeCe Dixon, to play with the Philadelphia Belles program this season.
The New York exodus actually left the New York Elite program with a younger core for this season, most of which were talented but inexperienced 2011 players. These players are still coming into their own and Marc Riley and the other coaches in the New York Elite program felt it was in Dolson's best interest to play with a more experienced team and with elite players that have the same drive as Dolson to compete and be great.
Riley called several club teams, among them Boo Williams and the Tennessee Flight. It is rare that a club team coach would openly look for another team for its star player because so much of this business has become status earned by who is on a roster, rather than the development of the players.
Riley had to convince Dolson and her family to run with another team this summer because her loyalty was with the program that put the hours in to develop her undeniable talent. She will play with the New York Elite this summer as well, when she's not playing with the Flight which will play at the Boo Williams Invitational in April, Run to the Roses in Lexington, Ky., Battle in the Boro in Murfreesboro, Tenn., USJN Nationals in Washington D.C. and Nike Nationals in North Augusta, S.C.
Dolson doesn't have much to prove on the club circuit as her play to date earned her a scholarship offer from the 2009 national champions. Ranked as the top post in the 2010 class she is a probable All-American by many of the groups extending such honors.
The Flight program, originally started decades ago by Rick Insell and it comes into this season as favorites with a gigantic target on its back. The favorites a season ago were perennial powerhouse Boo Williams and DFW Elite with its wealth of talent.
"Our goal each year is to win Nike Nationals," Tom Insell, the Flight's director and son of Rick, said.
Insell expects the team will lose some games early in the season and wouldn't reject the possibility of losing to a team at the Boo Williams Invitational that many wouldn't expect. This is all in spite of the fact that this is probably the most talented team the program has ever fielded.
Mosqueda-Lewis is arguably the top sophomore in the country and her exploits with her former club team, West Coast Premier, along with a fantastic sophomore season at Mater Dei High School (Santa Ana, Calif.) catapulted her straight into the spotlight. She has a combination of great shooting range and interior scoring skills. She is classified by most as a wing, but her ability to score on the blocks surpasses that of many Division I caliber post prospects
The other big addition from outside the region is Ransford from the nation's capital. She is one of the fastest rising prospects in the junior class and will be a tremendous playmaker and creator for the Flight. She and McFarland could very well give the Flight the fastest and quickest backcourt on the circuit.
Dolson will give the team a highly skilled post player who can also knock down shots from the 3-point arc. Her footwork, both in the paint and setting ball screens, is impeccable.
The Flight does not have regular practices as a typical club team does. It is simply not feasible with the players coming from different areas, according to Insell. The program's philosophy is if they get players from outside the region then they have to be at a level where they can step in and play. They also arrive several days before tournaments to install their sets and get acclimated to one another.
The program's focus started changing approximately five years ago, Insell said, when his brother Matt Insell, now an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky, was still at the helm. The program began recruiting players from North Carolina, a state without a Nike team within its borders. With success, the team expanded its reach to find players to wear the Flight uniform.
Generally speaking Nike teams are supposed to respect the territory of other teams. If a player is definitely not playing with the team in her region, such as Mosqueda-Lewis, the player basically becomes a free agent. "We just have a respect rule," Mary Thompson, the manager of Nike girl's grassroots basketball, said.
In Dolson's case the only in-state team is the NYC Gauchos, but it was Riley who contacted the Flight.
With a team stocked full of talent it will be hard for anyone to overlook the Flight this club season, no matter how hard they try. The season is yet to tip, but on paper this team is as strong as they come.
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Chris Hansen is the National Director of Prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college-basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a Communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high-school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.