Along the long recruiting trail, we realize we sometimes come off as wimps to college coaches. They ask us how we are and we reply, "Tired." They've been on the road, too, and feel the exhaustion of one plane ride and hotel room too many. But their summer travels begin in July.
Ours begin in April. Even if you strike the spring evaluation weekend, we've been on the long and winding road through six Nike Regional Skills Academies, several big club tournaments in May, the USA Basketball trials and FIBA Americas tournament before embarking on our 22-event march through July that took us as far as France.
We've logged as many frequent-flier miles as George Clooney's character in "Up in the Air."
In addition to the bags under our eyes, what the travels confer upon us is a great sense of where the game of girls' basketball sits today. It's not much of a revelation to point out that players now are taller, faster and more athletic than ever before. Just watch the officials huff and puff to keep up with them. What we're also seeing is an extraordinary climb in the game's discernible, baseline skills. And, in keeping with ESPN HoopGurlz tradition, we present our annual systems check in the form of Best of Summer, version 2010. These, of course, is are not all-inclusive lists (though all alphabetized) but, as far and wide as we traveled this summer, we came as close as we ever have.
Keani Albanez, Cal Storm Taurasi
Lexie Brown, Georgia Ice
Nicole Boudreau, New England Shooting Stars
Mariah Byard, North Marion
Chandler Cooper, Drake Reed Basketball Club- deepest range in the business.
Melissa Dixon -- Midwest Elite Platinum -- Benefactor of Logic's penetrate and pitch
Dejanane Grant, NYC Gauchos
Ahjalee Harvey, West Coast Premier
Hannah Huffman, East Bay Xplosion
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, USA Basketball
Peyton Little, Cy-Fair
Michaela Mabrey, NJ Demons
Ally Mallot, USA Basketball
Megan Rogowski, Illinois Hustle
Mackenzie Sells, Tennessee Flight
Lindsay Stamp, Erie Saints
Probably no category provides more of a sense of optimism than this one. For many years, coaches around the country have been playing veritable Chicken Littles, warning that the sky has been falling on the art of shooting a basketball. But from Byard's textbook form, to Boudreau's seven 3s and plenty of swagger at the AAU 15U Division II nationals, to Cooper's deep range, to Malott's and Mosequeda-Lewis' machine-like precision for Team USA, to Little's use of screens, to Mabrey's face-guarded, long-distance pulls, to Rogowski's blue-collar effort in creating her looks, this is the most diversified and impressive list we've put together.
Delivering the basketball certainly is not a passing fancy in girls' basketball. This list may be shorter, but it's a reflection of higher standards. There are legions who can make the no-look or behind-the-back passes, but, with their vision and ability to create proper angles, these special deliverers have turned passing into an artform. From Burdick's passing from the four, to Clay's ability to create, to Goss' vision, there is plenty of evidence here to suggest that at least an elite unit of players have taken a quantum leap forward in their understanding of how the game is played and, in turn, how to manipulate its basic tenets to create outcomes.
Khadijah Ellison, City Rocks
Makayla Epps, Kentucky Premier
Aaliyah Lewis, Ring City 15
Tyler Scaife, Westside Elite
If you just listened to the "ohhhs" and "ahhhs" that emanated from courts around the country this summer, you'd know that the one category, hands down, where the girls have caught the boys is this one. Summertime in girls' basketball has become a living mixtape of just sick, sick dribbling mastery. Freeze-framers Ellison and Jefferson might be a hair above the rest, for now, but one of our panelists called Johnson "a female version of Hot Sauce," while another called 8th grader Canada an "upgraded version" of today's best. Yikes! Waiting for what the next summer will bring is like waiting for the next season of "Mad Men." Well, make that "Mad Handles."
Brianna Banks, Essence
Tiffany Jones, Exodus NYC
Dakota Gonzalez, Utah Swoosh (2013)
Dylan Gonzalez, Utah Swoosh
Brittney Hardy, Cy-Fair
Izzy Harrison, Tennessee Flight
Rachel Hollivay, Essence
Alexis Lloyd, Lady Fire
Jewel Loyd, Team USA
Shakena Richardson, Ring City
While the list of shooters may have been our biggest source of pride, this list of prime-time defenders is a tribute and proud area for the coaches. The number of players willing to give up body and glory for a stop is something we think separates the girls from the boys. There are teams like DFW Elite and West Coast Premier with program-wide commitments to producing glove-like defenders, and the growing legion of fly-swatters is further illustration of the game's growing explosiveness. We don't think it's any coincidence that four players on this list played for the gold-medal-winning USA U17 team. Defense is the American identity in the girls' game.
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Lisa Bodine is a national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. A native of Queens, N.Y., she began her coaching career in 1993 with the NY Gazelles, has coached with D.C.-based Team Unique, and in 2009 she was named DAC Co-Coach of the Year after leading Wakefield Country Day School in Flint Hill, Va., to its first-ever conference title. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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.
Kara (Harrison) Howe founded and coached in the Utah Sky club program, which sent several players, including sister Michelle, a recent Stanford, graduate to Division I schools. She played college basketball at Utah Valley State, was an all-state performer at Alta High School in Sandy, Utah, and coached high school in the Salt Lake area. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Kelvin Powell is a national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. A former coach and club-program director, he operates Roundball Journal, a leading prep scouting service, and is a contributing editor at SLAM Magazine, as well as a member of the McDonald's All-American and the Gatorade National and State Player of the Year Selection Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lindsay Schnell is a staff writer for HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Oregon State University, she has been involved in the Oregon girls' basketball community for most her life as a player, high school coach, writer and fan. She also has been regular contributor to the Oregonian and won several awards for her writing. She can be reached at email@example.com.