- Glenn Nelson, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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It probably should come as little surprise that, for a website that covers girl's high-school basketball and women's college-basketball prospects, its news tends to get dominated by its No. 1 ranked player. The surprise is how thoroughly the No. 1s have dominated the past couple years.
In 2006, it was Maya Moore's seemingly unquenchable thirst for excellence that dominated the the year. In fact, she makes a reappearance in 2007 at No. 4. Last year definitely belonged to Elena Delle Donne -- on the news front, at least.
Delle Donne has found much favor with evaluators for her combination of size, at 6-foot-4, and incredible long-distance shooting ability -- a combination that is favored to help evolve the women's game. Because she is skilled, intelligent, articulate and attractive, the Wilmington, Del., native also is thought to be, along with the likes of Candace Parker, one of the future faces of the game.
Her decision to take the summer off, due to burnout, therefore was as stunning a development that has come out of the girl's prep ranks in years. Shortly after returning to the court, Delle Donne then claimed the spotlight again, settling a dogged recruiting battle between archrivals Connecticut and Tennessee in favor of the Huskies. Closing out the year, mononucleosis forced Delle Donne to sit out the Nike Tournament of Champions, which had been her biggest stage throughout high school.
On the court, Delle Donne turned the Comets of Pennsylvania into the country's top team at the Boo Williams Invitational in April, but, all in all, the year saw too little of her splendid hooping skills.
The following are our choices for the top stories from our first year as an independent website:
HoopGurlz.com's Top Stories of 2007
Elena Delle Donne, citing burnout, shocked the country by taking the summer away from basketball. In the process, she gave up a certain roster spot on the USA Basketball U19 team that claimed a gold medal at the World Championships in August. Delle Donne told HoopGurlz.com that, at one point, she seriously considered walking away from the sport for good. That the No. 1 player in the country took such a stand trained a spotlight on the pressures that teenagers face on the whirlwind path to college athletic scholarships. The death of Skip Prosser, the men's coach at Wake Forest, brough further focus to a system badly in need of reform. Meanwhile, Delle Donne slaked her basketball Jones by volunteering at the Meadowood School, an elementary school for disabled kids in her hometown of Wilmington, Del.
Carly Stowell of Kent, Wash., was just a week short of her 15th birthday on the eve of the Deep South Classic in the Raleigh-Durham area last April. While doing some homework, she gave her mother a distant look, collapsed and died in the hotel of her team, the Emerald City Legends. Stowell was an extraordinary girl -- a basketball star and gifted musician whowas loved by her teammates and coaches. Her parents, Chuck and Elena, took over the Legends after coach Mo Hines was hired as a Washington State University assistant. They also started the Carly Stowell Foundation, which aims to provide educational aid in athletics and music. Stowell's high school, Kentlake, also retired her jersey number and will hang a commemorative plaque and photo in its gym.
The news was not simply that Tennessee signed the No. 1 class for the second straight year, it was that the Lady Vols did so in a year so thoroughly dominated by college basketball's superpowers. Tennesse, No. 2 Connecticut, No. 3 Rutgers and No. 4 LSU combined to sign an eye-popping 13 of the top 20 prospects in the HoopGurlz Hundred for the 2008 class. To stave off three other classes bursting with talent, coach Pat Summitt landed five of the top 20 prospects -- No. 3 Glory Johnson, of Knoxville, Tenn.; No. 4 Amber Gray of Cincinnati, Ohio; No. 8 Shekinna Stricklen of Morrilton, Ark.; No. 15 Alicia Manning of Woodstock, Ga., and No. 20 Alyssia Brewer of Sapulpa, Okla. The class reminds many of the so-called "Super Six" of 2004, which yielded superstar Candace Parker.
It was a very good year for Maya Moore, the consensus No. 1 player in the 2007 class. Behind Moore's 29 points in the championship game, Collins Hill of Suwanee, Ga., three-peated as Georgia state champions, finished 31-0 and was the consensus pick as the No. 1 high-school team in the country. With Moore providing heroics of every nature, Collins Hill earlier in the season survived four cross-country flights in nine days and beat seven nationally ranked teams in just 12 days, winning the Nike Tournament of Champions as well as the T-Mobile Invitational. Collins Hill lost just three of 131 games during Moore's career there, including a controversial loss to Christ the King in the 2005 TOC championship. Moore, now a Connecticut freshman, would go on to win the Naismith Trophy and Gatorade National Player of the Year.
While Tennessee may have taken the mythical national recruiting title, the Connecticut Huskies were beaten only by a nose at the tape. Yet they may have claimed a bigger prize, landing HoopGurlz.com's No. 1 ranked player for the third year in a row. In August, Elena Delle Donne of Wilmington, Del., followed Maya Moore of Suwanee, Ga., and Tina Charles of Queens, N.Y., as Storrs-bound No. 1s. Tennessee, incidently, was her second choice. The decision will reunite Delle Donne with her former club teammate, Caroline Doty, of Doylestown, Pa., the No. 10 prospect in the class. Coach Geno Auriemma also signed the No. 11 prospect, Tiffany Hayes of Winter Haven, Fla., and the No. 31, Heather Buck of Stonnington, Conn.
On a team with the Nos. 2 (April Sykes) and 11 (Tiffany Hayes) players in the 2008 class, it was often-overlooked Whitney Hand who rose up in the Nike Nationals championship game with 21 points, eight rebounds and determined defense against DFW star Brooklyn Pope. Hand produced three critical offensive bursts and, afterward, was called by Essence coach Kimberly Davis-Powell "the most underrated player in the country." Hayes scored a last-second bucket -- for the second straight week -- during the semifinals against Cy-Fair and its star, Nneka Ogwumike. And Sykes was a dominant offensive figure, drawing most of the defensive attention and playing it against the opposition by setting up teammates. It was an impressive showing in the toughest field of the year.
The saying goes that everything is bigger in Texas and the class of 2009 certainly fits the bill. The Nos. 1 and 2 prospects in the HoopGurlz Super Sixty, Kelsey Bone and Brittany Griner, both hail from the Houston area. DFW teammates, No. 6 Cokie Reed and No. 23 Nikki Green, call the Dallas-Fort Worth area home. The biggest news, however, is that, after several years during which elite-level, high-school posts have been as rare as legroom on an airliner, this class virtually is flush with them. Four of the top six prospects, and nine of the top 25, are bonafide posts. There also is variety. To wit, Bone, of Stafford, Texas, is 6-3 with great size and presence on the boxes, while Griner, of Houston, is 6-6, dunks with ease, blocks shots in bushels and has more of a game away from the basket.
Last spring, the LSU program seemed a shambles after Pokey Chatman was forced to resign amid charges of sexual misconduct, which is a lightning rod issue in the game. But then Van Chancellor came on with his Hall of Fame credentials, including three WNBA championship trophies, and down-home sensibility. The country's elite prospects were charmed. Chancellor recruited six who are ranked in the HoopGurlz Hundred - No. 12 LaSondra Barrett, No. 14 Ayana Dunning, No. 17 Destini Hughes, No. 55 Taylor Turnbow, No. 59 Crystal Riley and No. 69 Courtney Jones - plus highly regarded Swayze Black to produce a signing class that should grow together, compete for Final Four berths and help compensate for the loss of nine Tiger seniors after this season.
Lacking the size and perhaps the national sashay of their fellow Californians, the Sacred Heart Fighting Irish have great and deep guard play, plus inspired coaching from Brian Harrigan. In the finals of the Northwest Nike Invitational in Beaverton, Ore., it was enough to overwhelm Long Beach Poly, then the consensus No. 2 team in the country, by 74-58. How big an underdog was SHC? Consider that its best inside player is tournament MVP Tierra Rogers, who is 5 feet 11, but had 25 points in the title game. Poly, which has physical 6-1 guard Jasmine Dixon and elite 2009 post Monique Oliver, rebounded to win the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions by knocking out No. 1 Notre Dame Academy, igniting a spirited debate as to who deserved the country's top ranking among high-school teams.
We usually like to leave ourselves out of the stories we cover, but every once in a great while one of us becomes newsworthy. In the case of Joe Smith, he became the heart beat of women's basketball journalism long before anyone started caring about the sport. His victory in a 1994 suit brough by Marian Washington, the former longtime coach at Kansas, also affirmed for the media a legitimate presence in the game, again, far before anyone was even concerned about establishing such legitimacy. As the women's game, as well as the girls', starts to take off, all of us owe at least a small debt of gratitude to Smith. As one of the beneficiaries of his pioneering ways, HoopGurlz.com renamed its main, national forum for Joe C. Smith, who will be missed.
For more in-depth coverage of women's college-basketball prospects and girl's basketball, visit HoopGurlz.com