2013's Saniya Chong: Impressions
The Magic Bus hasn’t traveled as much this season due punishing gas prices and obscene tolls in the greater NYC area. However, I have been modestly following, filming and interviewing certain target players as Breanna Stewart of Cicero-North Syracuse (“CNS”), Sierra Calhoun of Christ the King, Mei-Lyn Bautista of Mary Louis, and Bianca Cuevas of Nazareth.
Saniya Chong, a junior guard at Ossining High School, recently came onto my radar screen when I read that local UConn seems to be recruiting her. I had seen Chong play as a freshman in the 2010 Boro’s vs. Burb’s Metro Classic, the greater NYC area’s most prestigious all star game, and she had made no impression on me at all. Not a bad impression. Nor good. Just zero.
This was in contrast to the blow-me-away impression Bria Hartley had made on me in the 2009 Metro Classic—with 24 points in 16 highly productive minutes—after which I nicknamed her the Raptor for her super aggressive play on offense and defense.
Highly productive? Well, blow me away with Chong’s current stats! Unbeknownst to the stalled Magic Bus, Chong this season has been averaging 33.8 ppg, which is sixth in the country, along with 9.8 apg, 5.2 rpg and 5.2 spg. The Ossining team is averaging 88 ppg, supposedly tops in the country, and is ranked first in some New York State public high school polls, over Stewart’s CNS.
On February 22 the team was playing Horace Greeley in the second round of the NYS Section I playoffs. That’s only 49.1 miles away according to my new Garmin 78sc GPS, and with no tolls.
So, it was time to pack the Domke camera bag and Manfrotto tripod with fluid head into my trusty, rust-colored Mountain Hardwear backpack—you must use a true fluid head to film basketball games—and then fire up the Magic Bus after clearing the mouse nest out the air filter.
Ossining, NY, plunges precipitously down to the Hudson River, so the backpack is very necessary for an old guy to trudge up the hills. The town lights didn’t flicker on and off as they allegedly do when the switch is pulled on the Sing Sing electric chair, and I found the high school conveniently across the street from Lucy’s Pizza.
I love high school gyms. The intimate size. The wooden bleachers. The enthusiastic cheerleaders. And fans who are not all on Medicare.
Okay, Chong. She had 22 points and 15 assists, and Ossining won easily, 82-47.
Impatient UConn fans will want to know whether she is good enough to play for their team. Yes, but I’m not yet sure she could be a starter.
The key word in that last sentence is “yet”. Chong is the kind of very intriguing player I need to see more of, against better competition, before I can venture an informed opinion, which was so easy with Hartley.
Saniya (Sah-nigh-ah) Chong is a lanky 5-8 or 5-9. Her father is Chinese and her mother is African American. She plays point guard but could just as easily play shooting guard. I’ll just tick off the positives and negatives I jotted down during the game.
-- Sees the floor and her teammates very well. She may even have predictive court awareness, like Diana Taurasi or Courtney Vandersloot, but I’m not yet sure her eye-brain is that good.
-- Looks to pass before shooting.
-- Excellent in all forms of passing: long ball fast break passes, perimeter reverse passes, bullet passes into the post, shovel passes off a penetrating drive, dime drop passes in traffic. Better than Hartley.
-- Never took a forced or even bad shot, even though her coach was literally bellowing at times: “Shoot, Saniya, Shoot!” “I can’t BELIEVE you didn’t shoot it, Saniya.”
-- Penetrates the paint very smoothly on slick drives, though not as fast or explosively as Hartley or Tiffany Hayes. She has an instantaneous computer in her brain that tells her when a lane is open enough for her drive without charging.
-- Very good pull-up jumper and two-point jump shot.
-- I’m not sure from this one game what the quality of her 3pt shot is, especially under defensive pressure, but she has logged 88 arc balls on the season so she must have something good there.
-- Can finish with her right or left (off) hand easily.
-- Plays aggressive on-ball defense on her man.
Negatives, all of which are fixable by coaching.
-- When she doesn’t have the ball or is not playing on-ball defense, she stands around and watches a lot.
-- She was credited with 5 rebounds but that’s only because the gods dropped the ball into her hands. She does not follow her shot and does not compete for rebounds—very unlike the high school Hartley. She just watches her teammates do that job, even though she is the second or third tallest player on the team.
-- Doesn’t rotate to play help defense on someone who’s not her man.
-- Doesn’t pursue a player who gets by her, again very unlike Hartley.
-- Just gives up when she is screened. Doesn’t try to fight over or through the pick or screen.
-- Doesn’t cut much or move without the ball once she passes it off. She should be in constant motion to receive passes as well as delivering them.
-- She did overpass and force a few, but this was far outweighed by her terrific passing success.
Some of Chong’s “lazy play” may have been due to the weak opponent. Perhaps she didn’t feel the need to exert herself more. This is one of the reasons I need to see her in more games.
The Ossining team is quite good, having some other decent outside shooters and a couple of 6-0 bigs who can finish in the paint. Even a precocious 7th grader. Chong is fortunate to have these good passing targets, which Hartley, on a weaker team, didn’t.
At half time, the official time keeper walked up into the stands to ask me whether I was scout filming (i.e., spying) for CNS. I asked why he would think that. He said he had seen me 10 days earlier talking to Breanna Stewart and her parents, and filming the CNS game, at the Mecca Tournament in the Bronx. I said, of course I’m not a spy; I’m just an ace correspond . . . uh . . . an old guy with a camera and time on my hands. His name was Pat. So, I say, what were you doing at the Mecca Tournament, Pat? He says, spying on and filming CNS for Ossining.
(The world of high school basketball coverage is so much like a James Bond film. And I saw the most beautiful “Bond girl” at the Mecca Tournament. Supermodel figure and looks. Assistant coach Mallorie Winn of Pitt.)
The Magic Bus will be at the Westchester County Center to follow Chong-Ossining through the Sectional playoffs. If they win their Section, they will probably end up facing CNS in the semifinals or finals of the State tournament.
Saniya vs. Breanna. Wow! Saniya has the stronger supporting cast, but Breanna has seven more inches of height and literally a world more of experience.