Though Tennessee is known as a basketball state, this year was something special. Riverdale will finish the year as No. 1 in the MaxPreps' Xcellent 25, and Science Hill (still No. 25), Blackman and Oakland have all made appearances in the national rankings. Two of those four (Science Hill and Riverdale) made the AAA state tournament and squared off in the championship with Riverdale coming out on top for the second straight season. (In the lower divisions, Christ Presbyterian Academy won the AA title and Jackson County the A playoffs.)
A lot has been written about the top players for Riverdale, especially Alexa Middleton, so we took the opportunity to write about some of the upcoming young stars in Tennessee that you may not have heard of.
Tia Wooten, 5-10, Memphis Central
Tia has a great basketball body -- strong, athletic and well defined. Really her only drawback physically is that she’s a little too short to play the post at the D-1 level. If she were three or four inches taller, we would be talking about a player being recruited by all the big-time schools. As it is, Wooten has the tools to produce at the next level but the main question is at what position do you play her? She doesn’t show a ton of guard skills, although she definitely handles it well in transition and she can finish well in transition too. In the half court, she’s almost never more than 15 feet from the hoop, but at the high school level she’s very effective.
Tianna Tarter, 5-6, Science Hill
I first wrote about Tarter as a freshmen at state two years ago, and truth be told she’s still very much the same player. A little older, a little wiser and a little bit more filled out, Tarter still defends on the ball with intensity and handles it with pizzazz and still lacks a consistent three-ball. At the high school level, though, she’s able to attack the rim at will. In addition, she’s a willing passer and one of the top true point guards in the state.
D’Toria Fowler, 5-5, Antioch
A wiry little guard with blazing speed, Fowler is good with the ball and great in uptempo situations. Like Tarter, she lacks a consistent perimeter jumper and would be well served to get in the gym and work hard on consistency and range. That could be said for many players at every level, though, and it’s not to downgrade Fowler, who was one of the breakout players at the tournament. At times, she lacks the motor to really lock down guards when she’s on the ball but she has the ability to read passing lanes and hop them, which leads to many easy transition baskets for the explosive guard.
Brooke Copeland, 6-1, Bradley Central
Brooke is a solid post player in terms of frame and production. She finishes well around the basket, and can knock down the 15-footer. Her size, along with her positioning ability, makes it fairly easy for her to pull in rebounds. Copeland could be an even better player if she was able to finish with her off hand more consistently.
Philecia Atkins, 5-5, Overton
Philecia shined in several ways in the first game against Antioch, as she showed her handles off quite a few times in the process of breaking a press or getting to the basket. She isn’t the biggest guard but she definitely makes up for it with her feistiness on both sides of the ball. Her ability to knock down the long ball makes her a great complementary player to someone like Kelsey Briggs.
Gabby Lyon, 6-0, Science Hill
If you didn’t know who Gabby Lyon was before the state tournament this season, you sure do now. I saw Gabby play at state last year and she stuck out to me because of her size and physicality. She is often overlooked because she plays on such a talented team, but in my opinion, she looked like the best college prospect on the floor at times. Seeing as how she is already a beast on the boards, I am excited to see where her game goes from here if she continues to develop her offense as she did this past year.
LaShaundra Sommerville, 5-8, Covington
Sommerville plays on a very fast-paced, and athletic team and she adds that physical toughness that a guard-oriented team needs by pounding the boards and pushing around any opponent that tries to come into the paint. LaShaundra’s man defense is quite solid, and she outworks the player she is guarding more times than not. Her offensive game could use some polish, and could definitely be helped by developing a better outside shot.
Briley Driver, 5-8, Macon County
A lanky point guard, Driver does a lot of little things to help her team win. She can score, on both drives to the rim and with a perimeter jumper, and she has decent athleticism and finishes fairly well. The thing that really stood out, though, was her ability to maintain composure in late game situations. She adeptly handled Covington's fullcourt and halfcourt run-and-jump, and late in the fourth quarter, she made the right pass many times as Macon County played keepaway from the quicker more athletic Covington. At the next level, she is going to need to become stronger but she may fill out in time.
Kelsey Naler, 6-2, Christian Academy of Knoxville
Anna Hammaker and Cheyenne Hooper get most of the attention when people talk about CAK, and rightfully so. Six-six kids (Hooper) don’t come around all that often, and Hammaker does some really great stuff. That said, Naler is every bit as impressive as either of those two. She’s got great size, with better fundamentals than Hooper, and she has some guard skills. Her basketball IQ is up there and she doesn’t try to do more than she can do -- in fact she probably could do more if she didn’t have such high-profile teammates.
Dakota Smith, 6-4, Madison Academic
Easily one of the top players in Class A, as a ophomore she still has room to grow into her body. Her height alone makes her a force, plus she is aggressive on the boards, a pretty good finisher, and can step out and shoot the midrange shot if needed. If Dakota continues to work hard and get stronger, there’s no doubt her success could carry over to the next level.
Brittany Cooper, 5-10, Clarkrange
Cooper and classmate, sophomore Cheyenne Shaver, will be difficult to stop for the next couple years. Brittany is tenacious on the boards, and will fight for a loose ball until she is the one that comes up with it. Her offensive game is fairly polished for such a young player -- she showed a few nice post moves, finishes down low, and she also stepped out and connected from the three-point line.
Tiffany Rechis, 5-9, Westview
Another player on the list of talented sophomores in the state of Tennessee is combo guard Tiffany Rechis. Tiffany has a motor that never stops, she continually pressures the ball and jumps the passing lanes on defense. She can put the ball in the hoop several ways, if not from deep, then driving to the basket and drawing a foul or finishing through contact. Great basketball body.
Kayla Marosites, 5-9, Elizabethton
Marosites is one of those that just doesn’t really look like a player but she didn’t just play well -- she put 30 points on the board, almost outscoring Westview by herself. She’s an all-around player who rebounds and scores on putbacks. She can work down low versus smaller players and she can hit the three-ball with consistency. She’s very thin now but hopefully that will change and if she can really hone her skills and work on her handle she maybe a big-time prospect by the time it’s all said and done.
John McGraw is the coach at Fisk University and the founder of Insider Exposure, a circuit of NCAACertified Events. The Insider Exposure website is located at insiderexposure.wordpress.com. You can follow McGraw on twitter @CoachJohnMcGraw
Trevor Goodson assists McGraw at Fisk and is the director of operations for Insider Exposure. You can follow Goodson on Twitter, @CousinTrevvv