Editor's Note: While the eyes of the nation's women's basketball fans have been riveted on college conference tournaments over the past two weeks, there has been some impressive hoops on display at the high school level going on at the same time and Full Court's analysts have been on hand to capture it for our readers. John McGraw covered the eight state championships in the Florida High School Tournament and brings us his take on some of the top talent on display there.
LAKELAND, Fla. - Thirty-two high school teams, divided into eight different classes, slugged it out over the course of five days at the finals of the Florida High School Athletic Association's Girls Basketball Championships to become one of the eight teams that can claim to be “State Champs” in Florida. Lakeland represented the end of a road that had winnowed the field to the best-of-the-best, the survivors of a series of district and regional tournaments that had begun on Jan. 27 and continued throughout the month of February.
For a state with a ton of D-1 caliber players, one has to wonder: With eight state champions, is there really enough top talent to go around? Kentucky, for example, names just one state champ. The team that wins will be loaded. Tennessee has three classes and the 3A champ will likely be a top-five team nationally.
Truth be told, some of the games in Lakeland were less than desirable. No fewer than three of six games on the day of the 5A, 6A and 8A semifinals, for example, had halftime scores in single digits. Not exactly exciting basketball.
That said there were some exciting players. My take on some of up-and-coming stars in Florida:
Class of 2015
Alexis Jean - 6-0, Post, Treasure Coast High School. Jean is a thin-framed, long-armed post player, who has a great understanding of the game. She knows how to seal her opponent, and her team makes every effort to reward her efforts. She is a decent finisher. The lanky post/forward's most exciting attribute might be her activity on the boards. In Treasure Coast's 46-30 semifinal win over Park Vista, the junior grabbed 19 rebounds to go along with 14 points.
Beatrice Mompremier - 6-4, Post, Miami High School. I have written about Mompremier for Full Court probably five or six times over the past two years. At 6-4 and very mobile, Mompremier is one of the top recruits in the country and one of the main reasons her Miami High team is arguably the top team in Florida this year regardless of class. Beatrice does all the things you would expect a 6-4 athlete to do. She blocks a ton of shots (seven of them, in Miami's 55-37 semifinal win over Seminole), rebounds (15, including seven off the offensive glass) and finishes around the basket (for a total of 16 points, for the double-double). What more could you want? (Mompremier was equally impressive in Miami's 49-33 victory over Treasure Coast in the championship game, with a 13-point, 15-rebound double-double, sweetened by three blocks and two steals.)
Kayla Thigpen - 5-8, Combo Guard, Palm Beach Lakes High School. Thigpen doesn’t really pass the eye test, she only "kinda" looks like a player, but, boy, does she produce. Against Wekiva in the 7A semifinal Thigpen knocked down 3-pointers, drove in a variety of situations and finished through contact using both hands. She’s a skilled player, who is more athletic than she initially looks. Though Palm Beach Lakes fell, 71-76, to Wekiva in the semifinal, Thigpen, who scored 21 points and dealt five assists before fouling out in the loss, was possibly my favorite player at the event.
Ty Purifoy - 5-0, Point Guard, Pine Forest High School. Purifoy not only orchestrated one of the biggest comebacks of the tournament, she was also the catalyst in probably the biggest upset. With her Pine Forest team trailing by double digits and having collectively scored only eight points in the first half, Purifoy came alive in the third quarter, putting up seven of her 13 points in the frame, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer, and dishing out multiple assists. Her defense was the real marker though, and her team held Miami Norland to single digits in the second half as Pine Forest overcame a 15-point deficit to win, 39-34. There would be no such comeback in the championship game against Edgewater, however, with Pine Forest falling, 34-53, though Puriofy led her team with 11 points.
Class of 2016
Kyla Allison - 5-10, Point Guard, Wekiva High School. Playing against Palm Beach Lakes in the 7A semifinals, Allison was the opposite of Kayla Thigpen: College coaches were drooling over her athletic body and apparent potential, yet through three quarters of action, she was able to put only three points on the board. Then Wekiva woke up and got going, with Allison scoring nine points in the fourth quarter and overtime to finish with 14 and dishing out a total of six assists to propel Wekiva to the 76-71 overtime win. She was even more prolific in the title game against Harmony, logging 23 points, including two of her four 3-pointers, plus nine rebounds and six assists, to lead her team to a 59-48 win and with it, the state championship.
Nadia Fingall - 6-3, Post, Choctawhatchee High School. If there was a post player with better hands, I didn’t see her. Fingall caught every ball her teammates threw to her. She scored them, too; Fingall didn’t miss many shots. Fingall singlehandedly outscored Rockledge most of the game, putting up 23 points (more than half of her team's total) on better than 50-percent field-goal shooting, while pulling down 15 rebounds and swatting away seven blocks, as her Choctawhatchee team blew out Rockledge, holding them to seven first-half points, and then coasting to the 44-34 win. Southeast (Bradenton) locked Fingall down in the final, however; struggling with foul trouble, Fingall was held to just five points in the game. Though she still managed to come up with six rebounds, five blocks and two steals, Choctawhatchee went down to a 35-52 defeat.