MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Held May 31-June 1 at the beautiful Multiplex next to historic Cramton Bowl, the 2014 Capital Cool event was physically situated in Montgomery, Alabama, very close to the state capitol building. However, when it came to domination, it was all metro-Atlanta, Ga., winning the three most prestigious divisions.
For decades, Alabama has been known as a die-hard football-dominated state where the level of play in girls' basketball is markedly below that of neighboring Georgia, Tennessee and, to a lesser extent, Florida. As this event amply demonstrated, there is no shortage of high-caliber female athletes in the "Heart of Dixie" (as Alabama license plates proudly proclaim) but skill, training and understanding of the game on the part of the young athletes in this sport can still leave a lot to be desired. As elsewhere, you can find a quality player here or there but unless and until there is a fundamental shift in both politics and mentality toward prioritizing development of both coaches and players -- from the youngest levels onward -- Alabama girls' basketball will continue to fall far short of what it could be. (In fact, apparently recognizing exactly that, some of the top Alabama talents, several of whom are identified below, have attempted to separate themselves and elevate their skill levels by playing with elite athletes and high quality coaches on teams from neighboring states.)
As a result of the above-described bad rap on 'Bama basketball, the event was essentially neglected by Division II, NAIA and junior college scouts (Division I coaches could not attend the uncertified event), as well as by the typical entourage of scouting services. For that matter, Full Court appeared to be the only media outlet present.
The talent-seekers should not have been so quick to let assumptions concerning the destination dictate their attendance. The event drew 50 teams (mostly from Alabama and Georgia), and as the tip sheet below reflects, there was plenty of wheat to be found amid the chaff. Capital Cool deserved far better attendance from coaches, scouts and media alike.
First, let's take a look at the final outcomes in the top three brackets.
Capital of Dreams Bracket (Elite teams of rising seniors and younger)
Georgia Pistols Elite-Martin 52, BWSL 16U 41
This final pitted two powers of the Nike League, with the Pistols coming out on top, espite having to play without its star Asia Durr, the No. 1 2015 recruit in the nation as ranked by the Full Court Fresh 50). The Pistols have gone 17-0 (two tournaments and, this year, five Nike League games) over the last three Aprils at the Booplex in Hampton, Va. Thus, one might say they own things "Boo."
No Durr on this date but still no problem, as the Georgia-based squad narrowly controlled the contest from start to finish. Still, the Boo squad put up a battle, much more so than the final score reflects. The Pistols led, 26-17, but BWSL had narrowed the gap to just four points, 43-39, with a little over two minutes to play.
BWSL was bothered by the Pistols' zone for most of the contest, unable to penetrate, but shot a respectable 7-23 (30.3 percent) from behind the arc, while the Pistols attempted merely three treys, hitting one. More successful fast breaks, fewer turnovers (13 to 17) and better rebounding (35-30 edge) all helped the Pistols score more frequently in the paint. Ayana Mitchell led the Pistols with a double-double of 14 points and 10 boards, while no BWSL player reached double figures.
Kings Monument Bracket (Teams consisting primarily of rising juniors and younger)
|Team Elite Pointer 2016 celebrates its championship in the Kings Monument Bracket after routing the Alabama Roadrunners Gold, 48-24. Their younger counterparts did not fare as well, however, with Team Elite Pointer 2019 settling for second after falling to FBC Mo, 50-41, in a hard-fought and well-played game. (Photo by Prentice Bethea/the.principle.photography)|
Team Elite Pointer 2016 48, Alabama Roadrunners Gold 24
It's not clear which was sadder -- the lopsided score or the fact that Roadrunner (perhaps the best Alabama-based club team present) supporters actually thought their team had a chance to compete in this contest. It was over early with the metro-Atlanta-based team up 34-11 at half. It's likely that more than half the Team Elite 2016 roster will get BCS offers (some high level), while perhaps a couple Roadrunners will get BCS looks. Most will get low-to-mid Division I offers, at best. For the record, Akia Harris led all scorers with 13 points for Team Elite, while Katelynn Thomas (6-0, center/power forward, 2016, Shades Valley HS, Ala.) led the Roadrunners with 11 points.
Tuskegee Airmen Bracket (Teams consisting primarily of rising freshmen and younger)
FBC Mo 2018 50, Team Elite Pointer 2019 41
Have you ever seen those halftime shows at WNBA games where two groups of middle school players compete for about six minutes and the parents hope each team just manages to score a bucket before the pros retake the court? Contrary to expectations and despite the age bracket, this was not that kind of basketball, but rather a real contest with what will probably be more than 10 future scholarship athletes involved. Of the three championship games reported here, this was the most fun to watch, as these young players on both sides showed advanced skill and game understanding, played hard, physical basketball and were well coached.
FBC Mo, which was on average, a year older and boasted several players over six-feet tall, controlled the game (up 30-19 at the half) but was bothered by the greater speed and quickness of the Team Elite youngsters. Nonetheless, FBC Mo wore down their shorter, less physically mature opponents over the course of the game. Both sides deserve praise for the efforts put forth.
Noteworthy Players (listed by graduation year)
Jordan Danberry, 5-7, guard, Arkansas Mavericks-Johnson (Conway High School, Ark.)
Danberry is a well known player on the national recruiting scene, checking in at No. 48 on the 2015 Full Court Fresh 50. In this event she helped her team upset Essence Purple to finish third in the Capital of Dreams Bracket. Danberry can rack it going left or right, but is also willing to give it up on the way to the basket. She can also shoot the three. She could still improve her ability to protect the ball with her left hand. She told Full Court that she has narrowed her colleges choices to Arkansas, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State.
Ayana Mitchell, 6-2, power forward, Georgia Pistols Elite-Martin (Salem High School, Conyers, Ga.)
It appears Mitchell, No. 42 on the Full Court Fresh 50 for this year group, has made it back from the ACL tear that struck her over a year ago. In the final against BWSL, she rebounded well against quality athletes and showed a nice mid-range jumper while also running the court fluidly. For her college list, she's down to five: Baylor, Florida State, Louisville, LSU and Miami (Florida).
Madison Newby, 5-6, point guard, Georgia Pistols Elite-Martin (Archer High School, Ga.)
With Asia Durr out, it was up to Newby to take the helm for the Pistols. She responded very well, turning the ball over only twice while scoring 12 points off drives and foul shots. She more than held her own against the BSWL guards, several of whom have already verbally committed to BCS programs. Newby herself has been and remains verbally committed to Georgia State.
Nadia Fingall, 6-2, power forward, Essence Purple (Choctawhatchee High School, Fla.)
Essence Purple (0-5 in the Nike League and fourth at this event) has, as a young team, struggled this club season, but Fingall continues to play hard on each possession. She is a good rebounder and now is starting to show consistency with her 10-foot jumpers. Hopefully she will continue to add range. A strong student, look for high-academic BCS schools to pursue her.
Kierra Graham, 5-11, power forward, Team Elite Pointer 2016 (South Atlanta High School, Ga.)
Every team needs somebody to do the dirty work, and Graham seems more than willing to do her share. Strongly built but a bit undersized, she tirelessly bangs and hits the boards, embracing contact. Having to play point guard for her high school team has improved her ball handling, but at this level, Graham remains a lefty going left. A nice mid-major prospect, improved range and right-hand dribble may yet attract BCS interest thanks to her good motor.
Akia Harris, 5-6, point guard, Team Elite Pointer 2016 (GPS, Chattanooga, Tenn.)
On a team loaded with lead guard talent, Harris is showing she can more than handle her share of the load at that position. Offensively, she likes to attack the basket, primarily going right. She is quick off the dribble and is also developing a mid-range jumper off the bounce.
Jasmine Walker, 6-2, power forward, Southern Starz-Hooks (Jefferson Davis High School, Montgomery, Ala.)
Walker is an attractive package to BCS schools. A good athlete with solid frame, she can score in the paint. She handles the ball well for her size and can spot up for threes. Granted a lot is asked of her on this team, but she could play harder at times.
|Seeing Triple? Emma, Ella and Ivy Wallen, a rare set of identical triplets possessed of solid basketball talent, hope to find a college where they can play together. (Photo by Prentice Bethea/the.principle.photography)|
Emma (No. 1), Ella (No. 2) and Ivy (No. 3) Wallen, guards, 5-6, Alabama Roadrunners Gold (Lauderdale County High School, Ala.)
Never saw this before in person -- identical triplets on one basketball court! (Coach Boo Williams of BWSL also said he had never seen this in 30-plus years in the game and came over to meet them.) Ivy, the "youngest," is a lead guard with decent passing ability and understanding of the position. She is getting the most Division I interest of the three sisters. Emma, "the oldest," is a shooting guard and the best natural athlete of the three. Ella, also a two-guard, is the only lefty of the group. (Yes, Virginia, identical twins or triplets can be differently handed; in fact, in 20 percent of identical twin pairs, one will be right-handed, the other a lefty.)
With very similar interests, the triplets would like to attend college together but finding a perfect fit could be a challenge basketball-wise. On the other hand, the trio raise the interesting prospect of a program recruiting an entire backcourt as a single package deal. One fact worth noting: Their high school, Lauderdale County High, has won the most state titles in Alabama (including 2014), and the talent must run in the genes, as the triplets' mother was on one of its earlier championship teams.
Bianca Jackson, 5-10, shooting guard, FBC MO 2017 (Brewbaker Tech, Montgomery, Ala.)
It rained some outside the Multiplex during the event. Inside, Bianca Jackson was busy raining threes on the opposition. She also demonstrated a nice pull-up jumper off the bounce. At the other end, she defended well. She still needs to improve use of her left hand on the dribble and her finish at the rim. A likely BCS prospect, it will be interesting to see how she handles her college choice: This is one 'Bama girl whose had plenty of quality coaching, as both parents are head basketball coaches at nearby Alabama State.
Autumn Newby, 6-2, power forward, Team Elite Pointer 2016 (Archer High School, Ga.)
Newby, sister to Madison (see class of 2015 above), continues to show something new month-to-month when evaluated. Here, her ability to step out and hit the three was on display. For her size, she has decent handles. She runs well and is quick off her feet. She also has decent court vision and moves well without the ball. High majors are already trying to close in.
|Megan Walker, who plays for the Boo Williams' 16-and-under squad, was one of the best young talents present at the weekend event. (Photo by Prentice Bethea/the.principle.photography)|
Megan Walker, 6-1, small forward, BWSL 16U (Monacan High School, Va.)
This Walker (quite a few in the sport) was probably the best prospect in the tournament and is already being talked of as top ten nationally in the 2017 class. Athletic with a highly advanced basketball IQ for her age, she has all the skill tools. She just needs some time to become more consistent at the game. This is a "fill-in-the-blanks" prospect who any college will likely be thrilled to get.
Jala Jordan, 6-0, small forward, FBC Mo 2018 (St. Francis High School, Ga.)
With a medium-solid, athletic build, height, and good spring in her step, Jala Jordan has the physical tools to become a BCS small forward. She is more than willing to take the ball to the rim but occasionally faces up at mid-range. Overall, her skills still need a lot of polish and more game-to-game consistency, but her upside potential is high.
Taylor Sutton, 5-4, point guard, Team Elite Pointer 2018 (Woodward Academy, Ga.)
Sutton first came on to the Full Court radar at an event she attended in Texas. She is not disappointing now, playing closer to home. A lead guard, she has good handles and basketball IQ. She is developing a spin move and pull-up jumper. She can finish with the proper hand on either side of the rim. Hopefully, she still has an inch or two more of height in her.
Maori Davenport, 6-3, center, Alabama Tarheels 2019 (Charles Henderson Middle School, Troy, Alabama)
Block, block block! At 6-3 and still in middle school, Davenport is in some ways a woman playing against girls. She can finish some near the rim but, not surprisingly, still must get stronger. She runs and passes adequately for a "big." BCS schools should have her on their recruiting charts.
Aniaya Jester, 5-4, point guard, Team Elite Pointer 2019 (Kennedy Road Middle School, Griffin, Ga.)
If you are looking for speed and quickness, mark this name down. For such a young player, Aniaya Jester has good handles with a bit of change-of-speed action thrown in from time to time. Athlete yes, but one with control. She hit one three when viewed, but for now is primarily a driver going right.