Friday, June 23, 2017

1st Annual Summer Kickoff Showcase - Notes & Thoughts

On Friday, June 16, the 518 was the home of some high-level hoops. Over the course of the evening, 92 girls took the court at Schenectady HS - 43 in the early session, 49 in the late session - in front of a healthy supply of Division II & III schools and junior colleges, along with Joe Fenelon (NYG Hoops Report) in attendance. Players came from near & far; the locals were heavily represented in the early session, but the late session was dominated by athletes coming from Utica, Syracuse, Binghamton, Rochester, Olean, Westchester County, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and more. Higher-profile AAU programs like NY Havoc, I-90 Elite, NDO Elite, Mass Rivals, City Rocks, Empire State Blue Flames, Saratoga Sparks, and many more represented, along with players under the radar playing with more local programs.

I guess you could say it was a successful 1st annual EST Summer Kickoff Showcase.

Between my observations at the event itself, evaluating the game film I was able to capture, and comments from coaches, here are some quick notes & thoughts regarding the Summer Kickoff.

- A couple 2018s showed out and potentially helped themselves with their play in the early session, and it was a pair of locals in Averill Park's Stephanie Jankovic and Columbia's Emily Zeyak. Steph, a standout guard that's receiving the epitome of 'borderline scholarship' attention now, was the best player on the court for considerable stretches of play throughout the evening. She was feeling it early and kept it rolling into the final session, where she hit 3 threes, a floater, and a couple more at the rim through contact over a 12 minute stretch. She took advantage of the more open style of play to showcase creative playmaking ability, a welcome addition to her game. She was able to control play with the ball in her hands. Zeyak did a great job of doing that for her team as well, as she showed all of the ability & athleticism that people come to expect from her while remaining under control and rarely turning it over. She was hitting shots from the perimeter Friday, which made it easier for her to blow by defenders & get to the rim. I was impressed with her improved decision making on the offensive end while still playing with reckless abandon on defense, where she was a catalyst as her team, largely following her lead, was the only one in the early session to throw the man-to-man press on.

- The late session was the younger session of the two, but another pair of 2018s stuck out from the crowd for long stretches as well in Syracuse Nottingham's Chyna Butler and Susquehanna Valley's Holly Manchester. Not many people over the course of the night were able to get to the rim as easily as Butler, as she was able to break the defense down all night and wreak havoc on opponents. Once she got into the lane, she was making good decisions with the ball, knowing when to call her own number & when to create for someone else. She had several beautiful finishes at the rim and just as many beautiful passes to cutters or shooters. Butler made a 2-way impact throughout the evening as well, as her on-ball pressure defensively led to turnovers and tough shots - an overall great night for Chyna. Holly handled business in her own way as well, largely by Holly being Holly. People don't expect much from the 5'1" guard until she lights them up; if you've seen her play a few times, you know better. She didn't score a ton on this night, but she didn't need to as she made a living setting up teammates off dribble penetration or in the pick & roll game. She keeps her dribble until the last possible second and was able to fit passes into very tight windows. True PGs that create for others are extremely valuable in events like this, and Holly certainly fit the bill.

- If the Summer Kickoff was any indication, a pair of local 2019s that have been waiting in the wings of Section II hoops are ready to step into the limelight - and their level of recruitment will likely follow. One already started to make her move forward in a highly successful winter in Gloversville's Harmony Philo, and the other is gearing to step into the forefront next winter in Columbia's Lexi Vnn Vorst. Philo, a 5'9" guard known as a shooter, has made major strides over the last few months playing on the ball and showed that with regularity at this event. She was able to put the ball on the floor & get by the first defender, and showed ability to go all the way to the rim, hit close range floaters, midrange jumpers, and create off the bounce for teammates. Of course, the perimeter jumper is still there, and an open three was almost a guaranteed make for her. Van Vorst has long been recognized as a guard who combines skill with tenacity, but you can now add court presence and confidence to run the show to that list. She is starting to make the transition from a good player that does best feeding off other good players into a good player that can run the show with other good players. She was in attack mode from the word go and may have scored the most points out of anyone in the early session, doing so in a variety of ways, but it was her presence - the 'it' factor, so to speak - that stuck out the most to me about Lexi. The depth in the Class of 2019 in the 518 is fantastic, thanks in large part to the continuing emergence of players like Philo & Van Vorst.

- This event hopefully opened up the eyes of many in the region - Mackenzie Smith may be as good of a point guard as any you'll find in upstate NY. The West Genesee 2019 standout is receiving attention from a rapidly growing list of Division I schools, and the reason is easy to see. She controls the game - along with the other 9 girls playing it - with the ball in her hands. Not many people get into the lane with the fluidity & ease that Kenzie does, thanks to a fantastic change of pace and a herky-jerky game reminiscent of what you'd see on the playground. She can score if needed, but would rather create for teammates, and she does a very good job of that. In one session alone, she had nearly ten eye-popping passes that led to baskets. She's just as strong on the defensive end, with quick feet, quick hands, and the ability to anticipate and jump passing lanes. On a 5v5 team that featured more scholarship talent like Grace Heeps, Sophie Tougas, Alyssa Stevenson, and Mackenzie's sister Madison, she was the best player on the court for long stretches of the late session. To those unaware, now is as good a time as any to get familiar.

- Shaker 2020 G Julia DeBeatham stuck out during stretches of the early session, and for reasons other than what most would expect. DeBeatham, known more as a scoring guard, didn't do as much of that as usual. A reason for that was because she stepped into more of a true PG role at this event and focused more energy on distributing and creating for others. She scored when needed, but she was particularly dangerous finding teammates off the bounce or hitting others on the break with a long advance pass. With this being an area of her game I've thought she needed to work on in order to hit the next level as a player, it was great to see the mentality - and ability - of a true PG come through.

- Do you think Allison Moreau and Dani Haskell will want to play together again soon? There were plenty of big names in the house for the 7:00 session, with some bigger than theirs, but their 1-2 punch in the 5v5 session was perhaps stronger than any other combo in the event. They are both 1,000+ point scorers for their high schools - Haskell (Franklinville 2020) has over 1,200 and Moreau (Sauquoit Valley 2019) is close to 1,150 - but both showed much more than scoring ability. They had some experience together leading into this, playing on the same team in the Syracuse Nets' CNY Fall League last year, which seemingly carried forward into June as it seemed like each one always knew where the other one was if needed. Haskell came out of the gates blazing, showing a complete floor game in the back gym for their first game, knocking down shots from yards behind the 3 point line and breaking down defenders off the dribble nearly at will. Moreau eased her way into play a little bit, and by the second 5v5 game, she was off & running. As Haskell continued her onslaught, the PG/wing combo combined for a whopping 41 points in a 24 minute game. It continued in the final session, as the two established themselves as two of the standouts of the night. Combine Dani's nearly unmatched skill with the ball in her hands, Allison's scoring ability from the wing and ability to play off the ball/move without the ball, and the defensive intensity that both bring to the table, and it becomes easy to see how their team had so much success in the late session.

- Out of the many young standout players in attendance, I don't think anyone moved up the ladder in my head like Shaker 2021 Solé Carrington did. Carrington is drawing early comparisons to another Shaker standout 3 years her senior in LIU Brooklyn commit Shyla Sanford, and parts of her game make it easy to see why. Carrington, a super-athletic combo guard, was a 2-way impact player going up against older players with 2-3 years of varsity experience throughout the early session. Her defense against opposing perimeter players, both on-ball and off-ball, often sparked the offense going the other way for her team. She also showed the ability to hit the perimeter jumper, both off the catch and off the bounce. Where I was just as impressed was how comfortable she looked putting it on the deck and going to the rim, challenging 6 footers at the rim and succeeding in doing so. In a Capital District Class of 2021 that has some high-end players but not a great deal of depth, it's about time to put Carrington among the short list of standouts.

- A team that consisted exclusively of junior high talent took the court for the 5v5 contests in the late session, and their ability to compete with - and even outdo - many of the older players in attendance was a surprise to many. The group consisted of 8 of upstate NY's finest in the Class of 2021, along with 1 standout 2022. As far as the score was considered, they actually won two of their three games. Out of the 9 players, 4 were Section II talents, 3 were from Section III, and 2 more represented Section IV. Locals were introduced to the high-flying athleticism and flashy play of Hancock 2021 Laycee Drake, the pure dominant strength & ability in the post coming from 6'2" Cicero-North Syracuse 2021 Jess Cook, and a local 2022 in 5'10" Averill Park G Amelia Wood - the youngest of the 4 Wood sisters - that seems to get better every time I see her, among others. This blurb isn't about individual exploits of any of the players of this team, or any of the individual exploits of other young standouts that made noise in the late session such as Seton Catholic's Reese Vaughan - but what it is here for is to show that upstate NY girls basketball looks to be in very, very good hands going forward.

Some other players, on top of those above, that had their share of standout moments at the 1st annual Summer Kickoff Showcase:

Madison Graber (6'0" G, Schalmont 2018) - scored at all 3 levels, played within herself, finished through contact
Sam Pasinella (5'8" G, Mechanicville 2018) - put the ball on the deck & finished at the rim, adding to her well-documented ability to hit the three
Kyra Oeffler (5'11" F, Heatly 2018) - showed multi-dimensional scoring ability while shooting a high percentage
Kayla Doody (5'4" G, Tamarac 2018) - showed great creating PG ability, leaving passes on a platter for teammates on several occasions
Katelyn Flanagan (5'5" G, Canton 2018) - as strong defensively as anyone in the early session, made life difficult for opponents and knocked down perimeter Js on offense
Bridget Whelan (5'7" G, Albany 2018) - had a good overall evening and a fantastic stretch of play, thrived in more open style of play by getting into open court, scoring & creating for teammates
Giuliana Pritchard (5'9" F, Amsterdam 2018) - Definition of a 3/4 tweener, she showed equal skill of both by hitting shots & attacking from perimeter, scoring in post, passing well out of high post, and rebounding at a high level
Samantha Doupe (5'3" G, Phoenix 2018) - Ultra-quick guard that sliced her way to the rim, turned several steals into layups, and knocked down catch & shoot threes if given a little space
Alana Kornaker (5'3" G, Wayne 2018) - 2-way impact as she showed ability to hit midrange pull-ups, use the hesitation dribble to get all the way to the rim, and connect from long range, while also using a lot of energy pressuring the ball on defense. Always talking at both ends.
Anna VanRoy (5'11" F, Saugerties 2019) - good face-up 4 skills, spaced D and hit midrange jumpers, and as active as I've seen her on the glass, converting on offensive rebounds several times
Alyssa Stevenson (6'1" F, South Jefferson 2019) - rapidly emerging 4 out of the Watertown area - finished with right & left hand off post moves, made several good passes to cutters out of the post
Sophie Tougas (6'0" G, Glens Falls 2019) - got into open court and made things happen while showing improved ability to create for others. Not her best shooting day, but still one of the best players on the court at all times
Grace Heeps (5'11" G, Northfield Mount Hermon (MA) 2019) - local product with 11 offers & counting went into distributor mode with a supremely talented 5v5 team - great court vision, created for everyone else on the court
Aurora DeShaies (6'1" F, Bishop Ludden 2019) - Pure size was just about unmatched by everyone in the late session, was able to control the game at times in the post and showed good touch from 12' & in
Maggie Malone (5'9" G/F, Cornwall 2019) - showed 2-way versatility, able to score from the wing and the post, good multi-position defender and great rebounder, played as hard as anyone in the gym
Abby Wilkinson (5'4" G, Bishop Grimes 2019) - turned it on as the night got going, hard-nosed high intensity PG got to rim & finished around taller players and was able to stop on a dime and hit midrange Js
Stef Gera (5'2" G, Auburn 2019) - electric G was one of the surprises of the night - took a game over for a few minute stretch by scoring 13 quick points. Knockdown shooter with range & the ability to create her own, and also was a willing distributor off the drive.
Lexi Mercier (5'9" G, Hoosac Valley (MA) 2019) - ultimate 3 & D kid, started to get hot in the 2nd 5v5 session with a couple threes from NBA range and carried into final session, where she hit 5 threes and locked down on the defensive end
Makayla Blake (6'0" F, Colonie 2020) - better than expected - soft touch & ability to finish around the rim, and very solid footwork in the post
Belle Kranbuhl (6'1" F, Adirondack 2020) - has size, length, and strength that most can't match - looks taller than listing. Intriguing mix of skills as she can step out and put the ball on the floor, and she runs the floor better than most forwards - beat everyone up the court after a rebound, caught & finished on a few occasions
Erin Fox (5'10" F, Millbrook 2020) - another 4 with an intriguing skill set, great footwork, quick first step in face-up game and finishes with either hand. Very tough matchup for most teams. Active on the glass.
Teaghan Flaherty (5'10" G/F, Rye 2020) - has an old-school game, using elite footwork to get by defenders, has numerous ways to finish around the rim. Will get into the mid-post & create, and can pass very well out of the area. Was 1 of 142 players to try out for USA U16 national team.
Erin Smith (5'2" G, Goshen 2020) - skilled, electric PG that showed the ability to call her own number or create for others, was comfortable in P&R situations and in the open court
Ally Shoemaker (5'6" G, Chittenango 2020) - tough guard that causes problems with her athleticism, frustrating ballhandlers or getting into the lane herself. Showed range, stepping out & hitting several Js
Melanie Hoyt (6'1" F, Stamford 2021) - ultimate stretch 4 skill set, can hit jumpers with consistency and finishes well at the rim. Great length, runs floor well, blocks shots - major impact player as she gets stronger
Lilly Phillips (5'9" G, Cambridge 2021) - improving seemingly by the day, looked comfortable against older, stronger players - explosive getting to the rim & finishing - knocked down threes off the catch & off the dribble
Lexie Roe (5'4" G, Fayetteville-Manlius 2021) - guard skill set is as advanced as any younger player in the building, knockdown shooter with range and has the kind of handle to create her own. Showed the ability to hit from as far as 25' during the late session.
Sophie Phillips (5'9" G, Cambridge 2021) - played the steady style I've come to expect from Sophie - great decision maker in P&R game, knowing when to score & when to give it up - finished through contact at the rim with either hand, and started connecting from long range in the final game
Sarah Mattfeld (5'9" G, Catholic Central 2021) - perhaps the physically strongest guard in upstate NY in the 2021 class - was in attack mode early and looked confident in midrange & long range game, even showing a great step-through move in the post
Abbie Grace (6'0" F, Ichabod Crane 2022) - her exploits are already well-documented as one of the more highly touted rising 8th graders perhaps in America - controlled the post playing the 4 in one of her games in the early session against players 4 years older, showed willingness to bang in the blocks or face up 15'-18' away, very active on the boards
Callie Chevalier (5'6" G, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake 2022) - another pleasant surprise in the early session with how she competed against older players. Knockdown shooter, was comfortable putting the ball on the floor against pressure, and a great shot fake to raise defenders up.

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