Wednesday, April 21, 2021

A Weekend in the 518: Zero Gravity 'Spring Fling' Notes & Standouts

It was a long drought, but AAU basketball events have finally returned 'back to the crib' in upstate NY & with that, 2021 already feels like more of a return to 2019 times than a rerun of 2020. Zero Gravity, a company that has made themselves synonymous with event coordination in Northeast club basketball, did the honors in the 518 as Hunter Stratton & crew brought back the ZG Spring Fling to various Albany area facilities. There were more teams than this old accounting major cares to look back and count between boys & girls, but I tried to pay particular attention to the 38 teams spanning 7th grade to varsity divisions on the girls end. Over the course of the weekend, I was able to see approximately 30 of them in action while catching a good number of those teams, especially the ones that played deep into Sunday, on multiple occasions.

Albany area ZG events have often been the place where I find who's 'next up' in the 518 when they're in 7th/8th grade, before they're playing at the varsity level & often before they build any profile on the AAU circuit. For proof of that, look no further than standout area talent like Sophie & Lilly Phillips, who I got a good look at four years ago at a ZG event around this time of year - well before the state championships & D1 attention. With that in mind, you can probably see why I enjoyed the opportunity to focus on this event. This one also brought a good deal of that Section 2 up & coming talent, which is reflected in the upcoming list. A few players that caught my eye with their weekend performances while bouncing from facility to facility, in alphabetical order:

Mercy commit Abby Racine (listed deeper in the article), one of Section 7's premier players the last few years, had a strong showing Saturday night.

Jakaiya Dewer (Troy 2021, Rosie Carr Academy) - I caught the varsity division to end Saturday night and the Rosie Carr squad rolled to a pair of victories, so I probably could drop a few names from the team given what I saw. However, Jakaiya in particular caught my eye with both her individual development and the difference she made when on the court. Simply put, the team turned it up when she was in. Her athleticism & ability to anticipate the play was key on the defensive end, as she played a large role in spearheading the press to turn over their opponents. Offensively, on top of the fast break points she got from that anticipation ability, she was knocking down perimeter jumpers off the catch. As someone who didn't have that on the scouting report in the recent past, adding consistent shooting ability to the three-point line changes who she is as a player & bumps her to being a capable wing. Jakaiya, in my opinion, is one of the 518's 'best on the board' of remaining uncommitted 2021s.

Gabriella DiBacco (Catholic Central 2026, Albany Capitals) - I've heard about this Capitals team for a couple years now, but true to my usual form, I haven't really watched them until their 7th grade AAU year. After catching them on two consecutive weekends, I can already tell it's one of those teams that can potentially have someone different step up for them every day. It was a couple others the previous weekend at Hoop Group; in what I was able to see this time around, it was Gabriella DiBacco that caught my eye. A tough PG that mixes basketball IQ with a competitive edge, she showed the ability to run the show offensively, create for herself & for teammates, knock down the open jumper, and compete hard on the defensive end. She already brings the sort of things you'd expect to see from the daughter of two coaches & basketball lifers. Looking forward to seeing Gabriella and the rest of this Capitals team some more going forward.

Emily Dingmon (Corinth 2024, City Rocks) - With the amount of attention I paid to younger age divisions, I didn't watch too many players with varsity level experience. When I came across one in the 9th grade division, it was noticeable. Dingmon, who was a big scorer as a freshman at Class C/Adirondack League member Corinth, looked like she was used to playing against 16-18 year olds with her willingness to seek out contact and ability to play with & through the game's physicality. She did most of her work around the rim with a lot of in the post, but also showed the ability to stretch to the perimeter and attack off the dribble or hit an open J out to around 18'. Emily's name is one you'll hear a lot of in small school Section 2 going forward.

It takes a lot for me to mention someone below 7th grade, but El Dior Dobere (mentioned below) did "a lot" and then some over the weekend while playing up.

El Dior Dobere (2027, City Rocks) - Anyone that knows me or has followed the blog or social media knows how rare it is for me to make a point of mentioning someone before entering 7th grade. If it ever happens, you know it's legit... and El Dior Dobere's ability is undeniable. She doubled up in the 7th & 9th grade divisions for City Rocks and stood out in both, but she left her largest impression in the 7th grade championship game, where she went off for 27 in a 45-39 victory over a good Albany Capitals team. The overall talent level speaks for itself with that kind of production - tough off the bounce, gets to the rim, already has some in-between game, and I saw her hit a few perimeter Js over the weekend too. Her poise, moxie, confidence, and IQ on the court was what really caught my eye, though. Whether it was in a blowout or that close championship game, her court presence & overall impact was second-to-none. Obviously, she's very young. There's a long road ahead. However, if the weekend was any indication, let this be an introduction & prepare to hear Dior's name plenty over the next several years.

Kendyl Ouimette (Columbia 2025, Blue Nation) - I love my fellow lefties, but why Kendyl's on this list extends far past her dominant hand. This was my first time watching the Suburban Council up & comer, and my only question is 'when can I watch her again?'. She appears to be a more natural PG, but can play both on & off the ball with her shooting ability and decent positional size at this age. She seemed to have an extra gear in comparison to everyone she played against and used it at both ends, getting by defenders off the bounce & causing havoc with pressure on the defensive end. Like any good lefty, everyone in the gym may have known where she was going, but she always found a way to get to her spots regardless. This is high praise given how much I enjoyed this person's game, but at first look, she gave off some Cameron Tooley (Shen/Le Moyne) vibes... and I'm here for it. Behind Kendyl and several other Blue Devils that were a part of Blue Nation's dominance, the future may be bright in East Greenbush.

Kendyl Ouimette left a strong first impression while her Blue Nation team rolled to a handful of victories.

Abby Racine (Northeastern Clinton 2021, CougarsMercy commit) - As someone that has been familiar with Abby on the court for 3-4 years - from high school to AAU to EST events, I've seen her in all sorts of avenues - she's the model for consistent improvement/development of necessary tools over a long period to maximize potential. As a freshman that was well-developed physically, she was more of a post player that would step out every now & then. At 5'10"-5'11", there's generally a clear ceiling to that. She can still bang & get you one in the post and is willing to do so, but she's improved on the ball at the wing and developed into a legitimate sniper with a feathery shooting touch. The midrange game is pure and the perimeter J is textbook & consistent. The Cougars (Northeastern Clinton varsity team) opponents learned this on Saturday night, but give her any space beyond the arc & the scoreboard operator might as well just put 3 on the board. She's worked herself into being a legitimate D2 player that has the potential to be college-ready from the jump at Mercy.

Carolina Williams (Ichabod Crane 2025, Blue Nation) - I remember Carolina from the first time I was able to see her play, which was back in September 2019 at the EST Fall Futures Combine at Mekeel. She was small back then... very small. Natural for someone just entering 7th grade, right? But I also remember thinking 'hey, this kid can play' by about the 5th eye-opening play she made that afternoon. I also caught the live stream of one of Ichabod Crane's games this season, where she competed on the varsity team, and thought she showed signs of development. The in-person eye test confirmed that here. A true floor general at the PG spot, she was sure-handed with the dribble & got to her spots, effectively changed pace and controlled tempo, showed the ability to get to the rim with either hand, create for others off the bounce, and hit the three with space. She's also grown some & added some muscle to the point that defenders couldn't bump her off her line when attacking off the bounce. Carolina shows all the signs of being a basketball purist's dream at the PG down the road. ICC has never been known as a basketball powerhouse, but there have been a couple notable players coming through Valatie in the recent past. I think it's about time to add Carolina to that list.

Carolina Williams had a full weekend, helping Blue Nation roll to 4 wins & then linking with her Albany Capitals squad for a scrimmage to end Sunday, and she excelled throughout.

Jordan Wolfe (South Glens Falls 2026, Foothills Flash) - I should preface this by saying I only watched this team play for ~8 minutes so I didn't get a full look by any means, but it was enough to see some of the current ability and potential from this northern Section 2 up & comer. Jordan has good positional size at the wing at this age, can be an athletic & physical presence, and showed a capable midrange game already. The daughter of a coach (current SGF varsity coach Mike Wolfe), she showed some of the "coach's kid" gene as she made a big difference in giving her team some separation in a nip & tuck game. She made her presence felt in just a few minutes; looking forward to getting another look at this crew, and hopefully for a little longer next time.

And let's add a bonus! Two overall team performances caught my eye, and they excelled to the point that I probably could've mentioned several more of their players above. A little extra recognition for:

Albany Capitals (2025s): I didn't list any of their players above, which is probably unfair with how they played as individuals and as a team. However, even in the two games I watched of theirs, just about everyone seemingly had their moments as it turned into a 'pick your poison' weekend for everyone else in that age division. Coach Ron Beaudoin, the Tamarac varsity coach, had them looking like a team in mid-May instead of mid-April. Whether it was the backcourt play of players like Kayleigh Ahern & Lizzie Hansen (both Averill Park), the guard versatility of Kayla Beaudoin (Tamarac) who spent time playing on the ball and also spaced the court off the ball & hit shots, the activity & two-way production of athletic forwards Ava Mamone (Troy) & Lily Wohlleber (Averill Park) - who each have legitimate upside - or their depth with the ability to go to the bench & continue producing at a high level, they checked all the boxes in a dominant weekend. They, like the next team listed below, were probably one of the 3-4 best girls' teams at the event, regardless of age.

Ava Mamone (Troy 2025) was a major part of a balanced Capitals attack that ran through the competition.

Blue Nation (2024/25s): I felt the need to specify the age split due to the overwhelming amount of 2025s they had playing up a year in age. With several on the team including a few from a nice young core at Columbia (hence the Blue Nation name, I assume), not only did they go 4-0 on the way to a 9th grade championship, none of the games were remotely close with the closest final margin being 27. They were also one of the top three teams there, and to say they could've won the varsity division probably isn't a major reach. Guard play was too strong, too many capable offensive weapons, and out of the 2.5 games I saw of theirs, no one could handle their pressure. Looking forward to seeing these players in the gym again in the near future.

In the interest of not turning a blog post into a book, I'll cut it here. Feel free to look back at the EST coverage of this event on Twitter (@NYSTakeover) and Instagram (empirestatetakeover). If you want to see it all without having to scroll through my other postings, search the tag #ZGSpringFling. All pictures from the event are up on Facebook (Empire State Takeover). Give them all a follow! Or like... or whatever. Also, stay tuned in coming days for news about the next EST event, which is looking like it'll be the return of the EST Middle School Combine (Classes of 2025-26) in about a month. Next stop for me: Manheim, PA for Select Events "Live at the Nook" at Spooky Nook. See you there!

1 comment:

  1. Abby is my grand daughter and we are so proud of her accomplishments. We have watched her play ball from elementary level to 12th grade. Can't wait to see what happens at Mercy!!
    Thank you for your write up on Abby!!