Monday, July 9, 2012

2012 USJN New England SummerFest - Event Recap

On Saturday at UMass Lowell it was a one day tournament featuring some of the top girls AAU programs in the northeast region. Participating programs included the NE Crusaders, Philadelphia Belles, Lone Wolf, Maine Firecrackers, Icebreakers, Mass Lady Warriors and more.

This tournament took place during the Division I live period, so in addition to D-II and D-III coaches there were also D-I coaches in attendance. New Hampshire, Holy Cross, Wagner and Siena were just some of the schools who had coaches there.

Both New Hampshire and Holy Cross have made scholarship offers to Londonderry High junior Aliza Simpson, who played alongside her Crusader teammates in a highly anticipated match up with the Philadelphia Belles 16U team in a game which featured 10 future D-I college players.

Here’s a recap of that game, as well as some other notable performances by NH prospects at this event.

Crusader 16U National Team vs. Philadelphia Belles
There was a ton of talent playing in this game, but the difference was the size advantage inside for the girls from Philadephia. They had about four different girls who were 6-foot or taller and they were all athletic and active in the paint. As a result they outrebounded the Crusaders and also blocked about 10 of their shots. The Crusaders led 28-18 at halftime, but ended up losing 43-35 in a hard fought battle between two very good basketball teams.

The strength of the Crusaders team is their quartet of future D-I guards with Aliza Simpson (offers from UNH and Holy Cross), Maine natives Kristen Anderson (committed to UNH) and Allie Clement and Massachusetts native Katie Vareika. This is a very talented back court and it was fun to watch them play together.

Anderson and Vareika are two of the best shooters in New England, and in the first half they were hitting shots but they cooled off in the 2nd half. Not only that, but as the game went on seemingly every time the Crusaders went to the rim they were getting blocked by the Bells’ bigs. One of the Belles' guards was also a knock down shooter and as a team they were fast, athletic and disciplined. The bottom line is that while the Crusader lost this game they lost to a VERY good team and playing in high level games against teams like this is how you get better.

Here’s a look at how each of the NH girls played in this game:

Aliza Simpson, 5’8” Guard, Londonderry HS (2014) – played both the point and the off-guard position. Really showed a good knack for moving without the basketball, as she was always cutting to the basket or open spot on the floor after dishing it. On one cut to the rim she caught a pass from Brown and made a tough and-1 finish inside. Overall she was good defensively but quiet on offense with Anderson, Vareika and Clement taking most of the shots. Still, Simpson was unselfish and made pinpoint passes to open teammate all game.

McKenzie Brown, 6’1” Forward, Bedford HS (2014) – Good size and quickness, Brown battled inside against the freakishly big and athletic forwards for the Belles. Hit mid-range jumper and made good passes from high post. Battled on boards and ran the floor well.

Ali Glennon, 5’11” Forward, Bedford HS(2014) – Glennon played inside more in this game due to the Crusaders having such a loaded back court and one of their bigs sitting out with an injury, but she also does have the ability to play out on the perimeter as well. Glennon spaced the floor well, showed and improved handle and crashed the boards. She’s a very versatile player with a high upside if she continues to work hard.

Courtney Walsh, 5’7” Guard, Central Catholic HS (2014) – Quite possibly the most unselfish player in the state, Walsh is a great player for team chemistry because she is always looking to set her teammates up rather than look for her own offense, and only shoots it if she is open and it comes in the flow of the offense. That was once again the case in this game, although she does have a killer mid-range jumper which was once again working. Walsh played tough defense as usual and once again showed great poise, even when things got tight late in the game.

Rachel Collins, 5’8” Guard, Bedford HS (2014) & Clairee Putnam, 5’5” Guard, Windham HS (2014) – Again, with the surplus of back court talent on this team minutes were a little sporadic for these two. Still, there’s no question these are two of the best guards in NH for 2014 and they both played hard in this game, hustling after loose balls and creating offense for their teammates. Collins is a high academic kid who is sure to have plenty of NESCAC and possibly Ivy League programs recruiting her.

Crusaders 14U National Team Also Impresses
The Crusaders 14U National team is a combination of incoming sophomores and freshman, with many players from the Granite State. I had the chance to see full games for them, and they won both games, winning 46-40 in the first one and 59-45 over the Icebreakers later on.

This team features possibly the two most athletic players in NH, in Peace Kabari (Phillips Exeter Academy) and Taylor Choate (Nashua North) who both played very well on the day but just need to work on finishing inside more consistently. You also have versatile wing player JJ Daniell and a trio of talented incoming freshman in Madison Springfield (Conant HS), Nikki Tucci (Bedford) and Courtney O’Connell (Bedford). Here’s a look at how each of them looked on the day:

Peace Kabari, 5’6” Guard, Phillips Exeter Academy (2016) – Hard to believe she’ll be a freshman next season, as Kabari looks more like an 18 year old physically. She has tremendous leaping ability when going up for rebounds and shiftiness on drives to the basket, to go with forearms that are bigger than most guys her age. Kabari really played hard in both games, diving out of bounds for loose balls, coming out of nowhere for offensive board and put-backs and pushing the ball in transition.

Taylor Choate, 5’7”, Nashua North (2015) – Between this event and the Crusader Jamboree back in April I have been very impressed with Choate this AAU season, and she is making a strong case for possibly being the #1 NH player for the Class of 2015. She simply plays with a motor that NEVER stops going, and she really thrives in an up-tempo game. Choate particularly shined in the Crusaders win over the Icebreakers, as she was all over the place forcing turnovers and getting out in transition and finishing on the break. At one point she knocked down a jumper from just inside the three-point line, then immediately grabbed a steal on the press and exploded to the rim. Next time down the floor she was again beat the defense down the floor for a layup.

Madison Springfield, 5’10”, Conant HS (2016) – Definitely the best incoming freshman in the state, Springfield once again showed a strong all-around game. You would think that a 14 year old who’s already 5-foot-10 would be strictly playing in the post, but Springfield is actually a very good perimeter player, often times running the point even. And while her outside shot was a little off on this particular day she was very effective at driving to the rim and creating offense, as well as making a couple of blocked shots defensively.

JJ Daniell, 5’8”, Hanover HS (2015) – A 2/3 combo, Daniell once again played well by slashing to the basket and hitting the outside shot. She played unselfishly and looked to set her teammates up, but at the same time looked for her own offense and was not shy to pull the trigger when the opportunity was there. Daniell is athletic, played extremely hard and has a good understanding of the game.

Courtney O’Connell, 5’9”, Bedford HS (2016) – Long and athletic are the two best words to describe this youngster. O’Connell was part of a very nicely executed 2-on-1 break with Springfield, and then in the half court she flashed to the open spot on the floor, caught a pass and stuck the foul line jumper – plus drew the foul.

Nikki Tucci, 5’5”, Bedford HS (2016) – Tucci sat out the second game with a sore knee, but in the first game she played a solid game on the perimeter. She hit the open man, played tough on-the-ball defense and played mistake free basketball.

In other action…
The Crusaders White team had a thrilling 65-63 win over a good Mass Lady Warriors team. The Crusaders were up by 3 late in regulation but a girl from the Lady Warriors hit a three-pointer with :01 remaining to send it to OT. There The Crusaders were able to beat the Lady Warriors' full court press for layups, including a clutch shot inside by Melissa MacLeod (Winnacunnet).

The story for the Crusaders White team during this game and their earlier game was the play of Bernadette Connors (Windham) and Madison Gibbs (Bishop Guertin). Connors was slashing to the rim and also hitting shots, while Gibbs drained six three-pointers in two games in addition to her high basketball IQ.

The Crusader Gold team was playing shorthanded but still played well. Springfield, O’Connell and Tucci were playing up, but the Gold is a very deep and talented team. I was once again impressed with the heart, determination and tenacity of their little warrior Bri Purcell. Purcell is another one of the talented freshmen Bedford has coming in, and although she is probably only about 5-feet tall she is one of the area’s top players for her age group and is fun to watch because nobody plays harder and with more heart than her. Also playing well for the Gold team was 5-foot-11 forward Sara Messler, who battled inside and also faced up from 15 feet and hit shots. She will be going to Oyster River and is also be one of the state’s top incoming freshman players.

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