AAU basketball season is now in full swing, and the NH Notebook will be covering many of the state's top teams and players. We kicked off our coverage on Monday night at Portsmouth Christian Academy in Dover, by observing a NH Elite girls practice and evaluating the talent on hand.
NH Elite is in its fifth year and is one of the state's premier programs. Their older teams are coached by Dustin Freeman and Kent Coffey. They stress the fundamentals of the game and doing the little things well, such as making the extra pass, hitting explosion points when driving, boxing out and making the smart play rather than the fancy one. The practice included conditioning, full and half court skill work followed by full court scrimmaging.
Many of NH's top up and coming prospects were in the gym, including 5-foot-10 Spaulding senior Emily Benway, who has committed to play college ball of St. Joseph's of Maine. Other standouts included Kaya Cadagan (Winnacunnet), Kelsey Coffey (Londonderry) and Emily Francoeur (Somersworth), Allie Sirmaian (Salem), Riley Bennett (Bishop Brady), Ashley Hill (Trinity), Katie Valcich (Winnacunnet) and Sadie Shore (Portsmouth).
Here's a closer look at what we saw from the program's local prospects.
Class of 2015
Emily Benway, 5'10" Forward, Spaulding HS - St. Joe's is getting a good one in Benway. She has a good combination of size, strength, quickness and skill. Benway went through ball handling drills like a guard, she rebounded and scored inside like a post. She finished strong and through contact on a number of occasions. Benway also showed the ability to face up from the perimeter, put the ball on the floor and slash through 2 defenders on her way to a bucket. Benway runs the floor well for a big, played with lot of energy throughout the workout and dominated the boards.
Class of 2016
Emily Francoeur, 5'7" Point Guard, Somersworth HS - a fast, explosive point guard who has an extra gear of speed out there, plays hard but always stays under control with the ball. During drills she drained 3-pointers with ease, with a smooth, compact stroke. Francoeur is quick off the dribble when penetrating into the lane, she really zips her passes and puts them right on the money. Francoeur is a well conditioned athlete, as many of the players were getting tired at the end of the workout she was still going strong, racing past them for transition layups. A floor general who looks to distribute but can score as well.
Allie Sirmaian, 5'6" Guard, Salem HS - What impressed most about Sirmaian's play was her defense. Nobody in the gym showed my effort and desire on the defensive end, as she pressured the basketball and jumped the passing lanes for steals when playing off the ball. Right off the bat during scrimmage action she played tough 'D' on the ball and on the next trip grabbed a steal and took it in for the layup. She was one of the best shooters in the gym, yet she also played unselfish, looking to set a teammate for a better look when she had a good one. Sirmaian showed the ability to play either the 1 or the 2.
Ashley Hill, 5'6" Guard, Trinity HS - a scrappy, skilled combo-guard who doesn't back down from anybody. She made high-level plays throughout the workout, whether it was knocking down 3's, finishing inside off of strong dribble-drive moves or playing tough defense. She was one of the better shooters in the gym during drills, knocking down shots consistently although she could get the release a little higher. During scrimmages Hill showed good quickness off the bounce and the ability to finish in traffic with either hand.
Katie Valcich, 5'7" Point Guard, Winnacunnet HS - Valcich played an all-around strong floor game. She still does a nice job of keeping her head up and seeing the whole floor when leading the break, and made some good passes. She still needs to get the ball lower when dribbling. What we really noticed was how much Valcich has improved her outside jumper. In the past she was one dimensional - a very tough slasher but a weak shooter who you could leave open. But it appears she has worked hard to change that, and during drills she was knocking down shots left and right with improved form.
Charlotte Camp, 5'11" Post, Exeter HS - Camp has good size, and has a good mid-range jumper for a big. She hit jumpers from the elbow, with a high release after pulling up off the dribble.
Class of 2017
Kaya Cadagan, 5'10" Wing Forward, Winnacunnet HS - the prospect who has the highest upside in the program, due to her size, length, athleticism, agility and ability to score/rebound inside as well as stretch the defense with a deadly outside shot. She consistently knocked down 3's in drills, with a smooth, high release (she could get the release a tad quicker though). She showed good quickness and explosiveness during agility drills. Cadagan continued to stand out in scrimmages, finishing strong inside and on the next trip down hitting a 3 off the catch. Then she drilled a step-back 18-footer, and later blocked 2 shots on 1 possession. On the other end of the floor she buried another 3.
Kelsey Coffey, 5'8" Shooting Guard, Londonderry HS - the best shooter in the gym, and one of the best shooters in the state. You simply cannot leave this kid open, she'll make you pay. Coffey has a smooth, quick release and is capable of heating up and knocking down 4 or 5 long range bombs at any time. She consistently shot well in drills, and showed versatility during scrimmages by scoring down on the block and grab offensive boards when she had a smaller defender on her. A guard with good size who plays smart and doesn't turn the ball over.
Riley Bennett, 5'6" Shooting Guard, Bishop Brady - a solid all-around shooting guard who plays hard, whether in drills or scrimmages. She was one of the plays we noticed who was going hard in all drills, not just going through the motions. Bennett showed good quickness off the dribble, zips her passes and showed a smooth euro-step move. She's also a knock down shooter with a smooth, compact stroke off the catch. Bennett showed good hustle during scrimmages, grabbing her own missed shot for a put-back and on the next trip down drove and made a spin move into the lane before finishing in traffic. Hit shots off the catch and off the dribble.
Class of 2018
Sadie Shore, 5'8" Wing, Portsmouth HS - Shore was the freshman who stood out most, even when the scrimmages began and the freshmen were now matched up with sophomores, juniors and seniors. She didn't back down, and actually went right at the older players inside, grabbing offensive boards and knifing her way to the rim for some strong finishes or drawing a foul. Once she established her inside game, she then made a good move into the lane and then hit a smooth pull-up jumper. During full court drills she showed a smooth euro-step and finishing ability.
Mia Len, 5'4" Point Guard, Souhegan HS - the younger sister of former Souhegan all-state point guard Brandon Len, it's easy to see the resemblance as Mia is also a poised floor general who plays hard and distributes the ball well. Early on during full court ball handling drills we took note of her strong handle and ball control. During drills she knocked down the 3 and put good zip and accuracy on her passes. Len also talks well on defense.
Makala Eacrett, 5'3" Guard, Londonderry HS - a quick, scrappy combo-guard who reminds us of a young Clairee Putnam (now plays at St. A's). She plays hard and has a good handle. She has a nose for the basketball and is active on both ends of the floor, always in on loose balls, rebounds or creating plays off the bounce. Eacrett also made some nice passes during scrimmages which led to buckets.
Jenny Freedman, 5'6" Guard, Winnacunnet HS - very quick, explosive guard in the open floor, Freedman is quick off the dribble and also made some good passes to cutting teammates. One of the fastest players in the gym, and a tough defender. Slashed inside before banking in a tough runner.
Mercedes Greeley, 5'9" Forward, Londonderry HS - Greeley has a good combination of size and skill, especially for a freshman. Greeley showed solid fundamentals and soft touch on her mid-range jumper.
Michaela Downing, 5'6" Guard, Londonderry HS - Downing showed the ability to hit shots in the mid-range area as well as beyond the arc.
Chloe Benelli, 5'7" Guard, St. Thomas - A quick guard who played tough defense inside as well as out on the perimeter.
Reignie St. Pierre, 5'8" Wing, Portsmouth HS - Athletic wing player with good agility who can rebound, defend and hit shots.
These are all players to watch over the next few years. Best of luck to them this AAU season!