ESPN HoopGurlz: Nike Nationals players who shined
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Nike Nationals brought a wealth of talent to the Southeast region, and we continue our coverage by spotlighting players who took advantage of the elite competition to show what they could do at the next level.
Nia Jackson (Keller, Texas), Cy-Fair-Hensle: This 6-foot-2 SMU commit can throw her name in the ring for "most improved" from spring to summer. Jackson went from a frontcourt player with potential to a bonafide prospect. She has made the biggest strides with her low-post scoring. She did catch herself in the middle of a move and bailed on it, leading to an errant jump pass a time or two. But the assertiveness in attacking the post defender in the first place is a big deal. She is a physical defender who will block some shots, and her leaping ability and overall athleticism makes for a potential rebounding monster. If her offensive skillset continues to develop, she has all-conference potential for the Mustangs down the road.
Danielle Rodriguez (Downey, Calif.), Cal Swish Black: It's amazing what the mental part of the game can do for a player, especially for point guards, and Rodriguez hit Nike Nationals with an air of confidence. She has enough quickness and length with her 5-10 frame to neutralize the guards who may be quicker. She controlled tempo, using her body and change-of -speed moves to engage the defender, relieve pressure and get her team into their sets. Her decision making was spot on in picking her spots to attack from the top of the key. She was the perfect change of pace at the point from the other Swish guards. She needs to add strength to her long, lean frame for the next level, but her growth this summer was obvious.
Bashaara Graves (Clarksville, Tenn.), Tennessee Flight: Graves simply puts the "power" in power forward. Left one-on-one in the paint, she was going to score. Period. Defenses adjust to take-away shooters with face-guarding, or try to slow breakdown guards with help sagging into the gaps, but very few posts force you to do something in the post like Graves. The best bet was to try to match her with a physical defender to keep her from pinning too low and sending a double team or help from the middle with more length. But few teams have both of those pieces without giving up a lot on offense -- if they have it at all. She is calm and collected when the opposition doubles. The Flight shooters can thank her for many of their open looks as she draws so much attention in the post. Nobody made better use of not playing USA Basketball this summer than Graves. She was that good. And were it not for the buzz saw of defensive pressure from the DFW backcourt, she could very well have added a 2011 Nike Nationals title to her FIBA gold medals from the past two summers.
Danaejah Grant (Piscataway, N.J.), NYC Gauchos: Some players simply make plays, and Grant is one of them. It doesn't always look smooth, but it works for her and at the end of the game, she usually owns one of the bigger numbers in the box score. In a long line of tall wing players from the Gauchos' program, Grant may be the shortest of the crop. But she produces results. She attacked the basket relentlessly. And though she wastes a lot of dribbles and motion on the perimeter, when she finally gets to the dribble-drive, she is tough to contain. Athletically, she is explosive and the key to her success at the next level will largely depend on how much leeway Clemson gives her as she needs the ball in her hands to put up the totals she does for the Gauchos.
Sandra Udobi-Ofogu (Columbus, N.J.), Philly Belles: In the frontcourt there is an expectation of toughness and physicality at the Division I level, regardless of skill level or offensive production. Udobi-Ofogu has all those characteristics and is a potential lockdown post defender. She uses her body incredibly well, perhaps due to her international experience for the Nigerian cadet teams -- and gets right up to the limit of being called for a foul. That willingness to mix it up makes whomever she is guarding have to earn everything. Offensively, she has a strong drop step as well as a couple of counter moves she is comfortable going to. Slashing from the high post, she is at her best as her strength and athleticism is rarely denied without well-positioned and capable weak side help. She is a player who will contribute at the college level whether she is a starter or coming off the bench. She does too many things right to not be on the floor.
Karlie Samuelson (Huntington Beach, Calif.), Cal Swish Black: It's rare for a youngster on a 17U team to be the one who brings calm to her team, but the middle Samuelson sister (her sister Bonnie will be a freshman at Stanford and younger sister Katie Lou is a rising freshman) is just that. Whether Karlie ends up playing the point guard position in college, for the most part, is irrelevant because she has the ball skills and passing ability to get the job done. The 5-11 guard can flat out shoot the basketball, as evidenced by her performance all tournament long. When paired with a true point guard, you have all the lethality of her range waiting on the wings as well as enough skill at reading the floor and passing to have a truly dynamic offense. The knock on her is her foot speed, but she never plays outside her abilities. Although she's not as tall as her sisters, she brings a different skillset to the floor.
Jessica Jackson (Jacksonville, Ark.), Cy-Fair 15U: Completing the dynamic duo with Tyler Scaife for Cy-Fair's 15-and-under squad is the 6-2 Jackson. She has all the athleticism you could ask for in a player this size, and then some. She has the rare ability to snatch a defensive rebound off the rim, make the outlet pass and still fill a lane in transition. For this team she was used at the forward position a lot, which is where she continually poses matchup problems because she's quicker than anyone checking her and just as long. She had streaks where she was knocking down the mid-range jumper, and at that point you are in trouble because you have to choose how she is going to beat you. She needs to get her confidence level up with the level of her talent because she shows signs of coming down on herself or panicking when she makes a mistake. Keeping her focus on the floor and moving on from a turnover or missed shot will be key because she is a big part of her team's success.
Tesha Buck (Red Wing, Minn.), North Tartan U15: Looks can be deceiving, and that's exactly when Buck has you beat. This 5-11 combo guard looks like a player, but her facial expression is often brought up by scouts and recruiters as a question mark because she doesn't show a ton of emotion on the floor. She plays with plenty of fire and is amply competitive whether she scowls, smiles, pumps a fist or otherwise. Buck is a highly-skilled perimeter player with a knack for hitting big shots. She has range that extends beyond the 3-point arc but what is so telling is that she doesn't jack shots. She gets her scoring from the flow of her team's offense, but if the moment arises when her team needs to kill a run or hammer the last nail in the coffin, she doesn't hesitate to let it fly. So for those who think they have a mismatch because she might look disinterested, she's already got you beat.
Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.