ESPN HoopGurlz: Best of summer players
With plenty of justification, many were expecting the worst. With much of the 2012 class' top players in tow, USA Basketball was at the FIBA U19 World Championships in Chile during most of July. The economy was tailspinning, likely restricting competition to a more regional basis. Heck, of the 20 players ranked among the top 10 in the 2012 and 2013 classes by ESPN HoopGurlz, only five competed at Nike Nationals, the summer circuit's premier event.
But just as they have in summers past, the players played. And they rose to unexpected heights.
The summer technically began with USA Basketball's record-breaking dominance at the FIBA Americas U16 championships in Mérida, Mexico. It served as a catapult for three players -- Rebecca Greenwell, Linnae Harper and Mercedes Russell -- who ended up on our best-players-of-summer list. Exciting new talent sprouted at every turn, and the second half of July produced a scintillating, overtime victory by Midwest Elite over the Arizona Warriors in the USJN championship and DFW T-Jack's emotional win at Nike Nationals.
How did this all happen in spite of the odds? Chalk it up to anything from bobbing ponytails to pink pre-wrap to multi-colored nail polish. Girl power prevailed -- once again.
Best of Category: Kelsey Mitchell, All Ohio Branndais Agee, Michigan Crossover Candice Agee, West Coast Premier Taylor Agler, All Ohio Te'a Cooper, 2015, A.O.T. Lady Rebels Caprice Dennis, All Ohio Asia Durr, Georgia Pistols Martin, 2015 Lashann Higgs (2015), DFW Washington Kianna Holland, Georgia Hoopstars Christen Inman, 2013, Triple D Hoops Elite Jonquel Jones, Blue Star Maryland Nicole Kornet, Cy-Fair Nike Elite Destiny King, West Coast Premier Maddie Manning, Kingdom Hoops Mercedes Russell, Team Concept Katie Lou Samuelson, Cal Swish Black Jessica Washington, OK And1 Jamie Weisner, Northwest Blazers
If "breaking out" means emerging from under the radar, we're not quite sure what Kelsey Mitchell did. She came screaming out of nowhere like a stealth fighter, leaving sonic booms, and wide-eyed and drool-riddled college coaches, from coast to coast.
And to think it all began with an ill-conceived early exit from USA Basketball trials. Mitchell's transgressions apparently were wearing her jersey backward and simply being too individually talented. The snub certainly said more about the absence of national vision of our own game than it did about Mitchell's downsides.
There aren't many. Maybe her trigger finger gets a bit itchy at times, but we've seldom seen a player as willing to shoot herself back into rhythm. Plus, she is the princess of the answer bucket, nullifying an opponent's basketball, literally in an eye blink.
The best part? Mitchell is from the Class of 2014.
Maybe it says something that behind her on this list are three from the Class of 2015 -- Taya Cooper of the A.O.T. Lady Rebels, Asia Durr of the Georgia Pistols and Lashann Higgs of DFW Elite. The future is bright.
And speaking of bright futures, we ponder the summer of 2012 for All Ohio Black. Not only will that team (presumably) feature Mitchell, it also will have another member of this list, Taylor Agler. The daughter of Seattle Storm coach Brian Agler, she's a player who flourishes with superior talent both with her and arrayed against her. Having Mitchell alongside certainly will guarantee the former.
Best of Category: Jewell Loyd, Midwest Elite Allisha Gray, Georgia Metros Bashaara Graves, Tennessee Flight Rebecca Greenwell, Tennessee Flight Linnae Harper, Lady Fire Moriah Jefferson, DFW T-Jack Michaela Mabrey. NJ Demons Kelsey Mitchell, All Ohio Mercedes Russell, Team Concept Breanna Stewart, USA Basketball
We were determined to keep this list to 10, a sort of All-America team for the summer. It wasn't easy.
The tough choices started at the top. In the end, Jewell Loyd put together as complete a summer as we've seen in a while, which was good enough to edge Moriah Jefferson and her obsession to honor her late coach, Marques Jackson.
Three other players from the 2012 class are on this list. Though she didn't shoot a bucket in the U.S. during July, top-ranked Breanna Stewart saved our country's skins often enough in Mexico. Bashaara Graves, No. 9 in 2012, continued to be an inside force who required opposing teams to attempt to scheme her into at least near-neutrality. And although she played on a slightly more dimly lit circuit than most, Michaela Mabrey showcased one of the more complete offensive games in the country.
From the 2013 class, Rebecca Greenwell, from FIBA Americas to Nike Nationals, had as compelling a case as anyone for player of summer. Allisha Gray scored as effortlessly as anyone in the country and Linnae Harper virtually redefined the notion of toughness from the backcourt and Mercedes Russell emerged from near anonymity to show herself as one of the more polished post prospects to come along in recent years.
Finally, Kelsey Mitchell did more than just stamp herself as a prospect to watch. She signaled her arrival among the nation's elite.