Talia Caldwell jump-stops on the break in the middle of five defenders.
SANTA ANA, Calif. – The second of five Nike Regional Skills Academies concluded Sunday morning at Mater Dei High School. Players represented not only California but also Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The players participating were diverse in their ages as well with one eighth grader, a few freshman and the rest sophomore’s and juniors.
We were also treated with a pair of identical twins, Brenna and Megan Malcolm-Peck from Denver. Many of the camp coaches took to calling them each “Super Twin” as telling them apart in just a weekend with a gym full of 35 kids is impossible. The two have nearly identical games as well which is a great thing when you are as skilled as these two are.
After the shock of camp director Gannon Baker and his intensity wore off and the players realized the level of play that was expected the kids really responded. No where else will these young athletes execute two-ball dribbling drills in front of 34 of their peers while being slapped on the arms and pushed. This demonstration took the earlier distraction of using a tennis ball to the next level. The method behind the madness is that after that kind of harassment being able to play through a hand-check or hip bump seems like a walk in the park.
Monique Oliver sticks her tongue out while
concentrating during dribbling drills.
Some groups needed to be prodded to work at Gannon-esque levels but there were some groups that worked incredibly well together. One that stood out on Saturday included two freshmen, an eighth grader and a junior. Layshia Clarendon (2009), Kaleena Lewis (2011), Carlie Needles (2011) and Jordan Adams (2012) grouped together for work on pick-and-pop drills. Of all the groups in the gym this was the group working the hardest on every repetition. Many groups turned it up when Baker was at its basket and took a deep breath when he moved to another basket. Baker was no where near this group and all of them still worked with an intense pace.
Three days of action yielded some tired and sore bodies but exposure to much needed skill building for the players as well. Many of these kids haven’t been taught the game. Offensive sets and plays dominate most of these players’ high school seasons. The question is how can they succeed without the tools to play within these genius plays? Evaluating players in this situation exposes so many of the weaknesses the players have because they are working on new skills without the luxury of reverting back to what they’re comfortable with.
So with that we give you the first of two tip sheets and up first are the upperclassmen.
Gennifer Brandon (Chatsworth, Calif.) was the most impressive player in the gym this weekend. Her peers were calling her “New Nneka” or “Nneka Junior”, a reference to Nneka Ogwumike, a 2008 class Stanford commit. Both are truly incredible athletes and both like blocking shots. Brandon swatted shots from guards and posts alike all weekend long and she did it with the flare of a real shot blocker. She sprints the court and can elevate over anyone to finish. Her footwork has improved from a year ago and she’s working better for post position but both are areas she can improve more on. Defensively she is very good at keeping her long arms in the passing lanes making post entry passes very difficult. She also contributed the biggest highlight play of the event when she soared from the trail to block a Monique Oliver shot attempt, not once, but twice. She catapulted herself into the air as the ball left Oliver’s hand and she extended both hands, blocking the single shot twice, once with each hand. Oliver was not the only player to get Brandon’d this weekend.
Gennifer Brandon elevates for the finish.
Darshae Burnside (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) has a lot of athleticism and she has tons of potential. She has good quickness and can score from the mid-post well with her face-up game. Defensively she blocks some shots but her limitations on both sides of the ball are intensity. She has the ability to be one of the best forwards on the west coast but didn’t get after it as consistently as many of her peers. When she turns it on though, she is a handful.
Talia Caldwell (Los Angeles, Calif./Marlborough) had a great weekend. She has the ball handling ability to keep up with many of the guards on kick-out dribbles, between the legs change of direction. Her mobility also makes her handle a real world application. She played physical in the paint, worked hard in every single drill and was one of the kids that truly got the most out of the opportunity. She gets great position, makes great moves, draws fouls and for her finishing through the contact is her next challenge.
Layshia Clarendon (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) is a fantastic combo guard who really came on late in the camp. She has quickness and shiftiness with the ball while maintaining very good body control. She utilized some of the specific things directed to the point guards by Baker perfectly by using her body to protect the ball while things developed instead of crossing over ten times -- basically working smarter not harder. She does a great job of creating space and has some shot making ability on the perimeter.
Danielle Diamant (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman) continued to show that versatility and mobility are required to be play the new brand of power forward these days. She can stretch defenses with her shooting ability. The one thing that seems to be holding her back is being in world class shape. You simply have to be against the top competition. She has a lot of the tools to be a dominant player just from natural ability and maximizing it would take her to the next level.
Nichole Jackson (Bonney Lake, Wash./Auburn-Riverside) seemed to find her confidence playing against a lot of very good players. She took on a great challenge by pairing up with Afure Jemerigbe on one-on-one drill work. Playing against a physically stronger and quicker player forced her to execute things perfectly to be successful and she had good results jabbing to create space for her jumper. Her passing ability really shined in early scrimmages. She doesn’t get a lot of credit for it but she delivers the ball to her scorers and hits the target almost every time.
Nichole Jackson in two-ball dribbling drills.
Christina Marinacci(Santa Ana, Calif./Foothill) is one of the most versatile forwards in the country and it showed here. She is a play that is good at a lot of things and the drill work really pushed her to get even better at those things. In the scrimmages her mid-range jumper was on point. She doesn’t need a lot of room to get the shot off and recognizes when she has created the space for it. Getting stronger to be able to guard the big forward position in college is probably the most immediate area to address as her skill set is solid and she showed she can pick up new things this weekend.
Monique Oliver (Long Beach, Calif./Polytechnic) continued to play with great energy. She was on the floor a lot, sometimes by her decision and other times from collisions with the other bigs in the paint. She showed her mobility and was able to excel in some of the guard oriented drills. Finishing consistently is still the challenge for her, especially with her back to the basket as her face up game is dominant.
Eliza Pierre (Pasadena, Calif./John Muir) might have been the quickest player at the event. Her change of direction is super quick and learning to control tempo would make her that much harder to stop. She made quite a few plays on dribble penetration including a SportsCenter worthy wrap-around pass in the paint. Becoming a consistent shooting threat will also take her game to the next level and force defenders to stay closer than they should with her first step.
Kiyana Stamps (Morena Valley, Calif./Perris) is one of the hardest working kids here when the whistle blows. She attacks the basket strong and did a great job of pushing the break consistently. She created contact going to the basket, found teammates spotting up, and made a few nifty interior passes. Once she figures out the footwork on a new drill she attacks it hard. She is shooting the ball with more confidence and needs to continue to become more consistent with her jumper.