From Brian McCormick, contributing to Swish Appeal from Denver.
All-Star Games usually make a mockery out of legitimate basketball turning the game more into a sideshow pick-up game, but the last-second execution at the end of the first half showed the true abilities of the players in the WBCA All-Star Game.
The White Team regained possession with about 16 seconds left. Without using a timeout, Jordan Adams (USC) calmly brought the ball across half court, while White-Team MVP Jewell Loyd (Notre Dame) used a down screen on the right block to curl into a three-pointer that hit the bottom of the net. This occurred several possessions after Michaela Mabrey (Notre Dame) used a screen correctly, flared to the corner, caught a perfectly-placed skip pass from Morgan Tuck (UConn), and swished the three-pointer.
With Brittany Mallory and Natalie Novosel graduating, Loyd and Mabrey figure to find playing time quickly along with Kayla McBride in the Notre Dame backcourt alongside All-American Skylar Diggins. Loyd especially impressed with her all-around ability, size, strength, and shooting, while Mabrey showed a strong basketball intelligence and smooth shooting stroke. Even when committing a turnover, Mabrey attempted a left-hand push-pass around a defender rather than using a right-hand pass and exposing the ball to her defender. While the pass was not completed, that type of skill level, when complemented by improved strength training at the college level, bode will for her success at the next level, and the continued success of the Irish.
Loyd was as impressive as any player in the game, as evidenced by the MVP award. She has a nice shooting stroke and plays with a smoothness and toughness in her game. She looks and plays like a college player already. While Mallory and Novosel are big losses for the Irish, Loyd demonstrated the quality to step right into the starting lineup and produce.
Breanna Stewart (UConn) is the star of her class because of her size and skill. However, watching her play, her game is so mature. She does not play like a high-school player. She anticipates the game so well, whether pursuing a rebound or setting up a cut with the perfect timing. She plays fast, but she never rushes. She is the embodiment of smooth, which is not something often spoken about a skinny 6'3" 18-year-old girl. While she joins a UConn program playing in its fifth Final Four in a row, it is hard to see how she won't make an immediate impact. Even on a team full of stars at the college level, she offers such a high skill level combined with great size and fluidity that she will be a tough match-up for any college program, and a perfect fit for the high-skill system employed at UConn. She is obviously a very different player than former UConn stars Diana Taurasi or Maya Moore, but she adds the same type of star quality.
When college coaches recruit, Clemson-bound Jonquel Jones is the prototype: Long, athletic, and with perimeter skills to match. She is not the best player in the class right now, but when coaches and the media talk about potential, they are talking about Jonquel Jones. She demonstrated capable ball-handling skills and good vision. She moves effortlessly despite her long, lanky 6'2 frame and knocked down a three-pointer. She is not the quickest or most skilled player right now, but she oozes potential. Watching her is not unlike watching Sacramento Kings forward Donte Greene when he played in the McDonald's All-American Game. Few players combine her length and movement quality with actual basketball skills, and if she has the work ethic to continue building on these qualities, she could be one of the players who we remember from the 2012 class.
Jones is one of the few players willing to upset the current vanguard, along with USC-bound Adams and UCLA-bound Nirra Fields. Otherwise, the rich get richer, as the other players head to current powers like UConn, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, and Maryland. Fields, Adams, and Jones have the ability to transform their future programs right away.
Jones is the type of player who could put Clemson on the map and jump start a program, similar to the effect that Angel McCoughtry had at Louisville. Adams has such a great feel for the game and is so smooth with the ball. She has the height to see and finish over most guards. She immediately makes her teammates better, and she will have several former high-school All-American teammates at USC. Fields is known for her ability to penetrate, but what stands out is the strength that she exhibits on her finishes. Her lower body is so strong, she is able to finish through contact. Her game is Derrick Rose-like with that ability to get to the rim and finish. These former high-school teammates should help elevate the level of the Pac12, and maybe set a foundation at UCLA and USC to compete with Stanford who has had a stranglehold at the top of the conference.
The two players who stood out in more subtle ways were Navy-team MVP and Oklahoma-bound Nicole Kornet and Tuck. Tuck is a smooth player; her ball-handling for a player of her size and power was surprisingly effective, and she showed the confidence to shoot the three pointer. She appears to be a perfect fit for UConn, and along with Stewart, will add some more size to the front court next season. She did not have any sensational plays, nor did she do anything to draw attention to herself, but she looked like a player. She carried herself like a smart, skilled basketball player. She made simple plays like a great outlet pass to start a fast break and the perfect skip pass for an open three-pointer. In an all-star game, nobody notices these plays, but astute coaches notice. Tuck is the least heralded of UConn's star-studded recruiting class, but she is quite a player in her own right.
Kornet was similarly unspectacular and fantastic at the same time. With the athleticism and talent on display, many may have overlooked Kornet. However, after Stewart, she may have been the second-most skilled player on the court, and on this day, her MVP was well-earned, as she was the first player that I noticed. She showed great control attacking the basket and a nice release on her shot. She is a prototypical Sherri Coale player. There is nothing about her game that immediately attracts attention, but the more that you watch her play, the more that you see the brilliance in her game. She is a player and a likely immediate difference maker for the Sooners.
If there was one skill not on display, it was the ability to pass into the post. Several times, players posted up with great position, and teammates attempted to enter the ball, but they either used the wrong type of pass or otherwise failed to deliver the pass. This is an overlooked, yet important skill.
While the high-school stars performed, the college coaches, by and large, missed the action. While several head coaches like Brenda Frese and Gary Blair watched their future players perform, few other coaches attended. Maybe the other coaches are frustrated or jealous because the top programs continue to inherit the high school riches, but it is disappointing when women's coaches do not support the women's game, and instead hit the bars to watch the men's Final Four games.
How can the game grow if the game cannot even attract those involved in it?
Brian McCormick, author of Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development and manger of Brian McCormick Basketball (developyourbballiq.com), is an experienced coach and development expert whose basketball insights about everything from youth development to point guard play are valuable for any thoughtful basketball fan. He has previously contributed to Swish Appeal with his thoughts on why developing coaching expertise at mid-majors is good for women's college basketball.
For more on the WBCA All-Star game, see Jessica Lantz' look at Nicole Kornet.