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2015 Nike Nationals: Cal Stars dominate after slow start

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The Cal Stars lost game one and then dominated the next seven games to win its first Nike Nationals EYBL title. The Fairfax Stars 15U won the U15 Nike Nationals.

Photo by Joe Fenelon

In only its third year as a Nike-sponsored club, Cal Stars Nike Elite won the 10th annual Nike Nationals (technically Girls' EYBL Championship) held July 27-30 in North Augusta, South Carolina.  The U15 Nike Nationals was won by Fairfax Stars 15U.

Nike Nationals is an invitational event to which 24 of 32 Nike Girls' EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League) teams advance vying for the title of Nike EYBL Champions. In the 15U Division, 16 of the 32 Nike clubs qualify.  Qualifying play took place in April at the Boo Williams Sportsplex (in Hampton, Virginia) and in early July (half of the teams to each site) at the Battle in the Boro (Franklin, Tennessee) and Nike National Invitational (Chicago, Illinois).

While no exact count is kept, officials at the event estimate somewhere over 200 division one (including just about all Power 5 schools) colleges attended the event.  With relatively few players and a high concentration of Power 5 prospects, numerous non-Power 5 Division one schools sent their evaluating staff elsewhere having already seen these players. 

Conversely, many Power 5 programs had multiple members of their staffs observing play in both the EYBL and 15U Divisions, both of which finished play (just a few games) on the first day of the non-viewing period. If a casual fan of girls basketball wants to see the very best of the club basketball season, Nike Nationals is without a doubt the place to be!

At this event, the EYBL teams were primarily observed. In April, the Nike 15U teams were featured in our report from the Boo Williams Invitational (Philadelphia Comets - Genther take 2015 Boo Williams Nike Invitational Girls Basketball Tournament 15U Darrin Donahoo Division ) and to some extent in our Battle in the Boro report - part 2 (2015 Battle in the Boro (part 2): North Tartan Nike tops 2017 Showcase Division - Swish Appeal ).

Picking up the EYBL action in the semi-finals...

Cal Stars Nike Elite 80 - 43 Cy-Fair Team Ogwumike

This was expected to be close with both teams playing well and loaded with Power 5 talent.  The consensus amongst scouts had the Stars a slight favorite.  Unfortunately, for those looking for an exciting contest, this was over early with the Stars up 41-15 with five minutes left in the first half.

The Stars were clicking on all cylinders dominating by repeated fast-break finishes as well as sharp quarter court execution. For the game, Cal Stars shot 54% from the field to Cy-Fair's 31%.  Aquira Decosta led the Stars with 17 points and eight rebounds.  Swish Appeal (unofficial) event MVP Sabrina Ionescu posted a double-double with 16 points and 11 assists.  Cy-Fair was led by Joyner Holmes with 17 points and seven rebounds.

Indy Lady Gym Rats 67 - 51 Cal Storm Team Taurasi

The Storm was the consensus favorite here as the Gym Rats had been playing with just six players after game two (now game seven).  Games at Nike Nationals resemble more physical college wars than high school affairs.   

Yet, somehow the Gym Rats dug deep and found enough fuel in the tank to go up 41-27 by the break and managed to stay ahead for the remainder of the game.  Dana Evans and Jackie Young led the Gym Rats with 21 points each while only Leaonna Odom reach double figures (13 points) for the Storm, which had 64 field goal attempts to 47 for the Indiana-based team.

However, the Gym Rats made up for this by converting 14 more three throws and shooting much better from both overall (45% to 34%) and from behind the arc (37% to 19% converting four more threes).

Final:

Cal Stars Nike Elite 78 - 47 Indy Lady Gym Rats

Playing with just six players and only an hour between games on the bigger, college length (94-foot) floor [10 more feet of running on tired legs]), the deck was stacked against the underdog Gym Rats. In a prior meeting in July in Tennessee, the Stars won by just two.  Here it was no contest from about half way into the first half where the Stars finished up 35-23 at the break.

The second half saw the Stars gradually pull further away against the leg-weary Gym Rats.   In the final the Stars continued sharp play holding a 58% to 29% field goal edge with three-point shooting even more divergent (62% to 15%, 8/13 versus 3/20).  Decosta and Ionescu (also nine assists) led the Stars with 16 points each.  Dana Evans led the Gym Rats also with 16 points.

The victory marked the first Nike Nationals title for the Cal Stars program in only its third year as a Nike-sponsored club.  In 2013, the Stars finished second.  For the Indy Lady Gym Rats, this performance produced its best result at Nike Nationals, even more of an achievement given it was done mostly with just six players.

Cal Stars, based out of the Bay area, finished with an outstanding 54-1 record in club play this spring and summer.  Its only blemish was a 79-61 loss to Cal Storm in round one of Nike Nationals where the Stars shot just 31% from the field and were never really in the contest.

To their collective credit, the Stars recovered from the Cal Storm loss and won the remaining seven contests by a whopping average of 31.3 points!!  Conversely, All Iowa Attack Nike Elite and Kentucky Premier (fellow pool top seeds from EYBL play) never advanced (top four of six in pool) beyond pool play at Nike Nationals.

The Gym Rats were a #3 seed coming into Nike Nationals.  The EYBL to Nike Nationals transition once again showed teams can fluctuate widely in performance from one event to another.  It appears that for EYBL teams, the number one goal should be just to qualify for Nike Nationals and then let the chips fall where they may.

15U Final:

Fairfax Stars 15U 50- 48 MN North Tartan 15U

This one was close from start to finish.  Interestingly, this game featured the winners of the Gold (first place teams, North Tartan) and Silver (second place teams, Fairfax) Brackets from the Battle in the Boro 2017 Showcase (see link provided above). The game was back and forth all the way without much separation (21-20 favoring Fairfax at half).

The key play of the game occurred in the last 15 seconds of the contest when Mykea Gray (5-6, guard, 2017) drove the key with the scored tied at 48.  A blocking foul was called, and she converted the free throws.  North Tartan was unable to answer in the waning seconds.  Gray led all scorers with 15 points.  Temi Carda (5-6, guard, 2017) led North Tartan with 14 points.  Neither team shot well (with Fairfax winning that battle 34% to 30%).  Fairfax converted four more foul shots, each taking 19 on the day.  Better rebounding (10 extra offensive rebounds) plus seven more points off turnovers helped keep North Tartan competitive in the contest.

Special thanks to the stats crew from GameChanger, who covered this game (as requested) which was not part of its normal assignment (just the EYBL portion of the event).

Swish Appeal All-Tournament selections

Many named below will someday be well-known names in women's college basketball.  There were a host of players that could be highlighted from EYBL play (again the 15U event was not covered in enough detail to feature players from that division).  Teams that made the Gold (first and second place teams from pool play) Bracket had their players' results, where successful, given greater consideration for recognition below.  Several Cal Stars players are featured as the team was so dominant.

Again, special thanks to the stats crew from GameChanger (web address: www.GameChanger.com)  who were more than helpful at cranking out written box scores in a timely fashion and updating team stats online!

Players below are listed alphabetically giving height, position, graduation year and club team with hometown in parenthesis.

Kaila Charles, 6-0, forward, 2016, Team Takeover (Glenn Dale, Maryland)

Charles, orally committed to Maryland, did it all for Team Takeover at the event.  She averaged 17.3 ppg and 9.3 rebounds per game (rpg) in North Augusta.

Aquira Decosta, 6-2, power forward, 2018, Cal Stars Nike Elite (Stockton, California)

Decosta is regarded as one of the top forwards in the 2018 class.  The lefty is increasing her range and saved some of her best play in the event for Gold bracket play, hitting double figures in all three games.

Andra Espinoza-Hunter, 5-11, small forward, 2017, Philadelphia Belles - 17 Nike (Ossining, New York)

Espinoza-Hunter posted solid numbers for the Belles, who bowed out in the Silver Bracket semi-finals.  A versatile perimeter player orally committed to Connecticut, she averaged 13.1 ppg on 59.4% from the field while shooting 47.1% (16/34) from behind the arc.

Dana Evans, 5-6, point guard, 2017, Indy Lady Gym Rats (Gary, Indiana)

Evans led the Gym Rats in points (17.5 ppg), assists (3.5 apg) and steals (2.1 per game) while logging heavy minutes for her undermanned squad.  Look for this player on a Power-5 team in a few years!

Kysre Gondrezick, 5-9, point guard, 2016, Michigan Crossover 16U (Benton Harbor, Michigan)

Gondrezick produced the highest scoring average at Nike Nationals posting 17.7 ppg on 44% shooting inside and behind the arc.  She led her team to the Silver Bracket final losing to Tree of Hope 51-40.

Chelsie Hall, 5-7, point guard, 2017, Miami Suns (Wesley Chapel, Florida)

Hall led her team in scoring (15.2 ppg on 51.6% from the field).  In directing the offense, she posted a team-leading 3.2 assists per game.  Power 5 schools are hot in pursuit.

Anastasia Hayes, 5-7, shooting guard, 2017, TN Flight Silver (Murfreesboro, Tennessee)

Hayes was the lead scorer for Flight, posting 15.5 ppg and a team-leading 2.3 assists per game from the shooting guard slot.  She already has Power 5 offers.

Joyner Holmes, 6-3, power forward, 2016, Cy-Fair Team Ogwumike (Cedar Hill, Texas)

Holmes was one of the very top players at the event.  She is a big time power player but also is adding range to her game.  She scored 16.1 ppg while posting 8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.   For college, she says she is down to choosing amongst Notre Dame, Tennessee and Texas.

Sabrina Ionescu, 5-10, guard, 2016, Cal Stars Nike Elite (Walnut Creek, California) MVP

Ionescu was the "straw that stirred the drink" leading her team with 6.2 assists her game finding open teammates on the break and in the quarter court.  She also led the Stars in scoring averaging 12.5 ppg on 45.3% from the field.  Please note that Ionescu, being recruited at the high major level, chose not to try out for the USA U19 team in order to concentrate on winning Nike Nationals.  Selecting this player as our unofficial event MVP was a no brainer!

Ciera Johnson, 6-4, center, 2016, DFW TJack Elite (Red Oak, Texas)

Johnson was surrounded by quality guards, but she did her job most effectively for TJack.  She led her team in rebounding (6.2 per game) and blocks (1.2 per game) while scoring 9.5 ppg on a healthy 68.4% from the field.  One of the top post prospects in the 2016 class, she is being pursued by a host of high major programs.

Leaonna Odom, 6-0, small forward, 2016, Cal Storm Team Taurasi  (Los Alamitos, California)

Odom led the Storm with 14.9 ppg on 46.7% from the field plus tallied 7.1 rebounds per game.  Her 30-point (14/17 from the field) performance in the Storm's first game helped inflict the Cal Stars with its only loss of the year.  She is one of the top mid-range shooters in the 2016 class.

Chasity Patterson, 5-5, point guard, 2017, Cy-Fair Team Ogwumike (Houston, Texas)

Patterson ran the offense and still relentlessly put pressure on the opposition with penetration and perimeter shots.  For the event, she averaged 13.4 ppg on 41.7% from the field but also led the team with 3.1 assists per game.

Katherine Tudor, 6-0, shooting guard, 2016, Cal Stars Nike Elite (Woodbridge, California)

Tudor was a deadly three-point threat making 22 of 52 attempts, an outstanding 42.3% from the field while averaging 9.4 ppg on a solid 44.6% from the field overall.  Very recently, she made an oral commitment to Oregon State.

Megan Walker, 6-1, small forward, 2017, BWSL 16U (Chesterfield, Virginia)

Walker (previously profiled: Capital Cool 2015: Plenty to scout inside in Montgomery, Alabama - Swish Appeal )  is generally considered the top prospect in the 2017 class and in this event showed more signs of being more in attack mode rather than settling for perimeter shots as has been seen in the past. For the event, she averaged 12.7 ppg on a respectable 41.9% from the field.  She also led her team with 6.1 rebounds per game.  Her best performance at the event may have been in round one of the Gold Bracket loss (68-62) to Cy-Fair when she posted 18 points (7/11 from the field), 14 rebounds, and four steals.

Evina Westbrook, 6-0, forward/guard, 2017, Cal Stars Nike Elite (Salem, Oregon)

Westbrook showed quality all around perimeter play while averaging 9.5 ppg on 50% from the field.  Capable of playing the two or three (due to size), she is one of the top wing prospects in the 2017 class.

Jackie Young, 5-11, forward/guard, 2016, Indy Lady Gym Rats (Princeton, Indiana)

Had the Gym Rats won this event, Young would likely have been the event MVP thanks to her all-around play.  At times, you could find her bringing the ball up the court and soon thereafter heading inside for a rebound or out on the wing hitting a three.  For the event, this Notre Dame oral commitment averaged 16.5 ppg shooting 48.9% from the field and 36.8% from behind the arc while pulling in 7 rpg.

Honorable Mention

These players posted noteworthy performances but the body of work in conjunction with how each's team performed seemed to merit a little less recognition.  If you saw them in their best games at the event, you would probably place them in the All-Tournament category.

Taya Corosdale, 6-2, power forward, 2017, Tree of Hope Nike Elite ((Bothell, Washington)

Corosdale led Tree of Hope with 9.2 ppg on 47.4% from the field.  Most of her scoring was in the lower key, but she did step out to hit a few three.  Add in 6.5 rebounds per game to complete the picture!

Nadia Fingall, 6-2, power forward, 2016, Essence Purple (Navarre, Florida)

Fingall led Essence Purple in both scoring (10.7 ppg on 50% from the field) and rebounding (7 per game).  She (profiled previously: 2015 Roundball Academy Spring Classic showed off prep talent young and old - Swish Appeal ) has several high major offers on the table.

Lydia Giomi, 6-6, center/power forward, 2016, Tree of Hope Nike Elite (Seattle, Washington)

Giomi, committed to Oregon, likes to face up in the key.  She led her team with 7.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.  On offense, she scored 7.8 ppg on 52% from the field in helping Tree of Hope win the Silver Bracket (third and fourth place teams from pool play) 51-40 over Michigan Crossover.

Mikiah Harrigan, 6-2, power forward, 2016, Miami Suns (Miramar, Florida)

Harrigan was one of the winners (as to recruiting) in North Augusta as she has gone from Power 5 prospect to high major prospect with more options if she chooses to entertain them.  In averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds per game, she showed a nice face-up power forward game.

Mallory McGwire, 6-4, center, 2016, Cal Stars Nike Elite (Reno, Nevada)

McGwire, the niece of baseball's Mark McGwire, led the Stars in shooting percentage (63.5% from the field) and blocks (1.8 per game) while scoring 9.4 ppg.  Orally committed to Oregon, she appears to have added some range to her low post game of a year ago.

Karissa McLaughlin, 5-7, shooting guard, 2017, Indy Lady Gym Rats (Roanoke, Indiana)

McLaughlin was a very reliable three-point threat (12.6 ppg on 40.5% from the field and a most impressive 42.6% from behind the arc) for the Gym Rats.  She also helped out in the ball handling, backing up the point.

Nancy Mulkey, 6-8, center, 2016, Cy-Fair Team Ogwumike (Cypress, Texas)

Mulkey comes from a family of Power 5 players (mother, aunt, cousin).  Orally committed to Oklahoma, she runs the court well for her height and has a nice touch in the lower key.  Her 23 blocks (3.3 per game) led the field at Nike Nationals.  Then throw in 8.7 rebounds per game!  For offense, she posted 11 points per game (however just two in the semi-final loss) on 60.4% from the field.

Reili Richardson, 5-10, guard, 2016, Cal Swish (Brea, California)

Orally committed to Arizona State, Richardson led Swish in scoring with 13 ppg on 42.3% from the field.  Thanks in part to her efforts, her team made it into the Gold Bracket with a second place pool finish.

Abi Scheid, 6-2, center, 2016, MN North Tartan 17 (Ramsey, Minnesota)

North Tartan won just one game in the event.  However, Scheid played well, leading her team in scoring (14.6 ppg on 47.8% from the field.  She also collected 8.8 rebounds per game.