Big week for Cal Sparks Gold

Kris Simon (left) and LaJahna Drummer provided the inside punch for title team at Ballin' in the Ballroom event held near Las Vegas. Drummer is coming back from a knee injury and has had an impressive summer. Photo: Harold Abend.

Kris Simon (left) and Lajahna Drummer provided the inside punch for title team at Ballin’ in the Ballroom event held near Las Vegas. Drummer is coming back from a knee injury and has had an impressive summer. Photo: Harold Abend.

Girls of Summer series continues with recap of Ballin in the Ballroom event held last week near Las Vegas. Jordin Canada shines as usual for winning Cal Sparks Gold squad, but Lajahna Drummer’s strong play coming back from a knee injury was what had college coaches talking about the most. Plus, St. Mary’s girls of Stockton win another title and watch out for incoming eighth grader Emma Tolbert.

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The Cal Sparks Gold team wasn’t anywhere near as hot as the110-plus degree temperatures outside the Westin Lake Las Vegas in Henderson, but the Sparks still had enough firepower to get past San Antonio Finest, 51-49 in overtime, in the second annual Ballin in the Ballroom Invitational A Group title game.

The victory completed a four-win week for Sparks Gold, and included a statement from a diminutive girl that plays far above her stature, a four-game performance that solidified Jordin Canada as the best player in the Golden State.

Whether or not she scored, the UCLA-committed Canada (2014) controlled all of the games on both ends of the court, but she didn’t do it alone.

While the 5-foot-7 do-it-all point guard looked superlative, even during some Sparks Gold rough spots, the no-brainer for the McDonald’s All-American Game was joined by one or two teammates’ worthy of strong consideration to joining her at the premier girls’ hoops classic.

“She’s back,” was the mantra of more than one of the college coaches surrounding the Girls of Summer Caravan with respect to the play of Sparks Gold 6-foot-2 incoming senior post Lajahna Drummer.

In the title game win over the Texas girls, the uncommitted power forward from St. Bernard (Playa del Rey) continued the stellar play she showed all week, finishing with a double-double 11 points and 11 rebounds, with three blocks.

During the week, many of the colleges on her radar screen observed her, including USC, Nevada Las Vegas, UCLA and North Carolina. There are plenty of others that also would like this ultra-athletic finisher on their squad in the fall of 2014, including California, Connecticut, Baylor and Notre Dame. They’ll get a chance to see her at the currently running Nike Nationals in Augusta, Georgia.

Canada, from Los Angeles Windward, only had two points up until a 15-1 run by San Antonio wiped out an eight-point Sparks lead and made the score 43-36 in favor of the Texas girls with only three minutes remaining.

With no other choice, Canada took things in her own hands. First she nailed a 3-pointer. Then she made a left-handed underhand scoop shot that even amazed some of the college coaches. Next, when Texas swarmed her, she found Arica Carter in the corner, and the Long Beach Poly uncommitted guard nailed her third 3-pointer of the game.

After two free throws by Drummer, Canada hit an NBA-range 3-pointer, and finally with the clock running down, she went one-on-three and got to the cup with another left-handed scoop shot that tied it at 48-48, and sent the game into overtime. She didn’t score in OT, but her defense on the perimeter contributed to the Sparks limiting San Antonio to a single free throw in the extra period. Canada finished with 12 points, seven assists and six steals.

Carter, who got rave reviews from analysts attending the Battle In The Boro in Nashville, did nothing to diminish her rising stock. She led the scoring with 17 points and showed she can shoot from beyond the arc, or pull up and hit her mid-range jumper.

The other two starters for Sparks also played well all week. Kristen Simon of Windward, a big, strong uncommitted 6-foot-1 power forward, chipped in against San Antonio with nine points and 12 rebounds, with two blocks. Jaelyn Brown, a 6-foot-1 incoming sophomore from Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) that somehow didn’t make the USA U16 team, had six points and seven rebounds in the championship game.

The top player for San Antonio Finest was UCLA-committed 5-foot-8 point guard Recee Caldwell. She had a team-high 16 points (six assists, four steals) but none after it was 34-34 and Canada put a vise-grip on her.

Emma Tolbert will be a strongly anticipated arrival on the SoCal prep girls hoop scene when she's a freshman during the 2014-15 season.

Emma Tolbert will be a strongly anticipated arrival on the SoCal prep girls hoop scene when she’s a freshman during the 2014-15 season.

Stockton girls end summer on a high note

The St. Mary’s (Stockton) team playing as the Stockton Mavericks won’t be moving on to any of the final viewing period events. However, they did finish the summer on a high note, after winning the Open Division Bracket in Las Vegas with a 73-54 come-from behind victory over the San Francisco Eagles that was closer for much of the game than the score indicates.

Although she has been playing well all summer, the win over the Eagles was a true breakout game for incoming St. Mary’s sophomore Mi Cole Cayton. The 5-foot-8 guard had a game-high 24 points, including three 3-pointers.

After a 17-1 run by the Eagles, the Mavericks trailed 30-21 early in the second half. At that point, the Stockton girls chipped away at the lead and tied it at 39-39. From there, the roof caved in on the Eagles.

Some questionable calls, including an unwarranted double technical foul, pretty much took the starch out of the San Francisco girls’ game, but they did have some bright spots.

Incoming junior St. Ignatius (San Francisco) 6-foot-2 forward Josie Little, who missed her entire sophomore season due to an injury, finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds. Fellow St. Ignatius big Sydney Raggio (2015), a 6-foot-1 forward that impressed the Caravan at Delta College in early July, had a team-high 20 points, mostly on lobs over the St. Mary’s press that resulted in layups. Raggio also had nine rebounds.

Babies on the Rise

Before heading out of Vegas for the next stop in Sacramento at the JBS West Coast Summer Shootout, the Caravan took in a game between Cal Sparks 2015 White and Cal Swish 15 Black, with almost all underclass players.

Sparks, with a slightly older lineup, won 44-38 in one of the most competitive games witnessed of the entire tournament. Brijae Brackett, a 5-foot-8 incoming Gardena Serra sophomore point guard, was very impressive. She finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, five steals and four assists.

“I got some playing time last season, but I’m looking to be much more of a contributor,” Brackett told Cal-Hi Sports.

Although her Swish team lost, you’ll be hearing a lot in the future about 6-foot center Emma Tolbert.

When she was observed last year, we thought she was the best incoming seventh-graders we’ve ever seen. Now, after a 16-point, 14-rebound, three-block and two-steal performance against Cal Sparks, we’re convinced, as were many of the college coaches we polled, that Tolbert may very well be one of the best incoming eighth-graders all of us had ever seen.

Harold Abend is the associate editor of and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend

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