In addition to lists of the top breakout performers plus upcoming sophomores, freshmen and eighth graders at the West Coast Shootout and Summer in the City, check here for a report on the Cal Stars Nike Elite making big noise at the Nike Nationals in Georgia and in Nashville.
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The Cal Stars program headed up by Kelly Sopak, who also doubles as the head coach at Miramonte of Orinda, has been around 10 years, but unlike some other elite programs both in California and around the nation, the 2013 appearance at the Nike Nationals on July 27-30 by Cal Stars was the first-ever for the club program.
While the main Girls of Summer Caravan was covering the final two viewing events in Northern California, the auxiliary Caravan, Marissa Holbert of PassThaBall, was down the street from where they play The Masters in Augusta, Georgia, covering and shooting video on what is arguably the summer circuit’s top event.
It was pretty obvious to most national girls basketball analysts that after the upstart Northern California/Bay Area Cal Stars Nike Elite team went 6-0 at the End of the Trail, 5-0 at the Nike Showcase in Chicago, and then went 6-0 and defeated Northwest Blazers 76-72 in the title game of the Music City Tourney in Nashville, this team was for real.
The NorCal girls set a goal when the AAU circuit started April 1 to win the Nike National championship, but when star 2014 guard Natalie Romeo of Concord Carondelet went down at the End of the Trail, no one expected them to remain undefeated right up until the title game in Augusta.
The girls fought hard against Cy Fair Team Ogwumike of Houston, trailing only 37-36 early in the second half, but they finally succumbed 69-59 to the Texas girls and their 6-foot-9 post Nancy Mulkey, who also is a star for the USA U16 team member.
“The shots they were making from the outside all tournament weren’t falling, and they weren’t converting in the paint. It was kind of like they ran out of gas,” Holbert reported on Tuesday before heading to Atlanta for the flight back.
Sopak pretty much agreed. “It was close, but at the end we were struggling to score. We just ran out of gas.”
Even with the second-place finish in Georgia, the girls went 54-3 from April through July.
Along the way, their best showing by far was at the Nike Nationals, where only 20 teams are invited to play in the top division.
Not only did CalStars come from behind late to beat Cal Sparks 76-64 in the quarterfinals, with each team missing its star due to Romeo’s absence and Jordin Canada straining her MCL earlier in the tournament, they took out three-time Nike National champion Tennessee Flight Silver, 62-60, in the semifinals.
Kelli Hayes from Archbishop Mitty of San Jose improved her already high stock after flying in from Las Vegas to fly up and down the court with a very solid tournament, including a team-high 20 points in the title game.
USA U16 team member Sabrina Ionescu, a 2016 from Miramonte, highly regarded Mariya Moore (2014) from Richmond Salesian, Makenzie Cast (2014) from Carondelet, and GeAnna Summers-Luaulu (2014) from San Francisco Sacred Heart Cathedral, all got high marks from Holbert and the assembled reporting analysts, but according to Sopak, it was more than just the stars.
“The reason we had a lot of success here and all summer was everyone contributed, even our role players, and the girls put the team before themselves. You don’t see a lot of that in this day and age,” remarked Sopak by phone from Georgia.
Girls that Sopak mentioned as those contributors were Breanna Alford (2014) from Miramonte, Hailey Pascoe (2015) from Concord Clayton Valley, Quinci Mann (2014) from San Francisco St. Ignatius and Darrian Washington (2014) from Skyline of Oakland.
Top Players observed from the West Coast Shootout and Summer in the City
CREAM OF THE CROP
Mikayla Cowling (St. Mary’s, Berkeley) W, 6-1, 2014
The Michael Jordan hang in the air move that the Cal-bound Cowling made and then floated it in at the Summer in the City was too much.
Morgan Green (Pacific Collegiate, Santa Cruz) G, 2014
According to EBX director Mark Anger, Green dislocated her shoulder in the first game last week at the Ballin in the Ballroom in Las Vegas but popped it back in and insisted on playing out the summer. No wonder she only looked 99 percent at the Summer in the City.
Charise Holloway (St. Mary’s, Stockton) W, 5-10, 2014
Her stock continues to rise after she continued her outstanding play all summer with a top notch all-around performance at the West Coast Shootout.
Joeseta Fatuesi (Wilcox, Santa Clara) C, 6-3, 2014
A lot of people knock her game because of her size, but they’re very wrong. This girl has game, and she can get up and down the court. She even showed off her three-ball at the West Coast Shootout.
Desire Finnie (Berkeley) W, 5-10, 2014
She finally had the kind of breakout at the Summer in the City everyone’s been waiting for.
Asha Thomas (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland) G, 5-6, 2015
Her defense was outstanding and she went 2-for-4 shooting the trey in the Summer in the City title game win.
Breanna Acevedo (Clovis North, Fresno) G, 5-8, 2015
Her Team Chaos lost big to JBS Elite, but with or without being blanketed, this incoming junior showed she can shoot from long range after connecting on 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.
NaiJai Craig (Archbishop Mitty, San Jose) F, 6-0, 2015
Her sister, previous State Athlete of the Year Rometra Craig, told Cal-Hi Sports, “I’m working with her on finishing.” It showed. Not only did she continue to rebound and play solid defense, but she finished with both hands.
Jasmine Hampton (Modesto Christian, Modesto) F, 6-0, 2014
Playing great defense, she also hit the boards and finished in the paint. She will certainly be the force inside for the Crusaders once again this season.
Kelea Pickeral-Dennis (Piedmont) F, 6-2, 2015
She showed at Summer in the City that she can finish with either hand, hit the pull-up jumper and hit the boards hard. With her transferring from Oakland Tech along with Ameela Li, who just missed this list and was a teammate on Team Mariani this past weekend, Piedmont all of a sudden becomes a legitimate force in Division IV in Northern California.
Sydney Raggio (St. Ignatius, San Francisco) F, 6-1, 2015
Her play inside and out, on the boards and on defense has her on the radar screen. “A local girl from a local school with her talent, we’d be silly not to offer her,” said an unnamed coach from an unnamed local college at the Summer in the City.
Mariah Williams (Vanden, Fairfield) W, 5-10
She’s active on both ends and can finish with either hand. Notes from the first game observed at the Summer in the City, “takes care of business once she gets the ball down low.”
BABIES ON THE RISE
Irene “Gracie” Colaivalu (Rosemont, Sacramento) G, 5-9, 2016
We’re going to give you her full name just once, and henceforth she will be known as “Gracie” like the folks in Sacramento call her – and if this untapped budding star continues to develop her game, she very well may be gracing a lot of things in her basketball future. She qualifies for this list because although she led her 13-15 high school team in scoring, assists and steals last year at 14.0, 5.8 and 4.9 respective per game averages (7.9 rpg as well), this is her first year on the summer circuit, and she was impressive. Her footwork can use honing but her shot has great rotation and she plays all out and energetic. She starred in the underclass game for JBS against FBC at the West Coast Shootout, and even dropped in a long three-pointer playing with the older girls in the title game victory by JBS Elite over FBC.
Ny Dajah Jackson (Piedmont) G, 5-4, 2016
This will be her first year of varsity basketball so she is eligible for this list. She popped a long three, and then another, finishes with either hand, and despite her lack of height, was unafraid to mix it up in the paint with bigger and older girls at the Summer in the City.
Myrrah Joseph (middle school, Carson) F, 6-0, 2018
The biggest baby of them all (age-wise at 13, certainly not attitude-wise), Myrrah is going to edge out Emma Tolbert from Orange County as the top middle-school girl observed this year. She was a woman among girls in the JBS underclass game at the West Coast Shootout, and with the older girls she had the Caravan convinced when she started banging inside with Joeseta Fatuesi, and then went up and over her to score on one play.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend