Cal Stars Nike Elite lose in three overtimes at the End of the Trail tourney in Oregon and a very young EBO Black team has a good showing at the Under Armour event in Louisville with 2014 State Freshman of the Year Destiny Littleton putting on a show.
Note: Our girls basketball analyst, Harold Abend, would not be able to travel at all this summer without the support of four sponsors: the Cal Stars club team, West Coast Jamboree, San Diego Classic and Mission Valley Sheraton. Cal-Hi Sports thanks all of them.
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The Cal Stars Nike Elite team played its first four games at the End of the Trail tourney in Portland without USA U17 Gold Medal Team member and State Sophomore of the Year Sabrina Ionescu of Orinda Miramonte.
Ionescu was busy in the Czech Republic helping the USA bring home the bacon.
Despite the fact Ionescu and Concord Clayton Valley incoming senior Hailey Pascoe are the only returners from last year’s Stars Elite team that won the End of the Trail and had an outstanding summer, the Bay Area girls were looked at as one of the favorites with an excellent chance to repeat.
Ionescu flew in on Monday but Stars Elite head coach Kelly Sopak didn’t play her in an 87-78 Platinum Division championship victory over Colorado Rockies Black. In that game, Pascoe led the way with 12 points while the San Francisco St. Ignatius 2015 duo of guard Addie Walters (10 points) and 6-2 post Josie Little (10 rebounds) were big contributors.
With the Platinum Division title, the Stars Elite moved on to the National Division semifinals Tuesday morning where they faced an Oregon Elite Navy team they beat 74-44 without Ionescu, and a team that was also missing some top players, in the non-viewing End of the Trail Tune-Up held before the main event.
The plan was to try and not play Ionescu much and save her for the upcoming grueling schedule the Stars Elite will face this month, but with the score close she came on full time late in the fourth quarter and played all through a 79-76 triple-overtime loss.
“With the long flight and tough international competition, the idea was to use Sabrina sparingly and save her for the Nike Nationals in South Carolina,” Sopak told Cal-Hi Sports before he and the girls set off for Chicago and the Nike National Invitational.
Sopak really didn’t want to admit it, but one national analyst we talked to Tuesday afternoon said the Stars Elite got a little home cooking on several key possessions, particularly on a foul called on Ionescu with two seconds left in the second overtime.
With the Oregon Elite player eight feet behind the three-point line, Ionescu was called for a foul on the three-point attempt despite the girl falling back as a result of contact that apparently never occurred.
With three converted free throws, the game went to a third extra period where the Stars Elite lost steam and seemed affected by the call that went against them.
Still, a Platinum Division victory and a top-four finish in Oregon for a national level team with five underclass players is a solid accomplishment to start the viewing period.
One of those underclass players that shined was Mallory McGwire from Reno High in Nevada. The 6-foot-4 incoming junior post, and niece of Major League Baseball great Mark McGwire, had 16 points and 10 rebounds to lead Stars Elite against Oregon. Ionescu finished with 12 points.
Another Stars Elite underclass standout, and a girl that someday may have a spot in the Cal-Hi Sports Record Book for three-point shooting, is St. Mary’s (Stockton) 2016 sharp-shooter Kat Tudor. She had four three-pointers and 18 points against Oregon.In an opening round 83-40 victory over British Columbia Finest, Tudor sank four three-pointers. The following game, a 90-42 blowout of Salt Laker Black, saw the 5-foot-11 Tudor hit seven treys and finish with 25 points. St. Ignatius 6-foot forward Sydney Raggio (2015) added 15 points and Little had 15 rebounds.
Against Arizona Magic Elite, in a 92-50 shellacking, Richmond Salesian guard Minyon Moore was the star. The little sis of former Salesian and Stars Elite superstar Mariya Moore had a double-double 15 points and 10 steals. Pascoe added 14 points.
The Platinum semifinals saw Tudor on fire again. She hit five three-pointers and finished with 20 points in a 74-40 blowout of Colorado Elite Blue. Evina Westbrook, a 5-foot-11 incoming sophomore from South Salem (Oregon) High, posted a triple-double 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against Colorado Elite.
In the Platinum final win over Colorado Rockies Black, Pascoe had 12 points, Walters had 10 points and Little grabbed 11 rebounds.
After Chicago and the dark period, the Nike Elite Stars will resume the viewing period at the NEB in Augusta (Georgia) before heading to Augusta (South Carolina) for the July 27-29 Nike Nationals.
“Our goal for the big picture hasn’t changed. These games are tune-ups for the Nike Nationals,” said a slightly disappointed Sopak. “We have from now to figure where we stand against the nation’s top teams at Nike Nationals. After five tough games in Chicago, we’ll know better where we stack up.”
A lot of people would say Ionescu but Sopak differs on what is going to be the key to this new team’s success.
“Of course, we need Sabrina but the key is our inside game because going forward at the level we’ll be at it’s a lot more physical,” Sopak remarked. “McGwire, Little and Raggio are going to have to step up and play if we are going to compete.”
During the dark period, Tudor will be making an appearance at the San Diego Classic with her school team, two-time defending champion St. Mary’s.
Destiny Littleton impressive at Under Armour
Only two California teams were in the 16-team field of the Under Armour Elite bracket when the action started on July 7 in Louisville, Kentucky.
By the time the tournament’s top division was decided, one of those teams, EBO Black, with girls from the San Diego area, made a big impression despite getting shellacked 66-20 in the title game by North Carolina Phoenix Elite.
One EBO Black player was already on the radar screen of the folks in Louisville, and that’s because State Freshman of the Year and Bishop’s (La Jolla) 2017 guard Destiny Littleton already has an offer from Louisville.
Littleton was double- and triple-teamed by Phoenix Elite, a team comprised of several players from nationally-ranked Carolina New Hope Christian, but she still managed 12 points.
In the opener, and with Connecticut coaches watching her, the 5-foot-9 Littleton went for 32 points, 16 rebounds and five steals, in a 59-24 win over Atlanta Attack Elite.
EBO was almost derailed in the second game but came from behind to post a 49-44 victory over the South Carolina 76ers.
“We were down three at the half and at halftime the local TV station wanted to do an interview on Destiny because of the Louisville offer,” EBO and Bishop’s head coach Marlon Wells told Cal-Hi Sports. “By the time the interview ended she had missed the first five minutes of the second half and we were behind by seven, but as soon as she came back we took control.”
Littleton finished with 15 points. Monique Smith, a 5-foot-10 incoming sophomore from San Diego Serra, led the way with 16 points. Layla Cunningham, a 2016 guard from Bishop’s, added 12 points.
In the semis, a 55-47 victory over Seattle-area Lady Style, Littleton posted a double-double 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Smith added a double-double 10 points and 11 rebounds. Bishop’s 2017 guard Alessandra Aguirre chipped in with 12 points on four three-pointers.
The fact a young EBO Black team that doesn’t start a player over 5-11 could do so well is a good sign for the future for the team and its players.
“The championship game was over before you could blink. We didn’t have the depth and they forced the ball away from Destiny,” Wells remarked. “But I was really kind of shocked we made it to the championship game. South Carolina and Lady Style both have a lot of D1 recruits and to beat them made it an overall great experience and an eye opener for the girls. It was the first time on the road for many of these young girls.”
EBO Black now moves on to Nashville (Tennessee) and plays a showcase game on July 9 against Maryland Pride at the Apache Paschall Memorial. After that, they will be in the field of the Battle In The Boro.
After Nashville, EBO returns to San Diego where the Bishop’s team will compete in the San Diego Classic.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend