Girls of Summer: Caravan trek ends

Players from the Oakland Soldiers 17U girls team, which mostly are from the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, had a lot to be happy about at the EBX Explosion Summer in the City. Photo: Harold Abend.

Players from the Oakland Soldiers 17U girls team, which mostly are from the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, had a lot to be happy about at the EBX Explosion Summer in the City. Photo: Harold Abend.

The final event of the month is in the books at the Summer in the City held at Chabot College where the Oakland Soldiers did some marching to a 5-0 record and displayed several high-level prospects, led by Fairfield Vanden’s Julia Blackshell-Fair. A team with mostly girls from Ventura High also shined and probably helped themselves greatly in front of the college coaches who watched.

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It all started this summer for the 12th annual Girls of Summer Basketball Caravan at the San Diego Classic in late June. Next it moved on for the first half of the NCAA certified event viewing period to the Cal Sparks Cali Summer Tip-Off at Cal State Dominguez Hills and the California Storm National Showcase at the Misty May-Treanor Sports Center in Irvine. From there, it was back north for a boys certified event at City College of San Francisco (during the dark period for girls events) before hitting the road again for Lake Las Vegas and the Cal Sparks Ballin’ in the Ballroom. The nearly 4,000-mile journey up and down the state and into Las Vegas ended with the East Bay Xplosion Summer in the City at Chabot College in Hayward this past weekend.

Oakland Soldiers: Picking some
nuggets from Pico’s tree

Three of the top club teams in Northern California and a very solid program from Southern California were among the 30 that participated in the July 27-29 East Bay Xplosion Summer in the City tournament that ended the second half of the NCAA certified event viewing period where Division I college coaches can attend and watch the girls play in person.

Julia Blackshell-Fair has shined during the last three Girls of Summer. Photo: Harold Abend.

Julia Blackshell-Fair has shined during the last three Girls of Summer. Photo: Harold Abend.

Host EBX Black played fairly well despite some injuries and the Orinda Magic looked pretty good despite not having arguably their best player, but the two teams that really shined were an 805 Basketball 17U team with players from Santa Barbara/Ventura Counties and the unbeaten Oakland Soldiers 17U group that went 5-0 with most of its players from the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section and a couple from the CIF North Coast Section.

There were some real good games over the three days at Chabot College but the best one by far that the Girls of Summer Caravan observed was a 50-47 victory by the Oakland Soldiers over 805 Basketball in a game in which the girls from down south refused to go away.

The Soldiers, coached by current Stockton Brookside Christian head coach Pico Wilburn, who won back-to-back state championships in 2004-05 at Oakland Tech were clearly the cream of the crop of this tournament attended by around 35 college coaches.

The strength of the Soldiers is a solid group of girls that are mostly under 6-foot tall but they can all handle the ball and score, and according to Wilburn, they are one of the few club teams that play aggressive man-to-man defense all the time.

All of the girls in that category have offers of some kind but the player that was the most impressive from an all-around standpoint was incoming Fairfield Vanden senior Julia Blackshell-Fair. The 5-foot-10 guard had 10 points, nine rebounds, and five steals against 805 Basketball and a double-double 10 points and 10 rebounds with four steals in a thumping of a shorthanded Orinda Magic Black playing without standout 6-foot-5 incoming Richmond Salesian sophomore Angel Jackson. Blackshell-Fair has elevated her game and the ability to showcase her wares on an elite team has helped. She has some very solid offers including Kentucky, Houston, Santa Clara, Texas Tech, Utah and Washington.

“Part of the reason her game has elevated this spring and summer is with our team we’re able to showcase her as a big guard that’s a ball-handler and a good passer. Plus, she has a nonstop motor,” said Wilburn about Blackshell-Fair.
Another girl looking very solid despite not scoring tons of points but distributing the ball and playing great defense is Sierra Smith. The 5-foot-7 incoming senior guard who according to family sources has moved and transferred to Richmond Salesian (where her application for eligibility has been filed with the CIFNCS) only had six points against 805 Basketball but dished out five assists to go with seven steals and six rebounds. Against Orinda Magic Black, she was totally lockdown on defense and finished with seven points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals.

Smith, who played last season for St. Mary’s of Stockton, missed a couple of months after suffering an eye injury at the Boo Williams event in late April and came back in late June and in time for the NCAA viewing period. Her game is really improving in all aspects despite still not being at full strength. She currently has offers from Hawaii, University of San Francisco and Weber State.

“I’d say Sierra is about 90 percent not because of the eye problem but she has a bruised tailbone from taking so many charges,” Wilburn remarked. “It’s hard to run around like she does with a bruised tailbone but she’s doing it and she’s starting to show a better mid-range shot and 3-pointer.”

A girl that definitely turned some heads is incoming Sacramento McClatchy senior Courtesy Clark. After sitting out last season due to transferring, the 5-foot-9 guard is showing she can be very productive. She had 11 points and eight rebounds against 805 Basketball and 11 points in the Orinda Magic win. According to Wilburn, Clark, who just joined the Oakland Soldiers, led all scorers with 20 points in a rout of Sacramento Sting Gold and had 13 points in a 60-51 victory over EBX Black.

“She’s very, very nice,” said Wilburn of Clark. “She’s a kid that can put up some numbers, a creator, can rebound too.”
Kiara Jefferson, an incoming 5-foot-8 senior guard from Sacramento West Campus, was banged up in the late summer and played sparingly against 805 Basketball and then sat out the last four games. Still, her performances so far have garnered her offers from Arizona, Cal, Louisville, Oregon and Weber State. According to Wilburn, her backcourt mate at West Campus and fellow Soldier Namiko Adams has around five offers herself. In the 805 Basketball game, she had six points, four steals and three rebounds, and eight points, three rebounds and two assists and steals each in the Orinda Magic game.

One girl that definitely deserves a mention is incoming junior 5-foot-8 McClatchy guard Richelle Turney. She’s a player who plays much bigger than her height, isn’t afraid to mix it up in the paint and can shoot the 3-pointer. Against 805 Basketball, she had 10 points and five rebounds with three steals. In the Orinda Magic game, she finished with six points and five rebounds.

Other girls that shined were Kimball (Tracy) incoming 5-foot-11 junior forward Raziya Potter (also no longer at Stockton St. Mary’s), incoming 6-foot senior Brookside Christian (Stockton) center Zhane Lewis, the incoming Salesian junior duo of guard Taimane Hardee and forward Sydni Stewart, incoming 6-foot-2 Arcata junior center Alana Busby-Dunphy, and incoming Folsom senior Jessica Armstrong.

For the viewing period, the Oakland Soldiers went 19-6 overall with the 5-0 record at the Summer in the City combined with a 5-2 record at the Big State Flava Jam in Grapevine, Texas, a 4-2 record at the Battle in the Boro in Nashville, Tennessee and a 5-2 record at the USJN/Nike 17U National Championships in Washington, DC.

“We probably could have done even better but my philosophy isn’t always about winning, it’s about playing everyone and showcasing the girls. That’s what the college coaches want,” Wilburn remarked.

Gold Coast girls somewhat under the radar

Besides the Oakland Soldiers game, the 805 Basketball girls were also observed in a 58-50 win over shorthanded host EBX Black.

Based on the way 805 looked, it also looks like defending CIF Southern Section Division IAA champion Ventura will be a team to be reckoned with again this upcoming season. Several of the top players on 805 are from Ventura.

George Albanez goes over plays with girls from 805 Basketball during Summer in the City club tourney. They traveled further than most but it seemed to pay off. Photo: Harold Abend.

George Albanez goes over plays with girls from 805 Basketball during Summer in the City club tourney. They traveled further than most but it seemed to pay off. Photo: Harold Abend.

She wasn’t the leading scorer in either the loss to the Oakland Soldiers or the win over EBX Black, but the girl that made the most overall contributions is a 5-foot-9 incoming junior Ventura wing Kenya Henderson who is quick and big and plays taller than she is listed. Henderson had 10 points and nine rebounds in the EBX win and eight points, five rebounds and three steals against the Soldiers.

Another girl that was impressive for 805 shooting the ball that is also from Ventura was incoming senior 3-point shooting guard Savannah Page. She had a game-high 15 points (three 3-pointers) against the Soldiers and two treys against EBX. Bridgette Smith, an incoming senior guard at Oxnard Rio Mesa, showed good all-around skills and also can shoot the 3-pointer. Jazmine Carrasco, an incoming senior guard from Ventura, also shot the ball well and had three 3-pointers and 11 points in the EBX win.

Other 805 Basketball girls deserving of mention are incoming Dos Pueblos (Goleta) senior guard Camila Casanueva, incoming senior Ventura guard Emily Herring, and incoming Ventura senior guard Kayla Togneri.

Somewhat surprisingly, no girls on 805 Basketball have offers but that may change.

“These kids are the hardest working kids and they have grades and high character, so I’m hoping they start to pick up some offers to keep my faith in the process,” 805 Basketball head coach George Albanez said.

EBX took some lumps but has some talent

Host EBX Black looked good when it was at full strength but by the time the event was over the girls were banged up and feeling the effects of the long viewing period.

East Bay Xplosion club director Mark Anger coaches his team during event that his club also hosted. Photo: Harold Abend.

East Bay Xplosion club director Mark Anger coaches his team during event that his club also hosted. Photo: Harold Abend.

Carolyn Gill, a 6-foot incoming senior wing at St. Mary’s of Berkeley, played very well on both ends of the court. In a 65-26 win over a West Valley Basketball Elite squad with girls from the CIF Central Coast Section, Gill saw limited time but still had 10 points and six rebounds with three steals. In the loss to 805, she had 10 points and seven rebounds with three steals and two assists. She also had 12 points in the loss to the Oakland Soldiers. Gill has offers from Grand Canyon State and Nevada Las Vegas.

Fellow St. Mary’s wing and 6-foot-1 incoming senior Kennedi Villa looked very good in the first game against West Valley but early in the second half she tweaked her knee and did not play again. According to East Bay Xplosion club director and head coach Mark Anger, she is coming out of the viewing period with offers from CSU Bakersfield, Hawaii and San Diego State.

Another EBX player that started out great was incoming Acalanes (Lafayette) senior guard Brooke Panfili. She had eight points, five steals and two assists against West Valley before rolling her ankle. An EBX player who is starting to garner some interest is Caitlin Keding of San Jose Valley Christian. The 6-foot incoming senior wing has a solid game and can shoot the ball. She made two 3-pointers against West Valley and four treys and had a game-high 13 points in the loss to 805 Basketball where Villa and Panfili were out.

A girl that saw her stock rise was Sam Erisman, an incoming senior guard from Menlo School of Atherton. She had two 3-pointers and finished with nine points, four steals and three assists against West Valley, and 12 points against the Oakland Soldiers.

Other EBX Black girls deserving of mention are incoming Pleasanton Foothill junior guard Madison Baxter, and Concord senior 6-foot-3 center Ciara O’Kelley.

Shorthanded Orinda Magic Black takes some lumps too

Not having incoming sophomore sensation Jackson in the middle was a big factor for Orinda Magic Black head coach and Salesian head coach Steve Pezzola and what he could do against elite teams in Hayward.
Orinda Magic logo
In their first game without Jackson, who had family obligations, Orinda Magic Black fell behind 13-2 against a very solid Cal Sparks NorCal Black and actually took the lead three times in the second of two 16-minute halves, but ran out of gas in a 50-39 defeat.

Incoming Salesian sophomore 5-foot-9 power forward Mikayla Edwards had to carry things pretty much herself in the paint along with incoming 6-foot senior San Ramon California forward Marley Fernandez and that was a lot to ask. Edwards had 11 points and eight rebounds against Sparks NorCal, and seven points with six rebounds the loss to the Soldiers.

Lesila “Sila” Finau, a 5-foot-10 incoming junior guard from Dublin, had 10 points and five steals against the Sparks but had a tough outing in the Soldiers’ loss.

Other Orinda Magic girls deserving of mention are California incoming junior guard Mikaela Bismillah, and Salesian incoming sophomore guard Anjel Galbraith.

For Sparks NorCal, playing without standout Sacramento 2019 point guard RyAnne Walters and head coach and Sacramento head coach Michele Massari, incoming Sacramento senior slashing 5-foot-10 guard Sasha Brown continued her solid play this summer and finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and four steals in the win over the Magic. Incoming Sacramento 5-foot-10 senior guard Mya Lawrence only had five points, but she pulled down 13 rebounds to go with three assists and blocks each. Incoming Sacramento sophomore guard Mairae Gomez added 10 points and five rebounds.

Several other games were observed and some of the girls from those teams will be included in the Girls of Summer Player Rankings coming out later this month.

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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