Cal Stars goes 51-1 in showing it was the best club team in the nation. Three of the five starters will be at St. Mary’s (Stockton) for the 2017-18 season, but it was a deep, talented roster for head coach Kelly Sopak. Go inside this report for more of how California’s top girls hoopers and their club teams fared during the various NCAA summer viewing periods.
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The NCAA summer viewing period for Division 1 coaches to observe and analyze (but not talk to or try to recruit girls) is actually broken into five parts with most of the top teams playing in four tournaments.
Several major tournaments are held from July 5-9. A second set of tournaments run from July 10-12. Then there is a dark period where the teams and girls come home before resuming on a third set of tournaments between July 23-26, and then a final group of certified events that goes in the timeframe of July 27-30.
The Girls of Summer Caravan didn’t put on 5,000 miles as it has in past July NCAA viewing periods but the 13th edition this past July still saw the odometer turn to the tune of almost 3,500 miles.
Part of the reason for that is that there were less NCAA Certified Events with top teams in Southern California and Las Vegas this July to make a return trip back south after the non-certified San Diego Classic worthwhile, so the camels stayed a little closer to home.
The result is some coverage was done electronically and the only event covered live and in person during the viewing period was the inaugural EOT/End of the Trail Bay Area Ultimate Challenge July 23-25 at the Ultimate Fieldhouse in Walnut Creek.
As for the girls player rankings that have come out for Gold Club members to go along with this article, we have a handful of players ranked not personally observed but other than that girls ranked had to be seen.
Some girls from the non-viewing period Stockton Summer Classic in June are also included although the coverage of that event was not as extensive as the other two tournaments covered. Although not covered in person, the only other NCAA certified event in Northern California will be represented by five players from the July 23-25 Bay Area Summer Showcase at Jamtown in Oakland.
The EOT tournament in Walnut Creek was a coming home party for Cal Stars Nike EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League) as the team many consider the top girls club team in the nation rolled to the Platinum Division championship with every one of the five games going to a running clock in the final five minutes of two 16-minute halves.
In the title game, the Stars trailed 3-2, 5-4 and 8-7 but from there they exploded for a 22-2 run and the game was over in a 67-41 victory over Northwest Stars Black 2017.
When all was said and done, it was another game like the first four in the tournament where everyone on the roster made some type of contribution.
“The entire team, all 13 players, are unselfish,” said Stars head coach and founder, and Orinda Miramonte head coach Kelly Sopak when asked what was the most special aspect about this team. “They are so talented individually but they care far more about their teammates and the team as a whole than they do about themselves. It’s utterly refreshing to coach this group of kids.”
Prior to the EOT Bay Area event, the Stars went 5-0 at the July 5-8 Nike EYBL event in Indianapolis. From Indianapolis, the Stars moved on to the July 10-13 Nike Nationals in Chicago where unlike previous years where only the top 24 teams were invited all 32 EYBL teams got an invite this year. Sopak and his girls came in as the top seed and at 10-0 were the only unbeaten team in the field to start play.
They did lose a game in Chicago, but it would turn out to be the only setback they would suffer. It came against a Philadelphia Belles team that was beaten by a Team Elite (Georgia) squad the Stars defeated in Indianapolis.
There were five California teams in the EYBL 32-team field, the Cal Stars Nike EYBL, Cal Sparks, Cal Storm, Cal Swish and West Coast Premier, but none of them other than the Stars had close to a winning record.
From the EOT Bay Area tourney, the Stars went to Orange County where they went 5-0 and won the Disney Division, which was the top bracket of the July 27-30 EOT Summer Swoosh Championships in Ladera Ranch
The bottom line is the Stars were loaded. Their starting five are an obvious all-star team, but so was the second five and any one of the multiple rotations Sopak uses.
State Junior of the Year Aquira DeCosta of Stockton St. Mary’s returned to the Stars for the viewing period after her trip to Chengdu, China where she earned MVP honors for the victorious USA Basketball Women’s 3X3 U18 FIBA World Cup Gold Medal winning team. The 6-foot-2 ESPN No. 1 rated 2018 wing and No. 5 rated player overall who can play just about every position on the court had an outstanding viewing period but at the EOT Bay Area event she frankly hardly broke a sweat and still dominated.
“I feel like I’ve picked up my game. I’m doing more off the glass, defensively and I’m showing more leadership,” said Acosta, who has just about every major program wanting her, including defending national champion South Carolina.
State Sophomore of the Year Haley Jones of Archbishop Mitty (San Jose), the ESPN No. 2 wing from the 2019 class and No. 6 junior overall, was outstanding again in all aspects of her game even though the 6-foot-1 Jones is so smooth it looks like she’s not scoring when she is.
“We have so much talent on this team and girls that can score there are times I need to make a play, be a playmaker, pass the ball and find the open shot,” Jones said.
Besides being an unbelievable defender in the vaunted Cal Stars Nike EYBL press, Cal-committed 6-foot-1 senior point guard McKenzie Forbes of Folsom, the twin sister of Folsom boys star Mason Forbes, is a load to handle when she decides to go to the basket. Then, if the defender backs up a step, she pops a three-ball.
“That’s the beauty of this team,” said Forbes, who gets a lot of her moves from her father Sterling “Smooth” Forbes, who played for the Harlem Globetrotters. “On our high school teams we have to do it all, score, facilitate, everything. On this team everyone on the roster can put it in the basket so each of us doesn’t have to score a lot of points.”
The other two starters for the Stars Nike EYBL are Stockton St. Mary’s incoming seniors Neenah Young and Ariel Johnson. Both had very solid summers and are high up on the rankings list.
Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) junior Hannah Jump got real hot against the Northwest Stars and led the team with 19 points, including five three-pointers.
Campolindo (Moraga) senior star Haley Van Dyke showed some real skills this summer around the basket on both ends. Van Dyke, Jump, Miramonte senior Clair Steele, senior Lesila Finau of Dublin, senior Marie Olson of Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills), senior Maaeva Dwiggins of Concord Carondelet, and juniors Madison Campbell of Clovis West and Nicole Young of Stockton St. Mary’s round out the second and third group Sopak either brought in as a group or mixed in with several different sets of starters.
The loss to the Philadelphia Belles cost the Stars the national championship, but they still went 27-1 during the summer and 51-1 since the beginning of spring.
“This team is one of the best we’ve had ever. Right up there with the team with Sabrina (Ionescu) that won the national championship two years ago,” Sopak Remarked.
“If you look at the complete package, star power, depth, attitude and effort, this team will be extremely difficult to match,” Sopak continued. “This team set the bar and it will be great to be able to talk about this team in the future and what they accomplished.”
Orinda Magic Black
The Orinda Magic Black had a very good summer for a group of mostly girls from Salesian (Richmond) playing against elite all-star team competition. The Magic are coached by Stephen Pezzola, who also guides Salesian.
The Magic Black opened the viewing period at the granddaddy of girls summer tournaments where they were semifinalists in the Columbia Bracket Division 1 and finished in fourth place with a 4-2 record at the July 5-8 End of the Trail National Showcase in Oregon City, Oregon.
From Oregon, the Magic headed to Chicago for the Nike TOC where they won Bern Pool B and finished 4-2 after falling to Bern Pool A winner Germantown from Wisconsin in the championship bracket.
Crisscrossing the country like the Stars Nike EYBL, the Magic Black were also in the Platinum Nob Hill Division with the Stars and took some lumps in a 73-34 defeat when the two squared off.
In the Nob Hill bracket third-place game, the Magic Black fell behind and then closed to 54-52 with two minutes left but couldn’t get over the hump in a 60-54 loss to Idaho Hoopdreams Black.
Pezzola and his girls ended the viewing period in Atlanta at the Nike TOC where they won Pool M with a 53-39 victory over Chicago Lady Reign. Salesian 6-foot-5 junior post Angel Jackson continued to show the offensive improvement analysts and college coaches have been waiting for as the double-double machine nearly had a triple-double after finishing with 19 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks.
After winning their first four games in Atlanta two players short on an 11-girl roster, the Magic Black finally ran out of gas and lost in the Platinum Division championship round to FBC Georgia.
Despite ending the summer on a loss, it was still a great showing for the Orinda Magic Black.
Other Salesian players that showed well and are in the player rankings are senior guard Taimane Lesa-Hardee, sophomore power forward Makayla Edwards, junior shooting guard Nia Chinn, junior Anjel Galbraith, senior Sydni Stewart, and senior Taisia Fleming.
Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) senior Jordan Gudger played solid defense all summer for Pezzola and California of San Ramon senior Gabby Edmond flashed signs of solid play, although she and Danville San Ramon Valley senior Lexie Romero were the players absent in Atlanta.
San Jose Cagers Blue
The San Jose Cagers Blue, made up of girls from Archbishop Mitty and coached by six-time state championship Mitty head coach Sue Phillips, played in both EOT viewing events in the second half of July and had a solid showing despite playing without Haley Jones.
After a tough one-point loss in the Platinum Division Golden Gate Bracket quarterfinals, the Cagers Blue then won their next two games and ended up taking fourth place in the bracket after a 56-45 win over Cal Stars 15 Nike.
Senior point guard Karisma Ortiz looked good at the EOT Bay Area event for a girl USC seems to really want, and by and large she had a very good summer carrying the load without Jones against all-star team competition.
University of San Diego-committed 6-foot-2 senior center Nicole Blakes has improved since the end of the season and the San Diego coaches at the event seemed pleased with what they saw.
The Cagers Blue then went down to Orange County and finished second in the Hollywood Division of the EOT Summer Swoosh after losing 65-63 to the same Way to Win Gold team that beat them by a point in Walnut Creek.
In a pool play 78-65 victory over Emerald City Swish Black out of Seattle, Washington, senior guard Krissy Miyahara was on fire after making 10-of-13 three point shots to account for all of her 30 points.
A name to look for is incoming Mitty freshman guard Hunter Hernandez. She handles the ball, shoots the three and can go to the basket.
San Diego Classic anoints Pinewood
The first event covered in earnest this summer was the June 29-July 2 San Diego Classic where an always tough Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) won its first 3A title in the 31-year old event.
The girls did it by coming out blazing hot just like they did two years ago when the Panthers upset at the time national No. 1 Stockton St. Mary’s in the CIF Open Division NorCal playoffs. This time it was an impressive 52-40 victory over defending Arizona 5A champion Mesquite of Gilbert.
Not only did Pinewood win the grueling six-game four-day event but also showcased an incoming freshman that will be one of the first true big girls 2014 State Coach of the Year and six-time state championship head coach Doc Scheppler has had.
That new star on the horizon is Olivia Williams, a long 6-foot-1 post.
Williams, who is the granddaughter of the late Ron “Fritz” Williams of San Francisco/Golden State Warriors fame, and has dual citizenship and plays on the New Zealand U16 team, registered double-digit rebounds in every game. She instinctively knows how to position herself under the basket and block out and then uses her long arms to cradle in the rebounds. Against Mesquite, she had eight points (one three-pointer) and 13 rebounds.
“Help me,” said Scheppler holding his arms and hands up to the sky feigning prayer. “What am I going to do? I’ve never had a true big.”
Senior Briana Claros had six great games and did everything well. She was named the MVP of the tournament.
Other Pinewood players that played well and will make the player rankings are juniors Klara Astrom and Kaitlyn Leung. Astrom had 14 points and 10 rebounds against Mesquite while Leung was like a three-point machine in almost every game.
Another incoming freshman who was very impressive was guard Courtni Thompson. Guard is exactly what Scheppler had her doing as he put her man-to-man at times against BYU-verballed Mesquite star Shaylee Gonzales and Thompson held her own. Pinewood had a couple of other freshmen, guards Annika Decker and Una Jovanovich, who also looked good.
Brea-Olinda (Brea) beat Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa for third place and both of those teams have girls in the player rankings.
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