Just like that four weekends of high level Middle School competition has come to an end. In just three years, Kenneth "KP" Pannell has turned "The Select Winter Series" into one of the best girls only leagues in the country. The anticipation coming into Session one was huge and the expectations were met each session out as teams from as far as California, Ohio, Georgia, Boston, Virginia and beyond made the pilgrimage to compete for a Winter Series Championship.
The Top brackets in both the 7th and 8th grade divisions were loaded with talented teams with the likes of FBC Young Guns, Team Takeover, Exodus NYC and NEPA yet there were two teams that played on another level and managed to run the gauntlet with an unblemished record as 8th grade division YKS went (15-0) in sessions 2,3,4 and 7th grade Alabama Southern Starz (20-0) ran the table in all four sessions, Big congratulations to the girls, coaches and the programs on the accomplishment.
Coming into the final session YKS was the favorite and the hunted but they stayed the course and captured their third consecutive championship. It wasn't an easy task as the bracket was full of strong teams with standout performers on each team. The court savvy of the twins 27' Mia and Kate Spain, the dominant all around play of 27' Micah Ojo and the undeniable chemistry allowed them to remain calm and execute as they pulled out a number of close games, this with only 6 players was a joy to watch. The dominance doesn't happen without the big baskets and defensive stops from 27' Destini Collins and the hustle plays and timely buckets from 27' Lauren Johnson and 27' Tamia Dyson.
Alabama Southern Starz showed up and took the Winter Series by storm from the start !! The team is well balance with players who except and excel in their roles. The leader of the pack is 28' PG Morgan Reckley who is a star in the making, easily can be tag as best player in division, she plays the game on another level. Along side her is sharp shooter 28' SG Leah Dewitt who can stretch the floor well beyond the arch while the activity in the paint of 28' Loreal Murray seemed to be the lift they needed in close games. This is a team I look forward to watching in this spring/summer as they continue to develop.
The final week welcomed 115 teams throughout four age group divisions. A number of new, old and familiar faces were in the building to compete for the Final Winter Series Championship in their perspective divisions. When the weekend was all said and done their were 10 Champions crowned, congratulations to the players, coaches and program directors.
The Winter Series 5th and 6th grade divisions have been fun to watch as the players, coaches and fans are locked in and the energy is unmatched. As these young prospects are still developing, homing their individual skill sets and learning how to play the game you can see the inspiration from the high school, collegiate and professional players as they mimic their moves, plus one celebrations, hair styles and more. Looking forward to keeping an eye on these two classes as they have a number of budding stars.
29' Zoey Williams / Southern Starz
Another young guard in the stable for the program out of Georgia, she is a defensive minded guard with quick hands and turned defense to offense. aggressive offensively. She has handle the ball well with a couple of go to combos in her arsenal.
29' Janaya & Janessa Martin / Exodus
Double trouble, literally as these two run and jump off instinct, are complete ball magnets and seemed to come up with every 50/50 ball. They can handle and are always in attack mode with some touch from outside hitting a number of timely three pointers. Small in stature but rebound well gaining their team tons of extra possessions. One thing you can't teach is their natural aggression, they play hard and leave it all on the floor each time out, a huge part of their teams success.
29' Jayden McClain
The 6'3 youngster continued to improve throughout the sessions. She seemed to be more comfortable creating the contact now and is playing with more of a motor. She fought for the post position, called for the ball and improved on her finishes. Defensively she showed some mobility guarding on the perimeter on switches forcing dead balls. Gonna be a top prospect in her class entering high school.
30' Qaylynn Samuels / Team Threat
Great height and length on this youngster, which gave teams headaches on the defensive side with her scrappy play and relentless motor. She is aggressive on offense always on the attack, runs the floor well and gets easy opportunities at the rim. Nice form on her shot as she continues to develop there's no doubt she will be a sniper.
27' Zya Smalls / NEPA
The prototype 3 - 4 with ridiculous wing span and broad shoulders stepped up big in the finale and had her all around game on display. She rebounded well on both ends, making precise outlets for transition opportunities. She was able to finish over and through multiple defenders, showed her ability to rebound and start transition going end to end on a few occasions. In the post, she read double teams well finding cutters or open shooters. As she develops a mid range she will be very problematic for opponents.
27' Ella Clementoni / NEPA
Heady guard that is fundamentally sound and plays well off the ball. She understands space and how to relieve pressure as she executed backdoor cuts for easy opportunities often. Solid vision making pin point passes to teammates in stride and utilize the bounce pass to perfection. A solid shooter so she draws attention and has some drive ability but does force the issue.
27' Qandace Samuels / Team Takeover
Big guard who over the session gained confidence stepping into the leadership role and willingness to put her team on her back. At a little over 6'0 she is a match up nightmare at the PG position. She can shoot the long ball, plays downhill and is effective with both hands around the rim. A willing passer as her height allows her vision to see the floor getting her teammates involved. A solid defender and very effective in the press or run/jump as she bottle guards up with her length and aggressiveness on the perimeter.
27' Ryan Carter / Exodus NYC
A versatile guard with size and strength, one of the most talented players throughout the winter series. A three level scoring with a multifaceted skill set, finishes around the rim, uses a cross jab to get to her pull up with ease and can knock it down from deep. She searched for her offense but facilitated well as she created opportunities for teammates with her vision. Also effective defending 1-5 and rebounds well from the guard position. The potential is endless.
27' Ashley Maccalla / Exodus
By far the most athletic prospect in the league. She has lateral quickness, balance and speed to go along with relentless effort. An aggressive defender that anticipated and shot gaps like a free safety and was nearly unstoppable in transition. She has elite elevation and plays off two feet well with an uncanny ability to adjust in mid air for tough finishes. A streaky shooter now but I noticed a willingness to take the shots given, once she gains a more consistent jumper the skies the limit. One to watch
27' Keira Kilkenny / Elevate Elite
A smooth wing with all the physical attributes -height, length and agility. She gets up and down fluidly, finishing everything around the rim with a soft touch on her floater. Her height and release point allowed her to get uncontested pull ups in the lane as she utilized a starter step to create space. A very active defender she gained multiple deflections on perimeter and was just as effective in the post with her size. One of the more consistent individual performers during the four sessions.
27' Sabrina Anderson / Elevate Elite
The spark plug of her team, this PG is vocal, lets the game come to her and plays at a nice pace. A willing passer with good vision and makes great reads in transition with a good assist to turnover ratio. Solid jump shot and was pretty consistent from beyond the arch and exposed poor close outs to get to her patented cross floater in the paint.
27' Mia & Kate Spain / YKS
The catalyst to the success of YKS throughout their dominance of Winter Series. They both have unique skill sets with vision, handle and court awareness that are simply eye popping. They scored in multiple ways whether it be touch floaters, transition pull ups or the daggers from long range, they put the ball in the basket. They play at a control pace and do not get frazzled under pressure as they methodically run their sets in the half court and beat press defenses with uncanny passing ability.
27' Micah Ojo / YKS
Easily the most dominant performer throughout the Winter Series sessions as the anchor of the undefeated YKS team. A calm mannered, elusive hybrid with an array of skills. She has inside/out ability as she gained early post position, took defenders off the dribble and knocked the 3 down consistently. She is slim in stature but strong with great hands, balance, footwork and touch as she finishes everything around the rim. Also a rim protector with timing and great close out speed blocking a number of three point attempts. Simply put she is a problem.
27' Sydney Santora / K- Low
This kid just goes about her business, plays hard on every play with a unique skill set. Not eye popping speed but she has lateral quickness that allows her to be effective using hesitation moves and her eyes to get by defenders. A crafty finisher in the paint and a tough shot maker as she consistently applied pressure on post defenders attacking the rim.
27' Maila Jackson / New Heights
A very serviceable big, mobile with a strong build, rebounds well and runs the floor. She sets solid screens, has good hands but needs to finish around the rim more consistently, reps will fix that. A solid post defender as she made it hard for teams to get paint touches or clean looks with her physical play. Looking forward to watching her development over the AAU season.
27' Nyair McCoy / Team Thrill
Another solid weekend as she had her team playing at a high level and competing to win leading her team out of pool play. She had the deep ball going which opened the floor up for her. Her elite handle ability was on full display as she broke down presses, split traps effortlessly and created for her teammates. She was able to get paint touches at will with no looks passes and a smooth floater over post defenders.
27' Kayden McDaniel /Team Thrill
A shooter with quick release, nice form as she knocked it down off the catch from range. She had it going early and shot 5-6 from beyond the arch in a big win over a very talented Exodus team in pool play. She is lightning quick, has a solid handle with blow by ability, good defensive instincts playing the passing lanes creating easy transition buckets.
29' Khloe Ison / Team Durant
Plays with natural flare and unlimited energy, she flew all over the floor on both ends making plays. As a 6th grader playing up she showed no fear and her athleticism is off the charts, she had a run down block that may have been a top 5 play of the weekend. Quick as lightning, creative of the bounce and was fun to watch compete. As she develops pace and control which will come with maturity, she is gonna be a problem.
29' Melody Vaughn / Exodus 29' Jordan Jones / Exodus
29' Makayla Smith / Team Durant 29' Micah Doy / Team Durant
29' Madi Hamiel / Fairfax Stars 29' Sky Slaughter / Fairfax Stars
29' Susie Gentile /Raptors 29' Brielle Bennett / Riverside
29' Raigan Ruffin / YKS 29' Sydney Youngblood / YKS
29' Susie Gentile /Raptors 29' Kam Galis /Top Notch
30' Caylee Allen / New Heights 30' Jordynn Wilson / New Heights
30' Brogan Woods / Castle 30' Maleya Beaubrun / Castle
Over the past few months I've noticed a decline in basketball etiquette which is not conducive to growing the culture. Coaches need to be more aware of their reactions to referees and interactions with opposing coaches. Parents your support is unwavering and great to see but please find a seat and stop waltzing the sidelines heckling referees, coaching your kids and showing disgust for your child's performance during the games. This is not the majority but for those this does pertain to, it is not okay. Program Directors it is important to have the conversations and hold everyone accountable when such behavior arises.
Parents and coaches alike play a crucial role in promoting positive energy and must be the model for good sportsmanship, self control and encourage the players to do the same while providing guidance and support along the way. Competition is a key aspect of sports, it can be healthy, build confidence and motivate or it can become toxic, stressful and lead to negative behavior. It's important to strike a balance and ensure that the focus remains on player development, sportsmanship and instilling love and respect for the game rather than a focus on winning at all costs.
With AAU season quickly approaching, I just wanted to leave some food for thought as we all -players, coaches,scouts, evaluators, event organizers, content creators and so on continue to put our best foot forward to GROWING THE GAME !!