Spending the day at the Tiffin Shootout
By JIM DABBELT
Ironically, in my 30-year basketball career, one of the very few places in Ohio that I haven’t been to was Tiffin University. The Division 2 college located 20 miles east of Findlay held their annual high school shootout over the weekend, and I was privileged to attend the final day yesterday.
There were several teams from the northern part of Ohio in attendance on Sunday, along with three teams from the Miami Valley. Dayton area schools Anna, Miami East and Tippecanoe joined the likes of schools such as Clyde, Sandusky Perkins, Vanlue, Arlington, Lancaster, and others.
Now I have to admit, I have not been overly impressed with what I have seen so far this summer. Poor conditioning is probably the worst I have seen in a while. But that aside, it was great seeing the teams in action Sunday at Tiffin.
Miami East comes in with a new identity, as most of their talent graduated last year after a successful run. I did see them play New London, and they were victorious. They moved the ball well, and did a nice job for new coach Bruce Vanover. It is obvious that they will have to find their new leaders this year, but they were competitive in the game I saw.
Anna also looks to get back to prominence after 2 state titles in the past 5 years. New coach Doug Martin is back after being an assistant for those state teams, and he brought plenty of decent size to the gym. But as of now, injuries could be taking its toll with the Rockets, as a key member of next year’s team is waiting word on her injury. Also, Cayla Bensman returns this year, and before taking her talent to the next level, she wants one more run with the Rockets.
As for Tippecanoe, they had a lot of their key players heading into next season with them at Tiffin, and survived a couple of tough games against Arlington and Lancaster. Halee Printz was the best player I personally saw in the gym while I was there, but their junior class is highly touted, and with the exception of missing one key guard, the rest of that group showed some good things in the two games I saw them play. Tipp had three teams there which included a lot of the younger kids, and finished 11-1 on the day between all three of their teams.
I did see the Tipp/Arlington game, and it was a tough battle on the main court at Tiffin. Arlington battled for most of the game, before Tipp turned things up a bit midway through the second half and pulled away for the win.
* It was great catching up with Clyde head coach John Cahill, who looks to reload their program after the graduation of a strong senior class last year. They may struggle early, but Cahill will likely get them tuned into another good season when the ball is tipped for real in November.
* The entire Tiffin coaching staff and players were involved in the event, and I had a chance to meet a few of the 2014-15 Dragons. Coaches Pam Oswald and Kylene Spiegel were great hosts to the teams who were there, and the event went well. The event began Friday and there were well over 100 games played on campus.
* I did catch up with two names familiar to Dayton area basketball fans who will suit up for the Dragons this year. Sophomore Deidre McKay, a 5-7 guard, was a member of the Dayton Lady Hoopstars Premier team under John Coffee, and her sister Sam was a huge asset for the University of Dayton Flyers program. Deidra was working her game during some downtime, and the Miami Trace grad looked sharp and I expect her to contribute this upcoming season.
Also, I had the chance to spend a lot of time with former 5-10 Urbana scoring machine Trischa Lacy, who transferred to Tiffin from Tennessee-Martin over Christmas last year. Lacy, who was my Division 2 Player of the Year after averaging 30 ppg. at Urbana as a senior, will have 3 years of eligibility left with the Dragons. Oh yeah, and there was any doubt that she could still light up the scoreboard, we went through a workout during an hour downtime on Sunday, and she jokingly quieted any doubters.
As new Anna coach Doug Martin and a few parents arrived early for their next game, he joked with her about missing some early shots. Then Lacy reeled off 13 in a row from behind the arc. She looked at me and said “that isn’t good enough, I can do better”, and ripped off 19 straight. I have said on the record before that she is the best pure shooter I have seen in my 30 years of covering the girls’ game.
Yep… she still has it.
If you want to play, there is a place for you
By JIM DABBELT
Every year, kids flock by the hundreds to the basketball exposure events held in both April and July, hoping to catch the eye of one of the major colleges who are in attendance. The travel teams load up with the best players, and look to compete with the best teams around the country. Then, when most of these kids don’t receive any interest from the coaches, they become disappointed and wonder what happened.
The perception of most parents and players is that if they don’t receive the interest from the bigtime schools, then it is considered a disappointment. Why isn’t UConn, or Ohio State, or Dayton or Wright State calling? My kid is as good as those who are signing at the Division One schools. Well, maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. But when reality strikes and a player is left without a Division One offer, what are they to do?
Simple….. look at other options.
Division One athletics is a tough business. These coaches are under a lot of pressure to bring in kids who fit their program, and help their program grow. Just because your child may be able to shoot as well as someone you see on television doesn’t at all mean they can compete at that level. Division One basketball is a whole new world and most people out there don’t grasp this reality, and that is why less than 0.025% of all varsity players from the Dayton area each year will get a full D1 scholarship. That’s about 15-20 kids per year out of about 100 teams, each with minimum of 10 players.
But there are other options, and I wish that people would realize that, and consider them.
Division Two basketball is a great level of basketball, and just a notch below the D1 level. If you look at the top-tier D2 schools, and when they play the low to mid-major D1 schools, they often can compete with them. Sometimes it is because D1 kids can “fall through the cracks” as some may say, but the D2 level is very good, competitive basketball. If you look right here in Ohio at what Sue Ramsey has done at Ashland and Kirk Martin at Cedarville. Those are just two coaches out of many outstanding coaches at that level here in Ohio who has put together programs with the kids who believed in what D2 basketball is all about.
Division Three basketball often gets a bad rap for not being able to hand out athletic scholarship money. If you work hard in school with your academics, then that problem will be aided with academic money. In no ways am I saying that athletes won’t have to pay to play D3 basketball, but there is often academic money and grants that will help defer the cost of playing at that level. Plus, there are some outstanding players at that level. The main difference between a D1 and D3 athlete comes down to two things. Speed of the game and athleticism. I have seen, and know some D3 players who are as good or better fundamentally than some kids who get athletic money at a higher level.
The same with NAIA basketball. The athletic budget allows the coach a certain amount of money to use to bring in their athletes. Say they need to bring in 5 kids, then the coach has to be creative with a set budget to use it for those 5 kids. It is often compared to a pie, and a coaches takes so much out of that pie to give to each athlete they need to bring in. NAIA basketball is a challenging level of ball also.
And what about the JUCO level? It has gotten a bad rap over the years for only being a two-year school, but my opinion is, if a player can get two years of their schooling paid for, whether it be core classes or part of their major, then I am 100% for that. Isn’t that the objective for parents anyway, getting the education paid for? The parents who are realistic about their child’s abilities know that this is a great way to go. Often you are going to school for free for two years, then you have the chance to take your final 2 years and continue to play at a D1 school if you have proven yourself. Worst case is, even if you don’t play after your two years, you can transfer to another school to complete your four-years if you desire, and your college bill is basically cut in half.
Life isn’t fair, and maybe your daughter won’t get a “fair” look at going to a D1 school. Then you have to change your plan if they really want to play college basketball. Remember, this has to be their dream, and what they want, nobody else.
State tourney thoughts: Mitchell comfortable in her new home
By JIM DABBELT
Walking out of the Schottenstein Center yesterday, I realized a couple of things. Not only was another season of high school basketball now over with, but it will be a very long time before fans get to see a player like we saw in the state tournament this weekend. Or for that matter, over the last four years.
Yes, Kelsey Mitchell draws a lot of attention from the Cincinnati media, but if this was the first time you saw the Cincinnati Princeton standout play, consider yourself lucky. Mitchell is a kind of player who would not want attention like this column focused on her, all she wants to do it win. And she quieted any critics she may have had, by finally taking the Vikings out of the vaunted Wright State regionals and brought home the gold. But the thing about it is, that was her welcoming to the floor at the Schottenstein Center.
She looked very comfortable in the place she will call home the next four years, suiting up for the Buckeyes alongside one of their best recruiting classes in history. I have been at this for nearly 30 years, and she easily lands a spot among the 5 best players I have ever seen play in this state. She woke up the non-believers with a 50-point performance against the defending state champs from Fairmont (with two major college recruits back), and once she got to the state, she shined like no other. She dropped a smooth 23 points and 6 assists against Toledo Notre Dame in the semis, then in the finals, she was not going to be denied. She netted 15 points in the first quarter as Princeton got the lead, and ended with 30 points, including a state tournament record 15 free throws en route to the win.
Now over hyping a player happens all the time, trust me, I am guilty to that also. I would even find myself scratching my head at all of the media attention and twitter-love that she would receive from the Cincinnati media. But Mitchell lives up to it, and is better than advertised. There is nobody in the state that can defend her, and she finally gets the monkey off her back, and the back of the Vikings closing the door of doubt and finishing the job.
As a Southwest Ohio basketball fan, it was great to see.
Alter, Versailles falls short: It was a rough day for the local teams. Alter jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead, but like I have seen many times, a quick start is often due to adrenaline. Once West Holmes settled down, they quickly fought back and took control of this game. Alter went over nine minutes without a point after they scored the first seven of the game. West Holmes then took control and never let up. They shot well from the field the entire night, while Alter could not answer. West Holmes defeated Alter 62-45.
Libby Bazelak had a nice productive second half, finishing with 16 to lead the way, after struggling early against West Holmes. Emma Bockrath added nine, but like the rest of her teammates, she didn’t shoot the ball well. I thought the Alter defense played pretty well, but it took until the second half to get their offense on track, as they put up 10 points in the third period, and 21 in the fourth. But West Holmes never flinched, and brought home their first state title since the 1986 season, when they beat Tippecanoe for the title.
But Alter fans can rest knowing this. They return 5 key players for next season, making them the favorites to bring him the hardware. Emma Bockrath and Maddie Bazelak will be seniors, Hayley Combs a junior, and both Braxtin Miller and Libby Bazelak will be sophomores. Don’t let one bad loss ruin what they are building with the Knights. Remember, it took West Holmes three times to win the title this season.
Versailles really struggled to handle the pressure at times from Africentric, as the Nubians used a big first and third quarter to defeat the Tigers 49-37. The Tigers struggled to find ways to score, only hitting on 11 field goals, but this senior bunch never quit. They battled until the final buzzer, and finishes a great season 24-4. Africentric forced 24 turnovers, and the Tigers struggled to respond. For Versailles fans, they lose several seniors, meaning Jacki Stonebraker will be forced what nobody does better, and that’s to mold a new group of Tigers into a team that can compete deep into the tournament.
Legends in the House: It was very interesting to see who was in the house this weekend at the Schott. For my money, the best player in Ohio over each of the last three decades were involved in the state tournament in some capacity. Katie Smith (90’s Logan High School), who I say is the best to ever suit up in Ohio, was honored on Thursday for the OHSAA Ethics and Integrity Award; Lauren Prochaska (2000s, Jonathan Alder HS) was at press row working for the OHSAA; and Kelsey Mitchell (2010s, Princeton High School) was leading her team to the state title. Interesting story on Prochaska, who was not only a star in high school, but also at BGSU. I hope to have her story on here in the coming weeks.
Kudos: Great job by the OHSAA for another great tournament! Tim Streid and his cast of thousands did a great job for the media, teams and fans involved. Also big thanks to Tim and OHSAA Radio Network’s Todd Bell for the chance to be a part of the pregame radio spot. We here in Ohio are very blessed to have some amazing basketball to enjoy, and the 39th annual state tournament was no exception.
Large in talent, small in stature
By JIM DABBELT
When they walk onto the court, it’s common to overlook their abilities. Actually in this case, it may be easy to just overlook them. But when the game is over, it’s not hard to realize they were there.
One of the misunderstood concepts about the game of basketball is to look at a player and derive an opinion about how good
they are by their appearance. If they are 6-foot-4, people are in fear because of their height. If they are 5-foot-4, they often don’t take them seriously.
I often hear it all the time (mostly from people who don’t understand the game) how a player won’t be able to play in college “because they stand 5-foot-4 and look out of place” on the court. Or that 6-foot-4 player will be “automatically play in the WNBA because of her size”. In both cases, people couldn’t be more wrong.
It is the general consensus that point guards must be at least 5-8 to be able to get a college scholarship and play that position, because in some people’s opinion, they won’t be able to do what the bigger guards can do. Now some of that may be true because the point guards in college today can exceed over 6-foot. It would be difficult for a smaller guard to penetrate and score like they may be able to do at the high school level.
But what is a true point guard? Very simply put, they are like a quarterback directing their team down the field for the score. Scoring for a point guard is secondary at the next level (however a player needs to still be a threat to score), but running an offense and being what a true point guard is supposed to be is their primary objective. It doesn’t matter if you are 5-4, or 5-11.
“Recruiting on the Division I level necessitates that you ask the obvious question first,” said Mark Lewis, who coached major college basketball for over 20 years, and is now one of the main writers for Blue Star Media. ”Will she make us better over the course of her career? If the answer is yes, it’s hard to justify going a different direction simply on size alone.”
“All things being equal,” Lewis added, “smart coaches and recruiters are going to go with the size but it very rare that all things are equal.”
Often times, those players who are “too small” to play basketball will have to work twice as hard to get to where they are headed, and that work ethic could be what draws coaches to their doorstep. Realistically speaking, the majority of all high school players regardless of height, won’t play in college. But for some Dayton area players, like 5-foot-4 Vandalia-Butler grad Kacie Cassell, 5-foot-1 Stebbins senior Bri Williams, or 4-foot-11 Thurgood Marshall grad Tierra Tidwell, it’s all about putting in the extra effort to be taken seriously.
Cassell headed to the University of Akron after graduation from Butler High School, and had to prove herself at the next level. She did more than just that. Her junior season, Cassell led the nation in assists for all NCAA Division One schools.
Lewis, who has recruited some of the top players in the country during his days on the sidelines, sums it up when it comes to whether a smaller guard can have a chance of being noticed.
“If a high school player of a smaller size is going to compete at the next level she has to compensate with something to offset a lack of inches,” Lewis said. “Extraordinary physical skills (speed, quickness, strength) or refined and advanced basketball assets (court intelligence, ballhandling, passing, leadership and decision-making).”
“She has to give a recruiter a legitimate reason why their scholarship offer should come her way rather than the direction of another player with greater size. That reason also has to be definitive and substantial. If any of those physical or basketball attributes are just marginally better, most will sacrifice a little on that end for some additional height. A ‘little quicker’ or ‘slightly better ballhandling and passing’ aren’t enough.”
There have been some outstanding players over the years come through the circuit and wow the fans with their play. Lewis mentioned Olympic gold medal winner Dawn Staley, along with Kristi Toliver and Ivory Latta.
“The given challenge is on the defensive end particularly if a program embraces a man to man oriented defensive philosophy,” Mark Lewis said. “At the same time running the offense both in transition and the halfcourt takes a skilled and knowledgeable guard and not necessarily one who stands 5-10 or taller. Size seldom matters if they can’t catch you.”
Tierra Tidwell didn’t reach the 5-foot mark, but has moved onto the next level on scholarship, and the 4-foot-11 point guard is
currently playing at Miami University-Middletown. She is currently in the top 10 in her conference in scoring, and has also dealt with adversities all of the life playing basketball due to her height.
“First off I want to give an honor to God for giving me the gift that he in stored in me,” Tidwell told me last week. “Throughout my career I have had many ups and downs. However having a praying family helped and motivated me to continue pushing and working hard for what I want. After high school deciding on where I wanted to continue my basketball and academic career was probably one of the hardest things I have faced.”
“I was turned down several times because of my height,” she added. “Yes, I am 4’11 but I have the mindset and heart of a 6’0 giant. When dealing with the let downs of several college coaches that alone motivated me. Being the shortest player on the court never intimidated me. I knew that it would take long nights in the gym and leaving everything out on the court. I always and will continue to give 100%.”
While Tidwell continued to battle the struggles of making the jump to college and proving everyone wrong, she was then hit with a tragedy that would make her work that much harder to make it.
“These last couple months have been extremely hard for me in my family,” Tidwell said. “I lost my best friend, my motivator and my aunty. Losing her so suddenly was devastating. Through my career she put so much time and effort into me and basketball. Her not being able to see me play on the next level was hard but I knew I could not quit.”
“She was my hero and I will continue to go hard and make my aunty proud. Whenever I feel that I can’t finish I remember what she always told me ‘good things come to those who work and never give up’. “
Tom Jenkins, the Executive Director of the Ohio Girls Basketball Report, agrees that while the bigger players will be the eye of most recruiters, there have been several players of smaller stature that has been successful. Some of the ones he stated, along with their colleges, include 5-5 Nicole Bell of Indian Hill (Indiana), 5-4 Courtney Davidson of Youngstown Ursuline (Michigan State), 5-4 Korrin Taylor of McKinley (Oakland), 5-5 Naddiyah Cross of Centerville (Kent State), 5-6 Yamonie Jenkins of Reynoldsburg (Ohio U), and 5-6 Alexis Peterson of Northland (Syracuse).
“No question the game of basketball is a big person’s game,” Jenkins said. “No question the taller players have the initial advantage; but what you find with the smaller players who can play at the collegiate level and are successful is a competitive fire that is unmatched, coupled with a skill or athletic took that far exceeds their biggest counter parts.”
Even this season, 5-foot-1 Briana Williams has been drawing praises from every coach in her league, and the Dayton Stebbins senior will be continuing her career at Owens College in Toledo on a full scholarship. All of her career, people told her she wouldn’t make it. Her proudest moment will be stepping onto the floor for the first time next season as a college freshman.
“I have dealt with that growing up, and still deal with that today,” Williams said. “I just have the mindset to continue to prove people wrong.”
She flashed back to a time in middle school that really gave her the desire to make this game work for her.
“I was checking out a book in the library and the librarian asked me if I played any sports , and I told her I played basketball,” the Stebbins floor general said. “She was just so startled, and told me I was too short to play basketball, and maybe I should try something else.”
“I was so upset and that’s when my mom told me I was going to get stuff like this, and to use it as motivation. My parents have taught me to turn negative energy from people into positive energy, and use it to motivate me.”
“It still motivates me today and I will take that with me wherever I play,” she added. “My dad told me that when you are smaller, you have to reach things mentally.”
According to Lewis, in NCAA Division I basketball over the past 14 (since the 1999-2000 season) years, just five players 5-7 or shorter have been named to the WBCA Coaches All-American team (formerly Kodak). Three of those five were named twice but that still equates to just 8 of 140 times that an honoree has measured less than 5-7.
So instead of people looking at a player and measuring how tall she is from head to toe, one should measure a smaller player by what really counts… her heart.