Guru's Philly Summer League Report: Rookies Have Highligted Competition
The final push for this season's championship of the Philadelphia/Suburban Women's NCAA Summer Basketball League begins with quarterfinal action Tuesday night at Kelly Bolish Gymnasium, home of the AAU Renegades, in Hatboro, Pa.
Though players have brought their competitive spirit throughout the past two months, as longtime commissioner David Kessler points out, the league is supposed to be about more than wins and losses.
"One, you hope everyone has an enjoyable time," Kessler said. "Secondly, you hope players are able to work on and improve upon different portions of their game that they can take back or, in the case of incoming freshmen, introduce to their respective colleges and universities when they enroll in the fall.
"I'm always pleased when I look at recaps of games in the winter and see the young women who played in the league doing well and hope that the league had something to do with it," said Kessler, who, by the way, can always be contacted by email at email@example.com.
That's certainly been the situation approached by Taylor Bryant, a former star and recent graduate of Upper Dublin High, who is headed for Delaware for her education but is not one of the scholarship players on the nationally-ranked Blue Hens, highlighted by all-American Elena Delle Donne.
Bryant was on the Columbia Blue squad, one of four teams eliminated to get to the field of eight for the quarterfinals that will play in two sets of doubleheaders Tuesday night on Courts 1 and 2.
But despite having her summer season end early, Bryant was thrilled to be able to compete against some of the best players at such area Division I schools as Saint Joseph's, Villanova, Lehigh and Lafayette, besides talented individuals on Division II and Division III teams, especially the local D-2 squads who are allowed to play as entire units under NCAA rules.
"The competition was very good," Bryant said last Thursday after her team wrapped up the regular season and actually ruined the playoff chances of Kelly Green (D-2 University of the Sciences in Philadelphia).
"I could tell the first day I walked in it was going to be a good experience," Bryant said. "It's definitely different than playing in high school since these people are more experienced, either playing in college or having played at the college level."
Bryant was fully aware that Delaware has a full roster for this coming season as the Blue Hens attempt to repeat as Colonial Athletic Association champions and make a deeper run in the NCAA tournament, of which they will be a host school for the first two rounds.
But academic pursuits drove her decision and there might still a place for her in the program in some capacity, Bryant explained.
"I talked to (assistant) coach (Tom) Lochner and he told me when school starts, he's going to let me play some pick-up with the girls and then decide whether I deserve to have a tryout or not as a walk-on.
"And even if I succeed, because they have a full roster, I might not get the oppportunity but he said might be able to use me as a practice player or as a manager," Bryant added.
History has shown that one can improve to realize their ambitions in those capacities.
For example, Rutgers senior-to-be Brittany Lapidus was a manager as a freshman who had also gone for years to Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer's summer camps.
Two seasons ago needing to fill a roster slot, Stringer decided that Lapidus, from Marlboro High in New Jersey, was worth being chosen in part as a reward for her loyalty to the program.
As for the motivation in the academics world for chosing Delaware, Bryant explained, "Definitely, the veterinary program. I always wanted to be a vet.
"Not many schools in the country have Vet programs. It was between Delaware and Cornell, which were actually the top two that had the program that I wanted to go to, although Penn was my top choice but they didn't have the program.
"So I could try to walk on elsewhere or Delaware that had the program, so I decided Delaware was the one. And it's near home. And anything involving being around them will be a plus."
Bridget Higgins, a graduate of the Mount St. Joseph's powerhouse, also benefitted from the league in getting prepared for her destination at the University of Pittsburgh, where she'll also try gain a slot as a walk-on.
This is the last season the Panthers will compete in the Big East before moving on to the Atlantic Coast Conference, as will Big East rival Syracuse.
Post-season awards aren't given out in the summer league and the only stats kept are points, of which the top scorers of each game are forwarded to the Guru from the commissioner for the roundup, but if an all-rookie team had to be named, at least from the rosters indicating incoming freshmen at various universities, there were several worthy of such citation this season.
Again, this is only based on the scoring results. It's quite possible others did well as rebounders or assists and there will be an exploration if a way can be found to keep those statistics next season.
Bryant certainly was one of the top players beyond rookie status on Columbia Blue but in terms of rookies another standout both ways on the squad was Alex Wheatley, a Council Rock South graduate headed for Princeton, the three-time defending Ivy champion which has all-American prospect Niveen Rasheed for one more season.
Though Saint Joseph's lost a slew of experience and talent through graduation such as Katie Kuester, who could be considered an MVP summer league candidate playing with defending champion and unbeaten Lime Green (11-0), the top seed in the playoffs, the Hawks might still thrive based on the play of their incoming freshmen.
Three would certainly be all-rookie summer league candidates in Cheltenham graduate Ciara Andrews, who turned in several of the top individual performances playing on third-seed Hunter Green.
The squad, which has Hawks veterans Erin Shields and Shelby Smith, also has Saint Joseph's newcomer Sarah Fairbanks of Elizabethtown, Pa., near Harrisburg.
The Hawks, incidentally, are heading for a trip to Ireland, which will occur two weeks from now after the best-of-three championship round concludes next week.
The commissioner took great pains in the summer schedule cramming a few things here and there to make sure everything was completed before the Hawks go overseas.
Incidentally, in a record low, there were only two games forfeited because of a shortfall of players and both occurred late in the season.
On was Gold on the final night to Vegas Gold (West Chester), which already had a slot wrapped up and Gold was already eliminated.
The other was a loss by Cardinal Red, which became moot because the squad would still be in the same game Tuesday night but would be the fourth seed and Royal Blue, the Division II Holy Family squad, would be the fifth seed instead of the other way around.
Another Saint Joseph's newcomer who was a standout was Jordan Strode of North Carolina, who played on Team Gold.
The commissioner is checking and will give the Guru the names of rookies in the league but who have higher school class status as sophomores and juniors.
As for freshmen, continuing the discussion, Kerry Kinek, a Central Catholic graduate in Allentown, Pa., headed for nearby Lehigh, is one of the standouts for second-seeded Team Black.
Sarah Listenbee, an Abington High graduate headed for Holy Family playing with her future Tigers teammates on Royal Blue, is also an impressive summer rookie.
When it comes to overall summer stars, not counting some of the rookies capable of both as mentioned, the long list for consideration would include Da'Kiya Johnson of the eliminated Ash Gray squad who is heading for Chestnut Hill College transferring from Santa Monica College in California.
Johnson may technically be a summer rookie.
Team Black standouts have included Villanova senior Rachel Roberts and Wildcats sophomore Emily Leer, Bethune Cookman graduate Jasmine Elum, Lehigh junior Hilary Weaver and Kutztown senior Ashley Wood.
Temple 2008 graduate Ashley Morris is one of the Cardinal Red stars as is 2007 Kent State graduate Lakia Stewart, and Lafayette sophomore Emily Homan.
Danielle Derr, a senior at Bloomsburg, was one of the overall Columbia Blue stars along with rookies Alex Wheatley and Taylor Bryant.
Saint Joseph's senior Ashley Prim has had the season's two top performances in the league late this month scoring 30 and 31 points on consecutive nights on Team Gold.
The Hunter Green stars were already mentioned above, though the team also has former Swarthmore star Kathryn Stockbower, who holds the all-time Division III record for double doubles.
USP senior Elsebeth Birman and 2017-targeted senior Brianne Traub were keys on Kelly Green. Traub's graduation designation stems from the Devils' work-study program.
Other Lime Green standouts have been 2010 Saint Bonaventure graduate Dana Mitchell, Villanova senior Devon Kane and recent Wildcats graduate Megan Pearson along with Boston U. senior Danielle Callahan.
Philadelphia University co-captains and incoming seniors Taylor Peltzer and Kristen Blye are two of the mainstays on seventh-seed Team Orange.
Four people usually among the scoring leaders on eighth-seed Team Purple are East Stroudsburg sohomore Ryan Fiascki, Princeton grad Addie Micir, a former Ivy player of the year who graduated in 2011, Lehigh senior Becky Guman and Mountain Hawks junior Marisa Repasch.
Royal Blue/Holy Family standouts are seniors Ana Cruz and Erin Mann, and juniors Mary Ellen McCollum, Maggie Serratelli, and Carolyn Heston.
The Vegas Gold/West Chester group is headed by sophomores Kendall Benovy, Stephanie Keyes, and Tiffany Johnson, along with junior Paige Elliott.
That's it until the roundup in the Wednesday AM report and at least you had something to read from the Guru in lieu of the temporary suspension of the WNBA season during the Olympics.
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