GIRLS BASKETBALL

Region's sophomores impact basketball scene

2012-11-09T00:00:00Z 2013-12-30T18:26:06Z Region's sophomores impact basketball sceneHillary Smith hillary.smith@nwi.com, (219) 933-3233 nwitimes.com
November 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Victoria Gaines and her parents sat in Suzy Merchant's office at Michigan State, shocked by what the Spartans coach was saying.

The family had just toured the East Lansing campus with Merrillville graduate Bryonna Davis and now Merchant was offering 14-year-old Victoria a college scholarship, even though she hadn't yet started high school.

"Me and my parents, our jaws dropped and our eyes got big," Victoria said. "I was just in shock."

Gaines and the Class of 2015 are poised to change the region's basketball scene. Not since 2006 have so many Division I schools been looking to the region for girls talent — and this group has three years of high school ball left to play.

Schools can't officially begin to contact a player until Sept. 1 of her junior year. That's 10 months away from Gaines' phone ringing constantly and her mailbox stuffed with letters.

For now, Pirates coach Amy Govert fields the calls and texts and emails from coaches wanting to know more about the sophomore.

"It's funny because we have a system and all day long my phone is going off 'Tell Mrs. Gaines blah blah blah,' and then I'm texting her," Govert said. "I actually think people thought she was making it up, because I always tell kids 'Don't get too excited about letters, because everyone gets letters. When you start getting phone calls, that's when you can get excited.' The first call that came, I thought they were calling about (now graduated) Raveen Murray. It wasn't they wanted to talk about (Gaines)."

DePaul had its eye on E.C. Central's Tiajaney Hawkins starting last season. A Blue Demons coach was in the stands to see now-graduated Andriana Moore, when Hawkins' athleticism caught his eye.

"After the game, the coach said to me, 'is the roster correct that No. 22 is only a freshman? This Hawkins girl could play in the Big East right now,'" Cardinals coach Eric Kundich said. "I said, 'So you guys are interested in her; let's keep in touch.' That's how the relationship was built, off of Andriana Moore having success.""

Hawkins played AAU for three weeks before she decided she was too much of a homebody fro the travel. To improve her game, said she plans to return. For her to be seen by more coaches means trips to Indianapolis and Fort Wayne are in her future.

While Michigan City already boasted a tough Class of 2013, Michal Miller bounded her way into the starting lineup last season as a freshman.

She can control the ball and control the court, and coach Mike Megyese didn't hesitate to put a freshman in with a core group of established players.

"We have to remember that she’s still a kid, but she has the basketball maturity to get the job done," Megyese said. She averaged 30 points per game in the eighth grade. We were making sure she can take that to the varsity level. How are they going to perform against these seniors?

"We talked to her quite a few times last year about it, because it is a transition."

Think this means nothing for everyone else on the floor? Think again.

"The nice thing about having a great sophomore class in Lake County is that a lot of juniors and seniors will start getting attention," Kundich said. "Players like AJ Downs, Darian Patton, Denitra Brown, Dariyelle Ricks, hopefully the college scouts will come out to watch their teammates and see what these older players can do, too."

Colleges around the state have asked about Bowman Academy's Joshlynn King. When they come to see her play, they'll also see the rest of the Eagles — and whoever Bowman is playing that night.

Just like DePaul noticed Hawkins while watching Moore, players who might otherwise not be seen by a Division I coach suddenly have a chance to show off.

There's a gamble in starting talent young, however. At West Side, Rod Fisher have five sophomores on the varsity roster — and three are returning starters.

The Cougars' top scorer is a sophomore. So is their point guard.

They all had to learn on the fly last season, fighting youth to reach a better chance this year.

"If West Side had been a normal team last year, they wouldn't have been thrown into the fire," Fisher said, "but we graduated eight players and didn't have anyone else ready from the JV to come up.

"They responded fairly well, but there were more times than I wanted to count that they were just freshmen."

The Cougars went 17-5 last season, only losing by four points in the sectional semifinal to eventual champion E.C. Central.

"This year, the majority of them have matured a lot, and that helps," Fisher said. "Last year, they were just game players, not practice players. That makes a big difference when we can have a more productive practice."

As much college coaches are impressed with the sophomore class, that doesn't mean there's no work left for them to do.

"There are thousands of kids across this country that can go Division I, and these offers. They can pull them at any time," Govert said. "This doesn't mean you stop working."

Gaines, a 6-foot-1 forward who has been primarily a post presence for the Pirates, is developing her outside shot.

Hawkins will transition from a peripheral player to the go-to scorer.

Miller will work on her shooting acumen, bringing it up to speed with her skills as a ball handler.

King is expected take over the primary shooting duties for the Eagles this season, showing what she can do as a top threat.

"You can be pretty good in the area, but now you have to look at how you compare outside the area,"Megyese said. "How do you compare with the rest of the state? How do you compare with the rest of the country? Because that's how you're going to be evaluated by college coaches."

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