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Saturday, July 20, 2019

McDonald’s Girls’ High School All-American Game: They’re All Winners!

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Photo Caption: Meighan Simmons (center left) for the West and Natasha Howard (center right) for the East received MVP honors in Wednesday’s McDonald’s Girls’ High School All-American Game in Columbus, Ohio, from Stacy Rogers-Reece of McDonald’s and Jessica Davenport of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, a McDonald’s All American in her own right. Simmons is headed to Tennessee next autumn; Howard to Florida State.

Photo Credit: Full Court/Lee Michaelson

By Lee Michaelson

It was a big night for Texas girls’ prep basketball in Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday, as the West beat the East, 84-75, in the McDonald’s All-American Girls’ High School Basketball Game.

Texas was represented on the West squad by an unprecedented five players, including 6-2 forward Chiney Ogwumike (Cy-Fair High School, Cypress, TX), the recipient of this year’s Morgan Wooten Award as the girls’ National Player of the Year; 5-9 guard Meighan Simmons (Byron P. Steele II High School, Cibolo, TX), who was honored as MVP of the West squad; 6-5 forward Karla Gilbert (A&M Consolidated High School, College Station, TX), who put up 15 points for the winning side; 5-10 forward Tiffany Moore (Frisco High School, Frisco, TX), who didn’t score that much but dished out four assists and grabbed a steal in her 20 minutes on the floor; and 5-8 guard Odyssey Sims (Irving MacArthur High School, Irving, TX).

Sims, who received the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s Player of the Year award, tore her ACL in a playoff game in late February and is out of commission for at least six months, was on crutches as she made her way out to center court at halftime to collect the Naismith Sportsmanship Award,bestowed annually on the All American who exhibits the best sportsmanship during the week of the game as voted on by her fellow players and coaches. But in the final seconds of the game (no doubt to her orthopedist’s chagrin), Sims left her crutches on the bench and hobbled onto the court for a momentary appearance.

Photo Caption: Odyssey Sims, one of the top young players in the girls’ high school class of 2010, leaves the court on crutches after receiving the Naismith Sportsmanship Trophy in a halftime presentation. Sims was unable to play due to a torn ACL suffered late in the season.
Photo Credit: Full Court/Lee Michaelson

The five Texas players on the West squad were the most from any single state, and they agreed that though they get an outpouring of support at home, Texas girls’ basketball is often “overlooked” at the national level. (To the degree that is true, it is largely attributable to the fact that Texas teams rarely venture out of state to compete.)

“Texas is becoming a strong basketball state — we had to represent,” said Ogwumike, who is headed to Stanford next season.

“There are a lot of players in the NCAA tournament right now from Texas, so people are starting to take notice of the talent we have down here,” West co-coach Cathy Self-Morgan of Duncanville, Texas, agreed.

Of course, there was plenty of talent on the floor from other states, as well. Toledo, Ohio’s Natasha Howard (Toledo Waite High School) was the next best thing to a local hero favorite here in Columbus, and the Ohio Ms. Basketball did not disappoint the several dozen family members, fans and high school teammates who drove in to cheer her on. The 6-4 forward who is headed to Florida State next fall won MVP honors for the East after notching two points, grabbing nine boards, dishing five assists, and grabbing two steals. (I noticed several blocks that didn’t appear in her stat line, but, hey, who’s counting?)

Photo Caption: East MVP Natasha Howard soars to the hoop as the West’s Meighan Simmons (10), Theresa Plaisance (55) and Karla Gilbert (34) are powerless to stop her. One of the most athletic players on the floor, Howard led the East with 20 points, plus nine boards, five assists and two steals, and showed that she owns both an inside and an outside game, knocking down 7-12 from the field and 3-5 from three-point range. She does need to work on her foul shooting (3-8), however.
Photo Credit: Full Court/Lee Michaelson

As if the Huskies really needed any more talent, Connecticut-bound Bria Hartley (North Babylon High School, North Babylon, New York) was hot on Howard’s heels with 17 points and three rebounds, and offset her five turnovers with the same number of steals.

Photo Caption: Bria Hartley (14) sails toward the iron, as the West’s Afure Jemerigbe (Saint Mary’s High School, Stockton, CA) and Meighan Simmons are too late in rotation to defend. Hartley finished with 17 points and five steals, but five turnovers.
Photo Credit: Full Court/Lee Michaelson

Fellow New Yorker Stefanie Dolson, who’s also headed to the Huskies, was an absolute beast. The 6-5, 230-pound center put up 12 points, hauled down eight boards, and added an assist, a block and a steal (but three turnovers), but above all, her powerful presence made it an act of courage for any West player to venture into the paint during her 18 minutes on the floor.

Photo Caption: Six-five, 230 pound center Stefanie Dolson, who may be filling the shoes of Tina Charles at UConn next season, came up “big” for the East in more ways than one. Dolson finished with 12 points and eight boards. She also meted out serious punishment to any opponent who dared challenge her in the post.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson

The shooting wasn’t great for either side to start the game (39.5 percent in the first half for the West; 33.3 percent for the East), and the turnovers were high for both (29 for the West on the night; 30 for the East). But then that’s to be expected in an All-Star game for which players have had little time to practice as a team.

What the relative handful of spectators who showed up for the game got to witness was an impressive display of athleticism, physicality and hustle, dotted with flashes of brilliance. It was a shame so few turned out to see it, both because the game supported a worthy charity and because these young women deserved a better audience. Though roughly 8,000 were on hand for the boys’ game that followed, barely a fifth of that number were in the stands when the girls’ game kicked off. (To be fair, the game began at 5:30 on a work day evening, but things had not improved that much by half-time.)

Photo Caption: Karla Gilbert (34) dives to the floor to tie up the basketball in one of her many hustle plays of the evening.
Photo Credit: Full Court/Lee Michaelson

The refs, for the most part, let the kids play ball, and it made for excitement as bodies flew everywhere. “Didn’t anyone tell you you weren’t supposed to dive after loose balls in an All Star game,” one reporter asked Karla Gilbert. “Not really,” she answered. “I just wanted to go out there and have fun playing.”

Photo Caption: College coaches in elite women’s basketball programs across the country must have been wincing in dread of seeing their prized recruits lost to injury, as no one in this game seemed the slightest bit reluctant to hit the deck in pursuit of loose balls.
Photo Credit: Full Court/Lee Michaelson

Gary Blair should like that attitude when Gilbert reports to Texas A&M this summer. “Of course,” she answered when asked if she had been following the Aggies’s fate in the NCAA tournament, where the two-seed suffered an early exit at the hands of Gonzaga. Gilbert looks forward to teaming with Danielle Adams next year in the Aggie front court: “Me and her playing together,” she said with a confident smile, “we’ll be one in a million.”

The East got things rolling as Kaneisha Horn, a 6-1 forward from Ramsay High School, Birmingham, AL, who will be playing for the Crimson Tide next season, netted a jumper a little over a minute into the game. But the West’s Lindsay Sherbert, a 6-1 forward out of Great Oak High School, Temecula, CA, quickly answered in kind. Chiney Ogwumike, who is looking forward to playing with her sister at Stanford next year, tossed in a lay-up off an assist from Chelsea Gray (Saint Mary’s High School, Manteca, CA), who will be headed to Duke next season, and Natasha Howard responded with a jumper on a dish from Haley Peters, a 6-3 forward from New Jersey’s Peddie School who will be suiting up alongside Gray for the Blue Devils.

Photo Caption: Though she wasn’t credited with the block, the West’s Lindsay Sherbert (33), who is bound for Cal this fall, got a piece of this shot by Stefanie Dolson. Sherbert was aided on the play by Karla Gilbert (44), who will stay at home to attend Texas A&M.
Photo Credit: Full Court/Lee Michaelson

The game continued to see-saw back-and-forth in this fashion for the first 11-and-a-half minutes, until the West began to pull away on a 12-2 run to take a 26-18 lead at the five-minute mark. Gray ignited the burst with a jumper on an assist from 6-7 center Madison Williams (Detroit Country Day School, Berkley, Michigan), who looks to be the heir apparent to the Spartans’ senior center Allyssa DeHaan (6-9). After Georgia-bound Ronika Ransford (H.D. Woodson Senior High School, Washington, DC) snagged a steal from Laurin Mincy (University High School, Newark, NJ—headed to Maryland), put missed the jumper, Williams, who led all players with 13 rebounds, grabbed the board and fired it out to Aaryn Ellenberg (Bishop Gorman High School, Las Vegas, NV—committed to Oklahoma), who knocked down the jumper.

Out of the media timeout, Ogwumike netted another jumper, while the East missed their next three shots, the last of those miscues resulting when 6-0 forward Richa Jackson (Midwest City High School, Midwest City, OK), yet another Duke recruit, blocked the shot of the East’s Samarie Walker (Chaminade-Julienne High School, West Carrollton, OH), who will be adding to Connecticut’s wealth of riches.

Howard finally broke the dry spell for the East with a lay-up off a dish by Kentucky-bound Jennifer O’Neill (Saint Michael Academy, Bronx, NY). But after another lay-up by Howard, the West was off and running once again, this time on a 7-2 run that extended through most of the balance of the period, bringing the score to 37-22. Peters sank the final points of the first half, to cut the lead to 37-24 heading into the break.

The second half opened with the teams once again trading baskets, as Howard proved she also has a three-point range, while the West continued to pound the ball inside. Someone must have gotten word to the refs during the intermission that when you grab an opposing player from behind contacting much more head than ball, it’s a foul, not a held ball, because a fair portion of the points for both teams were collected at the charity stripe in the early going.

Photo Caption: There’s a lot of arm on that ball! The East’s Natasha Howard ties up the West’s Richa Jackson in one of the night’s “mini-muggings.” Except for a stretch at the beginning of the second half, the refs let the kids play, resulting in a physical game that was fun to watch, if at times a bit sloppy.
Photo Credit: Full Court/Lee Michaelson

By six minutes into the second stanza, the West had extended its lead to 22 points, thanks to a 13-5 run sparked by Gilbert, who knocked down a three-pointer (quickly answered by Hartley) and added two lay-ups for good measure. Ogwumike contributed a jumper and a lay-up, and Williams iced the cake with another jumper off an assist from Richa Jackson.

With the score at 58-36, the game was turning into a rout. But the East would not surrender. Six-four center Alicia DeVaughn (Blance Ely High School, Pompano Beach, FL), another Maryland signee, broke the ice for the East with a trey off an assist from Walker. As the East began going hard to the boards and implemented full-court pressure, the West began to cough the ball up.  Kayla McBride (Villa Maria Academy, Erie, PA—a Notre Dame recruit) picked Meighan Simmons’s pocket. McBride missed the lay-up, but O’Neill rebounded and was fouled by Simmons. After O’Neill made one of the pair, DeVaughn rebounded the miss, but saw her shot blocked by Williams. Afure Jemerigbe (Saint Mary’s High School, Stockton, CA), who is headed to Cal next year, grabbed the rebound, but Simmons again turned the ball on the West’s possession, and this time, O’Neill’s lay-up, off McBride’s dish was good.

After an exchange of misses, 6-5 LSU-bound center Theresa Plaisance (Vanderbilt Catholic High School, Houma, LA) blocked Kaneisha Horn’s jumper and Williams recovered the rebound for the West, but Horn got the ball back when she rebounded Williams’s miss on the opposite end. Horn fed the ball to McBride, who tossed in the lay-up to cap a 8-0 run that got the East back in the ball game, though still down, 44-58.

Photo Caption: The East’s Bria Hartley (Jersey No. 14) heads for the hoop, as the West’s Theresa Plaisance looks for the swat. Hartley finished with 17 points. Plaisance was scoreless, but grabbed five boards and was credited with two blocks, though she altered several others.
Photo Credit: Full Court/Lee Michaelson

Over the next two minutes, there was nothing but misses and turnovers by both sides until Ellenberg finally broke a four-minute West drought with two from the foul line. Sherbert followed with a trey to bring the West lead back to 63-44 with under 10 minutes left on the clock.  But Peters ignited another 10-2 run for the East, which saw contributions by Dolson, Howard (another trey) and Hartley (a three-ball and a lay-up).

After Richa Jackson and Karla Gilbert traded buckets with Jennifer O’Neill and Bria Hartley, Hartley finally shaved the West’s lead to single digits, 69-60, on a pair of made free throws with 3:45 left to play. From there on, the two teams played things out fairly evenly, with the two teams exchanging baskets—mostly three-pointers and free throws—over the final minutes.

Photo Caption: Richa Jackson, one of several West bigs who did not hail from the Lone Star State (and one of three All-Americans who are headed to Duke next year), takes it to the hole. Jackson finished with 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks.
Photo Credit: Full Court/Lee Michaelson

On one high note for the East, Maggie Lucas (Germantown Academy, Narberth, PA) knocked down her only trey (and only points) of the evening with 1:05 left on the clock. Lucas won the girls’ three-point shootout after knocking down 22 long balls in quick succession (more than the boys’ winner) in the final round of the Jam Fest on Monday night, but went one-of-11 from the field and one-of-six from beyond the arc in the All-American Game itself.

Photo Caption: Penn State-bound sharpshooter Maggie Lucas showed the kind of three-point stroke that would make a coach’s mouth water during the Monday night Jam Fest, winning the girls’ three-point shooting competition with 22 long-balls in the second round. But she came up dry in the All-American Game, going 0-10 from the field and 0-5 from beyond the arc until the final minutes of the game, when she finally knocked down a trey for her only points of the evening.
Photo Credit: Full Court/Lee Michaelson

The final margin still stood at nine points, 84-75, when the final buzzer sounded. The East’s shooting had improved to 36.2 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from long-range in the second half. The West’s numbers were almost the opposite—44.1 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from the arc in the second period. Though the turnover numbers themselves were just one apart, the West gleaned 26 points off turnovers to 18 for the East.

Simmons, Ogwumike and Gilbert attributed their ability to control much of the game to their advantage in post height and depth. “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” Ogwumike quipped. And it’s certainly true that the West had more “bigs” on its squad. Still, it’s not clear exactly how much an advantage that proved to be. The two teams tied, 34-34, on points in the paint. And though the West out-rebounded the East, 57-51,over the course of the game, the East controlled the offensive glass by a small margin (20-18), which they turned into 22 second-chance points (to 15 for the West).

Photo Caption: West MVP Meighan Simmons (10), who is headed for Tennessee next season, elevates for two of her 21 points in the game.
Photo Credit: Full Court/Lee Michaelson

One thing is clear, however. None of these talented teens missed the point of this game. To a person, the representatives of both the West (Simmons, Ogwumike, and Gilbert) and the East (Howard and Hartley) squads agreed that the highlight of this honor for them was the chance to “give back” to the children they had seen while visiting the Ronald McDonald House in Greater Columbus. Since its inception, the McDonald’s All-American Games have benefited that charity in the cities in which it has been held.

“It’s a blessing,” to be honored as a McDonald’s All American, said Simmons, who said she had entered the game with the objective of just having fun and no expectations of further accolades. “It’s even more of a blessing to be a blessing to others,” she added, a view shared by several of the others.

Howard said that one of the peak experiences of the week for her had been baking chocolate chip cookies with the kids at the Ronald McDonald House. “They needed some brightening in their lives,” she said.

“Those cookies were go-o-o-o-d, too,” Ogwumike added. “They went fast!”

alt=“Ronald McDonald Photo”>Photo Caption: Ronald McDonald was on hand to cheer on the female All-Americans, who have become the newest ambassadors for his cause. Regrettably, only a sparse crowd turned out for the early game, though roughly 8,000 showed up for the boys’ game that followed.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson

Originally published Wed, March 31, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.